Canal Winchester City Council voted unanimously last week to reverse a planning and zoning commission decision and deny permission for Ohio Mulch to move forward with developing a vacant former Wendy's location on Winchester-Cemetery Road.

Canal Winchester City Council voted unanimously last week to reverse a planning and zoning commission decision and deny permission for Ohio Mulch to move forward with developing a vacant former Wendy’s location on Winchester-Cemetery Road.

“We haven’t 100 percent given up on the Wendy’s, but we’re looking at other options, including sites on the border of Columbus and Canal Winchester which could benefit Columbus for jobs but still provide a close location for Canal,” Ohio Mulch owner Jim Weber said Monday.

He said almost all of the comments at council’s Nov. 21 meeting compared a Kurtz Brothers commercial mulch facility in Groveport with his small retail facility and he doesn’t believe that is an apples-to-apples comparison.

Nearly 25 residents filled Town Hall Nov. 21 in support of an appeal to the planning commission’s vote, which was filed by resident Shirley Meuser, who owns a business on Clint Drive. According to the appeal, signed by 30 residents, Meuser was concerned that Ohio Mulch would generate excessive odors, noise from Bobcat operations and large-truck traffic, would be a fire hazard and would have a negative impact on plans for future growth of Canal Winchester.

“I’m very concerned about what’s going in,” Meuser said. “It’s always been my understanding that where the Wendy’s location is, is a beautiful area for welcoming people into Canal Winchester and I recognize that with the mulch business, with open bins of mulch, we aren’t going to attract an upscale restaurant or something that Canal Winchester really wants to have.”

According to city documents and the draft site development plan for the former restaurant, a conditional-use variance to allow open displays of materials would have permitted Ohio Mulch to maintain three open mulch containers and store landscaping and nursery items in the existing parking lot area.

The planning and zoning commission approved the variance on Aug. 22, under the condition that the use is compatible and appropriate for the area and would not adversely affect traffic or the public welfare.

“We’re using landscaping and solid wood fencing to completely screen our property,” Ohio Mulch legal representative Jeffrey Brown said. “The development pattern in this area is commercial and our development plan is commercial, so we think we are compatible with the area.

“This is a limited operation,” he said. “We aren’t making mulch here. We’re just selling product.”

Madison Township Assistant Fire Chief Robert Bates expressed concerns about the storage of mulch.

“We’re not here to support or not support the appeal. We’re here to share information in the viewpoint of the fire department,” Bates said. “The major issue with mulch is the problem of spontaneous combustion. I’ve seen fires in mulch piles and there are things in the fire code that help us to limit that chance.

“These pile sizes fall below our fire code,” he said. “We’d want a fire lane of 20 feet between each pile. We would not want loose bulk mulch in bins because we’ve found the most effective way to put out a mulch fire is to separate the pile, so we’d want 360-degree access to the pile.”

Weber said he has not had a fire in the 28 years he has owned the company. He also said Ohio Mulch has not had any zoning violations or upset neighbors at any of its 21 other locations.

Brown said during the Nov. 21 council meeting that many of the complaints were about a large facility that actually processes mulch.

“The complaints are about storage facilities that have over 2,000 truckloads a day,” he said. “The fire at the Kurtz Brothers facility was where they process mulch. It is a big facility, not a retail facility like this.

“We would be happy to work with the fire department,” Brown added. “We have 21 facilities and various locations look different because Weber has always been open to what every city likes things to look like.”

City council went into executive session at the end of the Nov. 21 meeting with Mayor Michael Ebert, planning and zoning administrator Andrew Dutton and legal counsel before returning to vote unanimously to revoke the previously approved conditional use application.

“I think we’d like to see Ohio Mulch come into Canal Winchester, but the opinion tonight is that this is not the right location,” Ebert said.