Alton Place is one step closer to starting construction in western Hilliard.

The proposed $275 million mixed-use development at Alton Darby Creek and Roberts roads will advance after Hilliard City Council on June 8 voted 6-0 to approve a required rezoning and a developer’s agreement.

Council President Andy Teater was absent.

The vote came after a more than three-hour discussion that included developer Dwight McCabe balking at suggested conditions in the developer’s agreement and threatening to walk away from the proposed development.

“We can’t thank you enough, and we look forward to the next steps,” McCabe said after the vote.

The next step would be McCabe obtaining approval of a development plan from the Hilliard Planning and Zoning Commission.

McCabe said he immediately would begin work on a development plan and expects construction to begin in spring 2021.

The 354-acre parcel north of Roberts Road and west of Alton Darby Creek Road was rezoned from rural residential to Hilliard Conservation District.

Council also approved a developer’s agreement with McCabe’s Dublin-Cosgray LLC that stipulates what infrastructure improvements would be the responsibility of the developer, establishes a tax-increment-financing district and outlines other agreements.

A TIF is an economic-development mechanism available to local governments to finance public-infrastructure improvements, according to the Ohio Development Services Agency. A TIF locks in the taxable worth of real property at the value it holds at the time the authorizing legislation is approved, diverting the incremental revenue from traditional property-tax-collecting entities to designated uses, such as funding the necessary improvements or infrastructure to support a new development.

McCabe has not identified who would build the residential and commercial structures in Alton Place but said he has substantial interest from multiple builders.

The 354 acres would include 167 single-family residences and 280 attached residential units, city planner John Talentino told council members June 8. The development would include 53 acres for commercial uses and 177 acres of open space.

Price ranges for the residences would begin in the high $200,000s for starter townhouses, and lakefront residences would sell for as much as $750,000, McCabe said.

McCabe has described Alton Place as a “cradle-to-grave” concept that would provide housing and walkable amenities for people of all ages, with businesses and services as part of the development.

The land, for which McCabe said he has a purchase option contingent upon the rezoning, is owned by Homewood Corp. and was annexed into Hilliard in 2009.

Meeting details

Some of the tension during the meeting arose when council Vice President Pete Marsh suggested amendments to the developer’s agreement.

They included a requirement that development begin within two years or the new zoning would revert to rural residential, that the developer not receive reimbursement from impact fees to offset the cost of public-infrastructure improvements and a requirement that the developer surrender any allocated sewer taps not used by 2030 instead of 2035.

McCabe said he was unwilling to forfeit taps five years sooner, adding he would walk away from the development if it were a requirement because bonds could not be sold to investors under such conditions.

“It’s an unrealistic expectation,” he said.

City Manager Michelle Crandall said Marsh’s concerns were “worth consideration” to avoid potentially saddling Hilliard with another development failure like Hickory Chase, but she told council she was not opposed to the agreement as presented.

Hickory Chase was a planned luxury assisted-living facility whose developer filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009. The incomplete project lingered for years until the new Hilliard branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and other residential and commercial uses were built at the site between Britton Parkway and Leap Road.

Glen Dugger, an attorney representing McCabe, reacted to the proposed conditions.

“I feel ambushed,” Dugger said. “We have been working on this since February and this comes up on the night we are asking approval? We are being asked to do something we would never agree to because our backs are to the wall.”

Phil Hartmann, an attorney for Hilliard, replied the project was before City Council only because the developer asked it to be there, “and now you are using your calendar against us.”

Marsh said the requirements the city was seeking were not without reason.

“As a city, we have been burned in the past,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to ask what we are when we have given you so much.”

Only one amendment was made to the developer’s agreement: a requirement that construction begin within five years or the rezoning would revert to rural residential.

“Personally, I would have liked to have seen a bit stronger protections for the city in the developer’s agreement, but it was clear there was no support for those additional amendments,” Marsh said after the meeting “The unique nature of this project makes it one where I could not let ‘perfect’ become the enemy of ‘good.’

“In spite of some reservations, I look forward to seeing this project come to fruition, (and) I am glad we were able to insert an amendment that provides some protection in the event that the project does not begin within five years.”

Council member Kelly McGivern said June 9 she was “excited” about the new development.

“It will be the most unique in central Ohio,” she said. “I think there were positive negotiations to get to an agreement that worked for Hilliard taxpayers, the schools, township and the developer. It was a win-win.”

Council member Omar Tarazi said negotiating the developer’s agreement “was flying close to the sun.”

“How far can you push until the concept blows up?” Tarazi said.

He said the agreement included protections that were negotiated extensively.

McCabe appealed to council members that Hilliard City Schools and city officials support the project. He said it also has received little opposition from neighbors.

However, Marsh read into the record the comments of residents provided via Facebook, including some who opposed the proposal for reasons that included lower property value and urbanizing a rural area.

The meeting was conducted remotely via Facebook because of social-distancing procedures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

McCabe, speaking after the meeting, said he was pleased to advance the project despite the at-times contentious debate.

“The best partnerships can have difficult debates and emerge with better outcomes,” he said. “It feels like we have a true partner with Hilliard.”

Project details

The proposal to build Alton Place began in December 2018 when the Big Darby Accord Advisory Panel approved a concept plan.

Hilliard is one of 10 local governments that created the Big Darby Accord in 2004 to preserve and protect the Big Darby Creek and its tributaries in western central Ohio, according to the accord's website.

In 2008, Hilliard City Council approved the Big Darby Accord Watershed Master Plan, according to authorizing legislation. The accord panel, which issues nonbinding recommendations, includes representatives from the cities of Columbus, Grove City and Hilliard, Brown, Norwich, Pleasant, Prairie and Washington townships, the village of Harrisburg and Franklin County.

After the advisory panel recommended approval, the rezoning application went before the planning and zoning commission in May 2019, and commission members recommended approval of the rezoning by a 5-0 vote .

But City Council tabled the application in December 2019.

It returned to the planning and zoning commission May 28, when it was amended and approved 7-0.

The revised application planning and zoning commission approved May 28 included changes to the layouts of roads in the proposed development into “more of a grid,” Talentino said.

However, City Council on June 8 heard a proposal that slightly differed from what the planning and zoning commission approved: 343 acres with 148 single-family lots and 297 attached residential units, with 53 acres of commercial uses and 171 acres of open space.

City Council was presented June 8 with a 354-acre parcel with 167 single-family residences and 280 attached residential units, Talentino said. It included 53 acres of commercial development and 177 acres of open space.

The 11-acre difference is because the acreage was incorrect on the initial application, Talentino said, but the residential density remained 1.3 units per acre.

The density is slightly higher than the 1-unit-per-acre standard in the city’s comprehensive plan for the conservation district. However, “density bonuses,” for exceeding minimum green-space requirements and performing stream restorations allow for slightly greater density, according to Talentino.

Letty Schamp, Hilliard’s deputy engineer, outlined some of the infrastructure improvements the development demands, including the widening of Alton Darby Creek Road to provide turning lanes into Alton Place, as well as the construction of a roundabout at Alton Darby Creek and Roberts road.

The roundabout will not be required immediately.

“The intersection should be OK for about five years,” Schamp said.

The project will be part of the city’s annual capital-improvement projects, but the developer will provide the right of way needed for its construction and share in the cost of the construction, she said.

The developer’s agreement includes a $2,500-per-unit impact fee, of which $250 is allocated to Norwich Township for the future construction of a fourth fire station, Crandall said.

The agreement also establishes a community-development authority of at least 5 mills per unit, she said.

Hilliard economic-development director David Meadows told council members that although determining a tax value “is a moving target,” he projects that Alton Place will generate, after buildout, approximately $555,000 of annual income-tax and property-tax revenue.

The development’s approximately 245,000 square feet of commercial development would be built along a realigned spur of Roberts Road, west of Alton Darby Creek Road, before it connects with the original Roberts Road, McCabe said.

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