Residents opposed to plans to build parking space in their neighborhood for a J. Liu restaurant and the city's second hotel filed petitions last week for a referendum vote to overturn a rezoning for the project.

Within 29 days after Upper Arlington City Council voted 5-2 on 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 opposed to the project collected 2,601 signatures on referendum petitions.

That's well more than the approximately 1,520 valid signatures -- 10 percent of the number of local residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election -- needed to put a referendum on the November 2018 ballot.

Under state law, the group had 30 days to submit the required signatures.

Willing to negotiate

And while they're prepared to allow a citywide vote to determine the fate of the project, a spokeswoman for the group said they haven't ruled out a negotiated resolution that would allow Shanghai to build something that has less impact on the residential areas surrounding the project site.

"We are not anti-development," said Amanda Hicks, a Westmont Boulevard resident and president of a committee that filed the signatures with the Upper Arlington Finance Division on Aug. 4. "We live on a street where we're close to Lane Avenue and we understand that.

"We just think this proposed development encroaches too deeply into a residential neighborhood."

Hicks said the referendum petition group formed a three-person committee that, by state law, would allow them to withdraw the referendum initiative if an agreement with the developer could be reached.

"That would be our preferred choice -- to sit down with the city and the developer and say, 'Let's build something that's worthy of this community and worthy of being at the end of our street,' " she said.

Before the signatures were filed, the rezoning green-lighted Shanghai's 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. Lui 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.

Possible project delay

If a resolution can't be negotiated and the Franklin County Board of Elections determines the referendum petitions contain enough valid signatures, Shanghai will have to wait until the November 2018 election to find out if it can proceed with the project.

That's because state law requires the referendum signatures to be available for public review at the city's Finance Division for at least 10 days after being submitted. That would push the matter past the Aug. 9 filing deadline for the referendum to be placed on the November 2017 ballot.

Jeff Brown, an attorney for Shanghai, said he wasn't authorized by his client to speak publicly about the referendum petitions or potential plans to revise the proposed project.

Councilwomen Carolyn Casper and Sue Ralph opposed the rezoning, but it was supported by the rest of council, with some members saying it would provide needed amenities and revenues to the city and the Lane Avenue's Community Entertainment District.

City's position

The project is supported by the city's Planning Division. Senior Planning Officer Chad Gibson said it wouldn't stretch as far north into the neighboring residential areas as The Lane apartments at 1600 W. Lane Ave., and the garage would be shorter than many houses in the area.

"Changing how land can be used in a community is a significant step, and if there are some who disagree with a decision, it's appropriate for them to have this course of action available to them," said Emma Speight, Upper Arlington community-affairs director. "The Lane Avenue corridor has already experienced several new successful development projects that have enhanced the synergy of the district, providing residents access to restaurants, shops, services and hotel accommodations for visiting business associates, friends and family, and all in a convenient, walkable environment.

"The proposed J. Liu restaurant and Home2 Suites by Hilton hotel are consistent with recent redevelopment and goals for the district."

Precedence

Hicks said her group's core support is centered in the neighborhoods surrounding the Shanghai site, but others throughout the community signed their petitions.

She said some were concerned about the impact an extended-stay hotel could have on the area, but most opposed the city permitting commercial developments to cut deeper into residential neighborhoods via rezonings.

"I think they saw how deep (Shanghai's project) goes into the residential street and they were concerned by that," Hicks said. "If it's our street now; it could be your street 10 to 15 years from now."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate