Delaware council: Commission decision overruled; MOHIO Pizza rear patio allowed

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek
MOHIO Pizza at 23 N. Sandusky St. will be permitted to install a rear patio for seating, along with a 6-foot privacy fence to hide diners' view of trash bins and this parking lot.

Delaware City Council on March 8 granted a rare appeal of a city Historic Preservation Commission decision.

Council's decision centered on the question of whether areas behind downtown buildings could be as historical in appearance as their front facades. Several council members said that because of modern necessities -- such as trash bins and grease traps -- they could not be.

Monroe Nelson, who operates MOHIO Pizza at 23 N. Sandusky St., filed a request to create a rear permanent patio area for the business. The commission on Feb. 24 approved the plan, with two changes.

Nelson wanted the patio to be surrounded by a 6-foot fence to hide from diners' view nearby trash bins, grease traps and a parking lot.

Citing regulations for the downtown historic district, the commission instead required that fencing be only 3 feet tall. It also ruled, in accordance with regulations, that any fencing be of historically appropriate wrought iron, or steel made to resemble it.

Nelson then appealed the decision to City Council, which granted his requests on both the 6-foot fence and the materials he had planned to use.

City planner Dave Efland told council, "These are pretty unusual. We don't have a lot of appeals."

Council member Lisa Keller, who’s also a commission member, said she was forced to miss the panel's Feb. 24 meeting. 

She praised the commission's work and added, "I also think we have to keep in mind, though, that when our standards were written, we didn't ever anticipate we would end up in a pandemic (caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus), where business owners would be coming before us, asking us to put patios in the rear of their businesses that abut grease dumpsters and parking spaces. And so what we have here is a business owner who is literally out in the water here asking for some help. And what we want to do as a city is throw him a life raft instead of kind of making him swim for it here."

She said Nelson's fence likely would be gone in 200 years.

"I totally agree," said council member Kent Shafer.

"I agree with Lisa 100%," said council member Chris Jones.

"I think the original intent with HPC was more towards the front facade of our downtown. I don't think anybody really ever thought about the back, and frankly, we've got igloos downtown (to allow outdoor, cold weather dining) which certainly aren't historic. Now we're talking about putting up a fence in the back of a building that overlooks trash dumpsters and grease dumpsters ... and we're going to get down in the weeds about 3 feet of fencing is to me insanity," Jones said. 

"I would further concur with that," said council member George Hellinger. "What the HPC desires to do ... is wonderful. ... We need the business up front and the party in the back. And what's going on in the back is fine. It's not going to be there forever. ... I see no issue with it at all." 

"I think we'd be hard pressed to find the back of a building that looked like it did 200 years ago, with generators and dumpsters and grease traps and parking lots. All those things wouldn't have been there," said council member Drew Farrell.

Mayor Carolyn K. Riggle said she didn't oppose the appeal but wondered if vehicle traffic behind the shop would pose a safety issue.

Council member Cory Hoffman said he has lived in large cities.

"I don't foresee any danger back there, personally,” he said. “It wouldn't even cross my mind."

Nelson told council, "The only way this patio will be successful is if I can (block) the views from the parking lot and garbage dumpsters, as well as my neighbor's grease trap. ... If I can't create ... a reasonable dining experience, it's useless. It's not going to work."

Also speaking to council was Aaron Crater of Ohio Bar Hop, which, he said, advocates for the bar and restaurant industry.

He said bars and restaurants have been hit harder by the pandemic than most industries, with many jobs lost. He urged council to look for ways to aid businesses and not create more obstacles.

 Efland said Nelson will have the downtown's first permanent back-area patio, one which could set the stage for future requests.

"Of course, we have to view every request in light of its own set of facts, but trying to be as consistent as we can be in a fairly inconsistent downtown environment, particularly in the back of some of these properties," he said.

Also during the meeting, council approved the final development plan and final subdivision plat for 90 single-family attached units on about 21.44 acres to be known as Boulder Reserve, south of Boulder Drive and east of the Delaware YMCA Community Center. 

A city planning staff’s report said the project is the last land with residential zoning in the Willowbrook planned-unit development, approved in 1999. The plan calls for 90 units -- 54 single-family and 36 townhouse duplexes.

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