Although the preliminary development plan for the proposed Sugar Maple Commons apartment development was rejected April 1 by Grove City Council, it doesn't mean the project itself has been rejected.

It's only the first step in a process that will include a rezoning application and consideration of a final development plan.

The developer, Treplus Communities, was guaranteed a chance to move forward whether council approved or disapproved the preliminary plan, city law director Stephen Smith said.

"This is far from over from the city's side and the developer's side," Smith said.

Only three council members cast votes on the preliminary plan, with council President Steve Robinette and councilwoman Christine Houk voting no. Councilman Jeff Davis voted to approve the plan.

Councilman Ted Berry voluntarily agreed to recuse himself from the vote.

Smith said Aaron Underhill, the attorney representing the developer, had requested that Berry be required to recuse himself from any matters related to the Sugar Maple Commons project because of his outspoken opposition to allowing more apartments to be built in the area that includes the project site.

"I have looked at this issue, and I don't agree with Mr. Underhill," he said. "I do not believe Mr. Berry's comments have violated any state or local law."

But after he spoke with Berry before the April 1 meeting, Smith said, the councilman volunteered to recuse himself to avoid raising any issue that could be used later against the city.

Councilman Roby Schottke was out of town.

Treplus is proposing a 105-unit luxury apartment development that would be restricted to residents at least 55 years old. Each unit would be single-story and have one or two bedrooms.

Sugar Maple Commons would be south of Holton Road and west of Jackson Pike (state Route 104) and across from the Scioto Grove Metro Park.

The 21-acre project site originally was part of a larger 205-acre parcel approved for multifamily use and earmarked for the Riverwalk development in 2006. The larger site had been rezoned to planned unit development-residential.

The Riverwalk project stalled and the land now comprising the metro park was donated to Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks.

The remaining land, proposed for the Sugar Maple project, reverted to single-family zoning.

Under that zoning, a developer could build 45 single-family homes without further application to the city, Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage said.

Treplus will request the land be rezoned to allow the new multi-family development.

Although the term "multi-family" can often have a stereotype and raise concerns about traffic, crime and impact on schools and other issues, Sugar Maple Commons "is not your typical multi-family development," Underhill said.

"We think the location (for the project) is extraordinary because it's adjacent to the metro park," he said.

The age restriction makes it an atypical apartment development, Underhill said, and the single-story buildings differ from the two- or three-story buildings usually associated with a multi-family development. Sugar Maple's residents would pay monthly rent ranging from $1,900 to $2,600,much higher than the average rent in Grove City, he said.

According to Apartments. com, the average monthly rent for apartments in Grove City is $783 for one bedroom and $938 for two bedrooms, Underhill said.

"So it's a very high-end market we're trying to capture," he said.

The 105 apartment units with one or two bedrooms would result in fewer total bedrooms than a development offering 45 single-family homes that is permitted under the current single-family zoning, Underhill said.

"Less residents mean less consumption of utilities, less demand on public services, less traffic generated and less impact on the schools," he said.

Because the apartments would be age-restricted, there likely would be few, if any, students living in the development, Underhill said.

While a complete traffic study would not be required until the zoning application, the developer did commission a preliminary traffic estimation which shows the apartment development would generate 102 fewer vehicle trips per day than a single-family development with 45 homes, he said.

That would be due to the nature of the residents -- older adults without young children and many of whom would be retired, Underhill said.

The plan also calls for a realignment of Holton Road to create a new intersection into the metro park and the installation of a traffic signal, he said.

The planning commission voted March 5 to recommend that council not approve the preliminary development plan, although the commission did not elaborate on the reasons in the recommendation it forwarded to council, development director Kyle Rauch said.

The city's development staff did recommend approval of the preliminary plan, he said.

"We looked at a number of aspects, including housing stock, housing character, the impact to the city and the type of traffic that would be generated from the site," Rauch said.

"When we looked at the site in totality, we felt it was an appropriate use for the area being an age-restricted complex and that it would not generate the same level of traffic in our opinion as a typical single-family project would," he said.

Several residents who live near the proposed development site spoke in opposition to the project.

The residents expressed concern about the project's density, the increased traffic it would bring and whether a luxury apartment development would fit in with the surrounding area.

Houk said she remains concerned about the location of the project. The project area is in Ward 3, which Houk represents.

"I like the concept; the location I'm not so sure about," she said.

For the past year, Houk said, she has "been beating the infrastructure drum" about the challenges to the area from developments like Sugar Maple and Farmstead, a larger project council just approved.

She said she regularly hears from residents about traffic issues on Borror Road, Holton Road and intersections with state Routes 665 and 104.

Robinette said he is not anti-development.

A city that is not growing is probably dying, he said.

But with Sugar Maple Commons, "I think there are still a lot of unanswered questions," Robinette said.

"There are a number of things I'd like to see addressed, first and foremost with the neighbors, to see if there is something we can do to be good neighbors and raise their comfort level."

The preliminary development plan is simply a concept presented to the city, Smith said.

"It means nothing more than that," he said.

The details of a proposed development will need to be presented to and considered by the planning commission and city council during the zoning and development plan stages, Smith said.

Residents and city officials will have plenty of time -- several months, in fact -- to weigh in on those details before the Sugar Maple Commons project will be able to garner final approval, he said.

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