The Worthington Municipal Planning Commission has recommended approval for National Church Residences’ planned-unit-development application to redevelop the Stafford Village apartments for senior citizens.

The Jan. 9 approval means the application will advance to Worthington City Council. Council will introduce the ordinance Feb. 3 for a public hearing Feb. 18, according to worthington.org.

However, the Worthington Architectural Review Board tabled a portion of the plan because it cannot be approved until the PUD is approved by council, which will change the zoning in the area, said Lynda Bitar, planning coordinator for the city.

She said a date for the plan to go to council is unknown, but it likely would be presented for a public hearing and a vote in late January or early February.

National Church Residences had resubmitted a plan with a few modifications – such as the addition of bicycle racks and a tree-preservation plan – after requesting that a previous submission be tabled Dec. 12.

The Stafford Village apartments, 814 Hartford St., were constructed in the 1970s in conjunction with Worthington Presbyterian Church, according to George Tabit, vice president of senior-housing development for National Church Residences.

In 2016, the company acquired the portion the church owned, he said.

“The proposed facility is a replacement facility for seven 1-story apartment structures located on approximately 3 acres,” according to the project description on the application submitted to the city. “The existing apartment buildings will be demolished to make way for the new apartment building. The project will consist of a 2- and 3-story wood-framed structure comprised of 85 apartment units, with a portion of the project sitting above a concrete parking podium.”

Bitar said if council ultimately approves the PUD application, it would have a 60-day referendum period, which allows anyone to file a petition to send the proposal to the ballot for a citywide vote.

Aaron Sellers, spokesman for the Franklin County Board of Elections, said the number of signatures needed to file a petition is 10% of how many people voted in the most recent general election in Worthington. He said 9,160 people voted in the 2019 general election in November, so 916 signatures would be needed.

After this referendum period, Bitar said, the proposal would go back to both the ARB and MPC for final plan approval.

ThisWeek observed 22 people speak at the Jan. 9 meeting. Most of the comments were in support of the Stafford Village plan, but six speakers opposed it.

The meeting at the Worthington Municipal Building was a full house, with some attendees sitting on the floor or in the hallway for the proposal.

Resident John Conrad said Old Worthington is an ideal place for seniors because of its proximity to services. He said he has been pleased with the constructive debate on Stafford Village, but it has gone on for two years.

“I think we’ve looked at every possible alternative that is a viable alternative, and I commend city officials for what they’ve done to take a really close look at this,” Conrad said. “I think the solution on the table is a really good solution. I absolutely support this.”

Resident Suzanne Seals said she disagreed with the plan because she believes it has multiple violations based on Worthington’s architectural guidelines.

“Incredibly, city staff has recommended approval of the plan,” she said.

She said the planned facility was “inappropriate on the site due to its scale and massing.”

“It’s too tall and doesn’t conform to the guidelines,” she said.

Seals said she did not believe the plan “maintained the historic fabric of Worthington.”

“This one is perhaps my opinion – obviously, the city doesn’t see that,” she said.

Mikel Coulter, chairman of the MPC, said the response from residents has been overwhelming.

“We’ve probably got more email on this application than we have on any other application in the 10-plus years I’ve been sitting on this board and commission,” he said.

Coulter said the comments in the correspondence ranged in viewpoints from positive to negative, and many questions were asked. He said he and the other board members read every single one.

“It means a lot for us to get that,” he said.

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