Hilliard could become home to central Ohio's second Swensons Drive-In, a burger-and-milkshake joint founded in 1934 with eight locations in northeast Ohio.
The first central Ohio Swenson's is expected to open in October on the east side of Sawmill Road just north of Interstate 270 in Columbus, said Ron Dee, vice president of real estate for Swensons.
Hilliard could be in the picture because two local businessmen are appealing to Swensons to open a restaurant on the north side of Cemetery Road, immediately west of the entrance to J.W. Reason Elementary School, 4790 Cemetery Road.
"There is no commitment (but a developer) has presented us with his proposal," Dee said.
That proposal is to build a 1,700-square-foot Swensons on 1.8 acres, said Timothy Reardon, who with Jamie Moore formed a limited-liability company, 4810-4832 Cemetery Center LLC, for the project.
Moore works at Dublin-based Crawford Hoying and Reardon is a managing partner of New Start Development.
Last summer, they presented a proposal to city and Hilliard City Schools leaders to develop two lots adjacent to J.W. Reason.
City officials expressed concerns about traffic access to and from the site, as well as proximity to the school, but Reardon and Moore appear to be making some progress.
"From a traffic standpoint, staff has expressed concern about the location of a high-trip generating use at this location," said Letty Schamp, Hilliard's deputy city engineer. "We have encouraged the developer to seek out another location (but) if they decide to move forward, they would need to submit a traffic study.
"We would not accept a traffic study that assumes access to the J.W. Reason driveway without a written confirmation from the school district that this has been approved," Schamp said.
At the request of the school board, Reardon and Moore performed a limited car-counting exercise last year at the school's driveway, Reardon said, but the city-mandated comprehensive traffic study has not been completed.
However, Assistant Superintendent Mike McDonough said the school board "is still very much open to creating opportunities for new businesses in our community."
"We are continuing to work (with the developers and) would negotiate ... to cover costs for improvements to the J.W. Reason parking lot, which could include putting in a gate, relocating a sidewalk and changes in the storm sewer," McDonough said.
When originally proposed, developers envisioned two 3,200-square-foot buildings on the 1.8 acres – two 0.9-acre lots that will be combined – but now plan only one building as a Swensons, Reardon said.
Preliminary plans call for a new curb cut on Cemetery Road west of the school's entrance and access between the west side of the school's driveway and the parcel, according to Reardon.
As for the Swensons, the sock-hop-style drive-in restaurant restaurant, if built, would have no indoor or outdoor seating, he said. Orders would be delivered to vehicles to be consumed there or taken to go, he said.
The developers closed earlier this year on the purchase of the second of the two lots, Reardon said, and rezoning would be required for the proposed use.
"We hope to have a (rezoning) application before planning and zoning (July 12)," he said.
The previous owners were Betty Lisk for the residential-zoned lot that sold for $450,000 in August 2017 and Mel Sims and Kimberly Toth for the other commercial-owned lot that sold for $510,000 in January 2018.
J.W. Reason is among the district's oldest buildings – it opened in 1958 – and much development has since occurred in its vicinity, particularly to the east.
The district has no plans to sell any property or relocate the school, said Stacie Raterman, a spokeswoman for the district.