Apartments aren't welcome and apparently won't be built along Waggoner Road after residents successfully lobbied Reynoldsburg City Council to maintain the road's suburban residential character.

During a work session Feb. 3, all council members who spoke on the issue said they would not vote for the proposed new zoning code if it permits multifamily housing on Waggoner Road.

Based on the 2018 comprehensive plan, the new zoning code strives to create mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods with higher densities near certain "corridors," along East Main Street, including the intersection of East Main and Brice Road.

It includes special development considerations in areas like Olde Reynoldsburg and classifies about 3,200 acres, mostly around the Interstate 70/270 interchange, as "Innovation Districts." Those districts are intended for new "economic centers that will serve Reynoldsburg and surrounding communities."

The code encourages the reuse of existing commercial areas in a creative way and recommends moving new retail developments closer to the street, with parking at the rear.

It marks the first overhaul of the city's zoning code since it was enacted in 1969 and follows more than a year of work by the planning commission, a steering committee and Cincinnati-based Calfee Zoning. Council last year agreed to pay Calfee $135,000 for its work.

The new code proposes two types of zoning related to housing: suburban residential (SR) and residential medium (RM).

SR zoning allows for traditional single-family homes with off-street parking but also accommodates "multiple forms of single-family development, including attached single-family dwellings," according to the code.

RM zoning introduces a "more diverse range of housing options, including two-family buildings, townhomes, row houses and apartments." The code calls for future developments in the RM zones to be "well integrated with surrounding uses while allowing for more compact development to accommodate growth."

Dozens of concerned residents attended the work session. Much of the focus was on about 9 acres at 1220 Waggoner Road slated to change to RM zoning. They questioned whether what many described as a "two-lane country road" could handle increased traffic and safety concerns they believe would accompany multifamily development.

Jordan Crossing homeowner Michael Powers said his neighbors along Waggoner "actively support development" but think traffic and safety concerns should be addressed first.

"We want development opportunities, but it has to be the right location at the right time," he said. "We believe in smart development, not overdevelopment."

Powers and his neighbors echoed the "roads before rooftops" argument that led to council's 2019 denial of a 120-unit apartment complex on the site.

Last February, Metro Development LLC sought to rezone the lot on the east side of Waggoner for a project called Bentley House, designed to include six "farmhouse style" buildings with one- and two-bedroom units and a 246-space parking lot. Council denied the project in a 6-1 vote.

There is no development proposed for the site, said Andrew Bowsher, city development director.

The new zoning code originally called for about 30 acres along Waggoner to change to RM zoning, but city officials changed all but the 9-acre parcel back to SR after a resident workshop in December.

During the work session, council recommended the planning commission keep that property zoned as it is, single-family SR zoning.

Ward 2 councilman Louis Salvati, who represents Waggoner Road residents, said he "probably couldn't vote for this zoning rewrite" with areas on the road zoned for multifamily housing.

Others agreed.

Councilman Barth Cotner pointed to Calfee's zoning diagnostic report stating the city "has a larger share of multifamily housing than adjacent communities; however, the stock ... is older than the regional average."

"We have our share," Cotner said. "Waggoner Road has never been something I could support as multifamily."

Councilwoman Kristin Bryant said the concerns over allowing more multifamily housing stem from the "dilapidated, uninhabitable apartments that we have now that are problematic. The vast concern over multifamily is that we have a number of places that aren't kept up as it is."

She supports keeping Waggoner Road zoned suburban residential but said those fears shouldn't prevent the city from improving upon a zoning code that is "god awful" to encourage the type of development neighbors will support.

A planning commission meeting scheduled for Feb. 6 was delayed a week to give the city time to make changes to the code and related zoning map, Bowsher said.

The commission is expected to vote on the new 268-page zoning code at its Feb. 13 meeting.

City Council also must approve the new code, with a final vote expected in March.

The new code represents more than "just a map," Bowsher said.

"We didn't want the comprehensive plan shelved; we wanted it implemented ... especially along the corridors. We're going to grow where we need to grow, and that's along our corridors," he said. "Our main goal was to zone preemptively for the best land use of these areas and uses that we know are going to benefit the economic vitality of the city and which would be supported by the public."

A 2019 study by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission found that central Ohio is expected to add at least 1 million residents by 2050 and city officials expect up to 15,000 of those new residents will move to Reynoldsburg.

Even though multifamily housing will not be allowed along Waggoner Road, the new map contains about 30 acres of undeveloped property that will be zoned RM, Bowsher said. The largest area, about 24 acres, is near Taylor Road and E. Main Street.

New multifamily buildings will be limited to three stories in height under RM zoning.

"Insight Districts," mostly found along East Main Street, allow for mixed-use developments like Creekside in Gahanna or Bridge Park in Dublin, Bowsher said. Those buildings could climb as high as 7 stories, with retail and office space on the lower floors and housing above.

"I think we're going to be a community that will be business friendly that holds a higher standard for itself," Bowsher said. "Our focus moving forward is transit-oriented development and going after a better, more walkable Main Street."

To read the proposed zoning code and land-use map, go to reynoldsburgcode.com.

The next planning commission meeting will be 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, at City Hall, 7232 E. Main Street.

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