Opposition to a 100-unit apartment complex for senior citizens on the city's northeast side was strong enough to convince National Church Residences to pull its plans for the project.
The company informed neighbors of the 4.6-acre site at the northeast corner of Highland Drive and Kenny Road about its decision June 22. The tentative plans called for construction of a two- and three-story apartment complex for people 62 and older.
In a letter to "neighbors and partners," NCR Vice President of Housing Development Matt Rule said his organization's vision was to develop senior housing "in partnership with the broader Upper Arlington community to address the growing needs of Upper Arlington seniors," but concerns and pressure from opponents scuttled plans for what was to be called Highland Village.
"Over the last 45 days, we have listened and also heard some residents express thoughtful concerns and questions about the proposed density and corresponding traffic," Rule stated in the letter. "In addition, significant pressure has been applied upon the seller, their family legacy and their family business. Recently, the trajectory of the dialogue has become disconcerting.
"It has been, and will always be, our intention to work in partnership with the community to serve Upper Arlington seniors," Rule wrote. "Based on the aforementioned, and in collaboration with the seller, at this time we have decided not to pursue senior residential housing at this site. We have jointly agreed to release each other from our contractual obligations."
Rule declined to discuss the nature of the "pressure" applied to members of the Rutherford family, which owns the site and which operates Rutherford Funeral Homes and Crematories throughout central Ohio.
A representative of the Rutherford family also declined comment.
However, among comments on a private social network website, nextdoor.com, which featured discussions about the Highland Village project, some raised the prospect of placing "Boycott Rutherford Funeral Home" signs in their yards.
Kelley Stone, a Highland Drive resident who opposed the Highland Village concept, said she wasn't aware of any formal campaign to boycott Rutherford Funeral Homes, but acknowledged such an effort was "suggested" online.
She added she was pleased the project wouldn't proceed, and said its size and use wouldn't fit the character of the surrounding single-family houses in the neighborhood.
"We are grateful that NCR recognized the concerns of the Highland Drive neighborhood," Stone said. "I can only speak for my family, but we would love to see the property utilized as it is zoned: single-family homes."
Stone and her husband, Tim, hosted an informal meeting with neighbors and three Upper Arlington City Council members June 15 to learn more about the city's process for reviewing a potential proposal to rezone the site to permit the Highland Village project.
Stone said more than 120 residents attended, and many were concerned about the impact such a development would have on neighborhood traffic and property values.
"I believe that both NCR and the seller were surprised with the number of residents who opposed the development so early in the proposal process," she said. "A three-story, 100-unit apartment complex in a single-family neighborhood simply did not fit the character of the neighborhood. It was spot rezoning."
Earlier this month, Upper Arlington Senior Planning Officer Chad Gibson said he couldn't comment specifically on the Highland Village concept because a rezoning application hadn't been filed with the city.
But generally speaking, he said, the city's master plan "does recognize the need for additional senior housing in the community."
Rule said June 23 he wasn't aware of alternate plans to develop the site at Highland and Kenny, but said NCR remains committed to addressing the housing needs of Upper Arlington seniors "in partnership" with the community.
"At this point, I'm not sure what the sellers' next step will be," Rule said. "For us, this was always about how we could better serve the residents of Upper Arlington.
"We hope we were able to advance that discussion and raise awareness about the need for residential, senior housing in Upper Arlington. We don't think seniors should be embarrassed when home ownership is no longer feasible, and I think we were able to correct some misconceptions about what senior rental housing is."