Action on a proposed Walmart at Westerville Square was tabled at the March 23 Westerville Planning Commission meeting at the request of the center's attorney.

Action on a proposed Walmart at Westerville Square was tabled at the March 23 Westerville Planning Commission meeting at the request of the center's attorney.

After more than two hours of discussion and public comment in the nearly full city council chambers, attorney Ben Hale said he wanted to table the applicant's request for modification and approval of the development standards text in order to address the commission's continuing questions. The matter will be taken up at the commission's next meeting on April 27. Hadler Cos. CEO George Hadler was not present.

The Hadler Cos. wants to demolish three vacant storefronts in Westerville Square to make way for a 108,441-square-foot Walmart. It would sell groceries and general merchandise, but would not have a garden center or auto service center (car parts would be sold, though), making it smaller than a typical Walmart.

The exterior of the rest of the shopping center would be renovated to match the newly constructed storefront, and changes would be made to the landscaping, parking lot and access points.

At issue is whether the modification to the shopping center is deemed to be minor or major. If the planning commission agrees that the modifications are minor, it can approve the Walmart by a majority vote. However, if the commission considers the plans to be a major modification, then the matter would go before Westerville City Council for approval, along with the commission's recommendations.

City planning and zoning officer Bassem Bitar said the staff looked at four major issues in determining whether the Walmart would be a major or minor modification: density, traffic, the 24-hour operation of the store and the overall architecture.

"From a staff standpoint, we believe that the application is a major modification and requires approval by city council," he said.

The Hadler Cos.' team of architects and lawyers presented slides showing drawings of the renovated Westerville Square. They said some changes could not be made because of existing leases and ownership issues.

The company is offering $50,000 to improve the intersection at State Street and Schrock Road, which traffic studies show would be negatively affected by the redevelopment.

"In these kinds of developments, you're dealing with something that has 45 years of history," Hale said. "We have lots of tenants who have leases with us that we have to respect. You have to find the best solution. It may not be the perfect solution."

Commission members said Hadler has made progress on plans, but much still needs to be done, including adding more brick to the design, a median, another cart corral and a wall along Otterbein Avenue; limiting seasonal displays outside the store; and prohibiting truck deliveries between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

They also questioned the Hadler team about the length of the outparcel leases, traffic patterns in and out of the shopping center, the purpose of a possible battery/tire storage area behind the Walmart and the future expansion of the Walmart if businesses such as Boyd's Goodyear or Big Lots were to leave Westerville Square.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, concerns continued to be raised about the impact the Walmart would have on nearby residential areas along Otterbein Avenue and on the Sugar Grove Square Retirement Apartments. Among the concerns were noise, traffic, trash and Hadler's lack of communication.

"Talk to your neighbors," planning commission chairman Gerald Domanik said to Hale. "Let the people know what's going on. Three minutes (to comment publicly during the meeting) doesn't give much time to vent."

"I would appreciate a smaller store overall," commission member Amy Koorn said. "It would fit the area and appease the neighbors."

In other business last week, the planning commission unanimously approved the two other items on its agenda. Otterbein University was granted permission to convert a former bed-and-breakfast at 5 West St. to academic offices; and the Uptown farmers market received permission to continue to operate in the Church of the Messiah parking lot.