Plans to bring Upper Arlington a J. Liu restaurant and the city's second hotel apparently won't go through without a fight.
Moments after Upper Arlington City Council voted 5-2 July 5 to rezone five properties on Westmont Boulevard to allow Shanghai Enterprises to build a parking garage and surface parking for a J. Liu Restaurant + Bar and a Home2 Suites by Hilton at 1640 W. Lane Ave., a group of residents said they'll seek to overturn the action.
Those opposed include many living on Westmont and streets near the proposed development.
They convened in the lobby of the Upper Arlington Municipal Services Center with attorney James Becker immediately after the rezoning vote and said they'd collect signatures to place a referendum item on the November 2018 ballot.
Approximately 102 people turned out for last week's special council meeting.
Shanghai needs the rezoning in order to move forward with plans to build a two-story parking garage and surface parking where five houses currently sit at 2480, 2488, 2498, 2506 and 2512 Westmont Blvd.
The developer also wants to build a 7,600-square-foot J. Liu restaurant and a 90,864-square-foot, 118-room Home2 Suites by Hilton hotel at the northeast corner of West Lane Avenue and Westmont. The site is just east of the city's first hotel – a 109-room Homewood Suites by Hilton that opened in August 2013 at 1576 W. Lane.
In April, the Upper Arlington Board of Zoning and Planning voted 5-1 to support the rezoning and a preliminary development plan for the project.
The proposal also is supported by the city's Planning Division, with Senior Planning Officer Chad Gibson noting it wouldn't stretch as far north into the neighboring residential areas as The Lane apartment development at 1600 W. Lane Ave., and that the proposed parking garage would be lower in height than many houses in the area.
Aside from Carolyn Casper and Sue Ralph, council members sided with the BZAP and the city staff.
"If staff brings something forward to council and staff recommends it, I have confidence in knowing that due diligence was done," Councilman David DeCapua said.
Councilman John C. Adams noted existing commercial developments have been built further into residential neighborhoods and that Upper Arlington schools would benefit from property tax revenues from the project. Council President Debbie Johnson added the project would enhance a Community Entertainment District that nearly 84 percent of voters supported in November 2012 when they approved a ballot issue to allow alcohol to be sold in a 39-acre stretch of West Lane Avenue.
Council Vice President Kip Greenhill said neighbors' concerns about the proposed project "are real and understandable'" but not developing the site could damage property values in the area.
"The status quo, I think we all agree, is not acceptable," he said. "I really think we need to go forward with this development for the betterment of the city."
Council approved the rezoning after hearing from residents who raised concerns that the project would degrade an established neighborhood, that an extended-stay hotel might lead to more crime and that young girls wouldn't be able to sunbathe in their backyards without fear of prying eyes from people in the five-story building.
Although city staff said studies suggested the project wouldn't yield significant traffic problems on nearby residential streets, many residents argued it would result in more potentially dangerous vehicle trips through their neighborhoods.
"The tall buildings that are lining Lane Avenue are closing everyone in," said Vicki Casa-Egan, a Westmont Boulevard resident. "We are not desperate for this development as it stands.
"If you are for it, we are going to intensify our fight against it."
The latter assertion was upheld after council's vote, with opponents writing checks for legal representation in the MSC lobby.
"If the city was more willing to work with us, we wouldn't need to use somebody like Jim," said Scott Hicks, a Westmont resident. "We wish it didn't come to this, but as you just saw, they don't care."
Under state law, referendum-seekers have 30 days from the time an ordinance is passed to collect signatures to put a measure before voters. They have to gather enough valid signatures to equal 10 percent of the number of local residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.
For this referendum effort, that would require about 1,500 signatures.
The filing deadline for the November 2017 ballot is Aug. 9, but the referendum group expects it will need up to 30 days to gather signatures and then those signatures would be required to be available for public review at the Upper Arlington Finance Division for at least 10 days after being submitted.
Therefore, the group doesn't expect the petitions could be filed with the Franklin County Board of Elections in time for this fall's election, and it instead is targeting a November 2018 referendum.
If all of that occurs within the required time limits, Shanghai's project couldn't move forward unless the referendum is defeated in the November 2018 election.