Although the rezoning required for the proposed Sugar Maple Commons apartment development has been approved, the developer still will need to gain Grove City Council's approval of a revised development plan for the project.

A presentation of a revised development plan must first be presented to and considered by the city's planning commission before council would review it.

Council members voted 4-1 on Nov. 18 to approve Treplus Communities' request to rezone the 21-acre project site south of Holton Road and west of Jackson Pike (state Route 104) from single-family residential to planned-unit development residential.

The developer is planning a 105-unit luxury-apartment development for residents age 55 and older.

A preliminary development plan for the project was rejected by the planning commission in March and city council in April.

The applicant chose to move ahead with the rezoning request separately and seek approval of a final development plan later, said Aaron Underhill, an attorney representing Treplus.

The planning commission approved the rezoning request by a 3-2 vote Sept. 3.

When the project was originally proposed "there probably wasn't a good explanation on our part (that) this is not your typical apartment-living project," Underhill said.

Where most apartment projects include multi-story buildings to accommodate density and surface parking only, Sugar Maple Commons would feature single-story units with attached garages, he said.

Other amenities would include organized social activities, concierge service, pet care and home checks while residents are away, Underhill said.

"This really functions and acts and looks like a condominium project more than an apartment community," he said.

The 105 units that are proposed are fewer than the 124 units without age restrictions that would have been permitted under a previous project that was proposed for the site.

The 21-acre project site originally was part of a 205-acre parcel that received approval in 2006 for multi-family use in the proposed Riverwalk development.

When the Riverwalk project stalled, the intended developer donated the land on the east side of state Route 104 to Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, which created the Scioto Grove Metro Park.

The remaining land to the west of state Route 104. now proposed for the Sugar Maple project, reverted to single-family zoning.

Forty-five single-family houses would be permitted under the single-family zoning, Underhill said.

A trip generation analysis conducted by American Structurepoint and commissioned by the developer indicates the proposed senior adult apartment project allowed under the proposed rezoning would generate 102 fewer daily trips than would occur if 45 single-family houses were built, he said.

Over the past year, as Sugar Maple Commons was introduced and the preliminary development plan and rezoning requests were considered by the planning commission and council, residents who live near the site voiced their concerns about whether the project was suitable for its location and the surrounding neighborhood.

If the plan goes through, "the result will be a much higher density development than it would be if it was still zoned for single-family," said John Sharron, a Holton Road resident.

"Much attention is being paid to the zoning text, but the bigger question is whether such a high density development belongs on this site at all." he said.

Sharron said the city's development department issued a report in 2017 that envisioned the state Route 104 corridor as remaining rural in nature with a step-down approach to density from Buckeye Parkway to Jackson Pike.

"The least dense development would occur near Jackson Pike and the Scioto Grove Metro Park," Sharron said.

The Grove City 2050 strategic plan also recommended the site be used as a conservation neighborhood, he said.

None of the details of the zoning text "changes the basic fact that the PUD-R zoning is not compatible with the character of the surrounding area," Sharron said.

The Grove City 2050 plan is designed as "a guiding principle" for how the city looks at potential development, Kyle Rauch, the city's development director, said.

The plan's approach is to consider intensity when evaluating the density of a development, he said.

Even though the PUD-R zoning would allow for more units for Sugar Maple Commons than the single-family residential zoning, "the impact on surrounding land use and the infrastructure of the traffic network is less because it's generating less trips and a lot of times those trips are at off-peak hours," Rauch said.

"So even though the numbers go up in terms of number of units, the actual impact on the character of the area is less," he said. "When we look at the 2050 guiding principles we look at the step-down (of density) through that lens."

The planning commission followed the development department staff's recommendation that the rezoning be recommended for council's approval with a few stipulations.

The issue of traffic on state Route 104, especially as developments like Sugar Maple and Farmstead are approved and move forward, is a concern, Councilman Roby Schottke said.

But there is also a need to provide a variety of residential options in Grove City, especially to address people's changing needs and desires as they age, he said.

"A lot of older adults are buying condominiums or looking to rent and that's the one thing we don't have in Grove City -- a high-end luxurious rental option for people 55 and older," Schottke said.

Council President Steve Robinette said he was "bothered" by this rezoning request but ultimately decided to vote in favor of it.

"For me, what it really came down to was is this the appropriate location for apartments," he said. "I share (others') concerns about infrastructure, but I believe this particular parcel will have less of an impact than what we'd see with the approved zoning on there currently.

"There's an instant pushback on anything labeled as apartments, but for me the devil is in the details with this particular (project). I really don't think this is the classical apartment project that people have in mind, It does seem more like condominiums."

Councilman Ted Berry cast the only vote against the rezoning.

"I'm not against the developer. They do a nice product," he said. "I just don't like where it's located. I don't think apartments belong there."

The project might add another 200 people living near state Route 104, "a road we can't afford to upgrade or put an extra lane in," Berry said. "It's a county residential road and it would cost a fortune to actually upgrade."

What residents in Grove City seem most concerned about is traffic and feeling overcrowded, he said.

The city has been given a gift of being able to reconsider the project site after the Riverwalk project fell through, Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage said.

The zoning for that project was approved, and if it had gone through, 275 housing units would have been built where the metro park stands and "we'd have a whole different situation," he said.

"As far as 104 goes, we have another shot at how it goes," and the city's vision for addressing traffic includes installing a new traffic signal at the intersection of state Route104 and Holton Road, Stage said.

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