Construction is underway on a housing development on Canal Winchester's north side that drew strong opposition from neighbors who worried about increased traffic and school enrollment numbers.
However, the Turning Stone development, which is bounded by U.S. Route 33, High Street, Carriage Place and the Winchester Village and Lombardy Heights subdivisions, isn't the same plan that won Canal Winchester City Council's approval in October 2017 and city planners believe initial concerns have been addressed.
For one thing, Kentucky-based Grand Communities/Fischer Development Co. pulled out of the Wilcox Communities project early last year and was replaced by Ryan Homes.
Also, the new plan, which was approved by the Canal Winchester Planning and Zoning Commission in September 2018, features fewer homes, a reduction from 80 to 76 twin single-family homes on the 15.75-acre site.
A 1.75-acre commercial site, which was part of the original plan, will not be developed as part of the new plan.
While Fischer's plan had called for patio homes no smaller than 1,200 square feet with a starting price of $170,000, Ryan's homes are larger, with a minimum of 1,320 square feet and a higher starting price of $220,000.
"The difference between this plan and the previously approved (plan) is not only the builder, but that this builder does not offer a loft option on these units," City Planner Andrew Moore said. "City Council had a loft count, I believe, at 40 percent."
Jonathan Wilcox of Wilcox Communities also noted that the homes do not have a "second-story bonus suite," which would help alleviate residents' fears of an influx of students.
Residents in the Carriage Place subdivision also worried about through-traffic in that neighborhood.
"There will be EMS-access only, which is what City Council approved for the development," Moore said. "There was never a traffic issue. It was a perceived traffic complaint."
The development is planned in two phases, with the first involving construction of most of the homes and a park to be donated to the city. Phase two would complete "the loop" through the subdivision. The original plan included a cul-de-sac.
Planning and zoning members approved the final development plan during their September 2018 meeting by a vote of 5-1, with yes votes from Joe Donahue, June Konold, Brad Richey, Joe Wildenthaler and Bill Christensen. Michael Vasko voted no.
Jarvis and others on council did ask why the new Turning Stone plan wasn't returned to council for approval.
"When we heard about it, it was kind of after the fact," Jarvis said last week. "It was not something that we were expecting. ... The rationale behind it, they felt there wasn't enough substance in the changes."
Development Director Lucas Haire said the planning commission determined "that the changes to the planned district text were a minor modification set forth in Section 1173.06 (d) of the zoning code. Minor modifications to the preliminary plan need only be approved by (the) Planning and Zoning Commission and not City Council."
The Turning Stone proposal went back and forth between the planning commission and City Council for more than a year before the revised project now under construction earned planning commission approval last September.
The commission initially voted 3-2 on July 10, 2017, in favor of a preliminary plan and rezoning for no more than 80 single-family homes and the commercial property. However, plans before the commission that do not receive four yes votes are forwarded to City Council with a recommendation for denial.
After additional hearings, City Council supported the rezoning request by a 5-1 vote on Oct. 16, 2017. Councilman Will Bennett cast the lone no vote, and he won re-election in November 2017. Current Council President Bruce Jarvis and current Vice President Mike Walker supported the development, as did former council president Steve Donahue, who did not seek re-election in 2017.
Bobbie Mershon, who also voted in favor of the rezoning, lost her re-election bid, ending her 27-year career as a Canal Winchester City Council member.
While he supported the final plan, Donahue did express concerns about the process at the planning commission's June 2018 meeting.
"The main concern is political, and there is a belief at least one council person lost her seat based on her vote on this particular development (in 2017)," he said. "How a council person can go from three to four terms, and then get the lowest number of votes out of any running ... Now planning and zoning is being asked to make a judgment call that the controversial plan now has changes that are not changes that need to be reviewed by City Council.
"It would be easier if the code provided a definition of a major versus minor modification but it does not, and now planning and zoning is asked to make a political decision when they are not a political body," Donahue said.