Worthington Hills, Mount Air neighbors vent Sheetz concerns to Franklin County commissioners

Marc Kovac
mkovac@dispatch.com
Residents fighting a proposed Sheetz gas station in Worthington Hills protest Aug. 10 at the site on Olentangy River Road north of Interstate 270.

The Franklin County commissioners on Aug. 11 postponed a vote on minor sign changes at a north Columbus commercial area near Worthington to allow more time for community discussion of the larger development.

Groups of neighbors from the Worthington Hills neighborhood and the Mount Air community have been vocal in their opposition to a proposed Sheetz gas station, convenience store and restaurant at the Olentangy Valley Centre, north of Interstate 270 on Olentangy River Road/state Route 315 in Sharon Township.

The shopping center’s southernmost feature had been a longstanding office complex that has been replaced by the Bristol, a 109-unit luxury living facility for senior citizens scheduled to open this fall. To the north, a smaller office building that used to have a dentist, CPA and other professionals has been razed, and that is the site on which developer Continental Real Estate wants to build a Sheetz.

That project was not under consideration by the commissioners during their monthly rezoning hearing Aug. 11. The only item on the agenda was a sign modification for the Rusty Bucket and Hills Market.

“There’s no new development proposed with this (sign) request,” county planner Brad Fisher said.

But more than 200 people attended the session regardless, held via online videoconference because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. They mostly expressed their concerns about how Sheetz, a popular chain in northeast Ohio that has started planning its first central Ohio locations, and another gas station at the development could affect traffic, water quality and other issues.

“We ask for further time, as Franklin County residents, to review the rezoning request based on our interest that the rezoning request not be in conflict with the general health, safety and welfare,” said Matt Dotson, who lives nearby.

“When can we present our concerns about this kind of thing?” asked Lisa Daris, a Mount Air resident. “Because I am very concerned about more traffic in the area at a time when we are trying to slow down traffic or lessen traffic.”

The area was rezoned in early 2018 to allow Continental Hills LLC to move forward with redevelopment, including the addition of a senior living complex. The zoning allows for the addition of a gas station, county planners said Aug. 11. Those plans would have to be reviewed by the county’s economic-development and planning department, among other offices.

Although the sign modifications appeared routine, Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce urged tabling of the request with hopes of encouraging communication between residents and developers.

“I’m always concerned when I feel like there’s a breakdown in communication,” he said, adding later, “It’s not unreasonable to ask for a conversation to take place.”

Following nearly 2 1/2 hours of discussion, all three county commissioners voted to table the sign changes, with plans to reconsider them next month. In the meantime, the commissioners also directed the county economic-development and planning office to arrange a community meeting to further discuss the Olentangy Valley Centre development.

Sheetz, which has about 40 Ohio locations, per its website, would compete with various local businesses and two existing gas stations already in the center, according to a “Stop Sheetz” website that is seeking petition signatures opposing it.

“The small business owners that will be impacted by the duplicative services offered by Sheetz (gas, made-to-order food, convenience grocery) are our friends, neighbors and have generously donated to our community for many years,” according to the website.

Sheetz opponents say that a fuel spill at the 24-hour operation could seep into the aquifer-fed Aqua Ohio water treatment plant that serves about 2,500 residents in Worthington Hills, along with Perry Township and Columbus.

“Inevitably, there will be spills,” said Jeff La Rue, Aqua Ohio spokesman. “We take any threat to the safety of our water supply seriously.”

Opponents also oppose any new truck traffic that brings noise, traffic snarls and potential crime.

The shopping center is adjacent to the Olentangy Trail bikeway, which Metro Parks has been trying to extend north into Highbanks Metro Park.

The anchor of the shopping center is Hills Market, an independent grocery store that has been there since 1993. Before that, other grocers owned it since at least the early 1970s. Hills also has a Downtown Columbus location.

Currently, the bike path ends alongside Hills, a popular stop for cyclists seeking food or drinks. Hills leases the market from Continental, with whom it is negotiating its current lease.

“We are very happy with the remodeling of the center and look forward to serving the community for many years to come,” Hills owners said in a written statement.

The Sheetz operation would be slightly north and west of Hills.

The Columbus Dispatch reporter Dean Narciso contributed to this story.

mkovac@dispatch.com

@OhioCapitalBlog