An already disputed plan to build a J. Liu restaurant and a hotel on West Lane Avenue will be challenged before Upper Arlington City Council next month.

In August, residents opposed to the proposed construction of a parking garage and surface parking on Westmont Boulevard for a planned J. Liu Restaurant + Bar and a Home2 Suites by Hilton filed petitions containing 2,271 valid signatures to place a rezoning referendum on the November 2018 ballot.

That action effectively stalled the project until the vote, the outcome of which could block construction.

Now, Amanda Hicks, a spokeswoman for a group opposed to the project, has appealed the Upper Arlington Board of Zoning and Planning's 5-2 vote Aug. 28 to approve Shanghai Enterprise's final development plan.

As a result, Upper Arlington City Council is scheduled to hear the appeal at 6 p.m. Nov. 13 in council chambers, 3600 Tremont Road.

"If the appeal is supported by council, the project is disapproved," said Chad Gibson, Upper Arlington senior planning officer. "The applicant's only recourse would be an appeal to the court system.

"If the appeal is rejected, the site plan would remain approved and the fate of the project would rest entirely on the referendum vote (for the rezoning)."

Shanghai wants to construct a five-story building to house a 7,867-square-foot restaurant and a 90,864-square-foot, 123-room hotel at the northeast corner of West Lane Avenue and Westmont.

Opponents have argued it would not fit in with the surrounding residential neighborhood. They're also opposed to plans to build the parking garage and surface parking where five houses currently sit at 2480, 2488, 2498, 2506 and 2512 Westmont Blvd.

Rezoning details

Although the referendum could stop the parking areas from being built, Hicks said zoning variances BZAP approved in the final development plan go too far.

They include increasing the maximum allowable height of buildings in the area from 48 feet to more than 73 feet, decreasing minimum greenspace requirements for the project's parking lot and cutting the minimum number of parking spaces the project must provide from 373 to 159.

"The final development plan and the variances approved are unreasonable, unlawful and violate the master plan and development code," Hicks said. "The over-densification of the site plan, coupled with the variances, will not only negatively impact property values on our street but it will also destroy the residential character of our neighborhood.

"In addition, the proposed development will present significant traffic problems and safety concerns."

Jeffrey Brown, an attorney with the Columbus law firm of Smith and Hale LLC, did not return a telephone call or email seeking comment on the appeal.

City's position

However, the proposed project is supported by the city's Community Development Department.

In an Aug. 28 staff report to BZAP, Gibson said traffic studies have indicated the project wouldn't produce significant increases to traffic or vehicle speed on Westmont.

His report said the project would yield a "dynamic streetscape" and is in line with other projects the city has allowed along the portion of West Lane that is zoned for planned, mixed-use development.

"This final development plan application includes the next important redevelopment for the Lane Avenue corridor, continues the impressive transformation of the north side of the street and is one that has been anticipated for several years," Gibson's staff report stated.

"While it may be disappointing that a more coordinated development could not include properties owned by the applicant to the east, staff is hopeful this project will spur a corresponding phase that can blend well with this and other development.

"Restaurant and lodging uses continue to be in high demand in this area and recent city surveys strongly indicate that residents really like the way things are going in the corridor."

Still, Hicks is hopeful council will overturn BZAP's approval of the final development.

In July, council voted 5-2 -- with members Carolyn Casper and Sue Ralph dissenting -- to uphold BZAP's approval of the rezoning for the project.

Mediation suggestion

In the meantime, council Vice President Kip Greenhill, who is running for re-election this fall, announced Oct. 4 that he supports having the city provide a professional mediator to help Shanghai and residents opposed to the developer's project come to a "mutually agreed upon settlement."

Hicks said her group has reached out to the developer in hopes of working toward a project that would be more palatable to residents.

"I wish this offer of mediation would have come sooner so that the residents did not have to resort to a referendum, but I am relieved that the city is finally interested in getting involved and working together," she said. "We have already had productive discussions with the developers in the last few months and remain hopeful that we are on a path that leads to a resolution.

"Through these negotiations, we've asked the developer to present the plan in its entirety so that the city and residents can accurately assess the impact it will have on the surrounding area and make decisions accordingly."

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