Westerville Planning Commission: Birdie Books & Café gets nod for Uptown destination

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek
This rendering shows how the Birdie Books & Café at 86 and 90 N. State St. in Uptown Westerville will appear. The Westerville Planning Commission approved the plan March 25.

A combined bookstore, café and hotel – described as a positive addition to Uptown Westerville – has been given the green light for development at 86 and 90 N. State St.

Applicants Peter and Shari Russell received final approval for their Birdie Books & Café business from the city’s planning commission March 25.

In a written statement to the commission, Shari Russell said the hotel operation would be limited to two upstairs guest rooms.

"It is our desire to introduce two luxury, independent overnight guest rooms that mimic a modern boutique hotel experience. Each guest room would contain a king bed, private en suite bathroom, a kitchenette (sink, refrigerator and microwave) with complimentary local snacks and beverages, and comfortable seating for two," Russell wrote.

City planning manager Bassem Bitar told the commission the city approved the business' basic plan last year, and the proposal was before the commission to accommodate some final details. 

The city wanted one parking space removed to increase buffering to an adjacent alley, Bitar said.

A temporary variance was needed because a garage will be removed and replaced, he said.

Driveway width and other buffering are close to city standards, he said.

"This is the Uptown district. ... We feel (the proposal) works just fine," Bitar said.

Commission members applauded the plan.

"I liked the first iteration, and I like this one even better," said commissioner and City Council member Craig Treneff.

Commission chairman Paul Johnson asked Shari Russell, "When will we see some activity on that site?" 

"Very soon, Very soon. Thank you very much," Russell said.

"Good luck with that endeavor. That's going to really be a positive addition to Uptown Westerville," Johnson said.

"Although the architectural design has changed considerably, our business goals have remained constant, intent to bring an independent bookstore and community café and boutique hotel accommodations to our beloved and vibrant Uptown Westerville," Russell said in her written statement. "Our driving goal is to create a nostalgic, one-of-a-kind cultural experience that is community-focused and exemplifies hospitality to our guests and neighbors."

She continued: "Despite the redevelopment of our plans, we are gratified to share that Birdie Books is well on its way, having partnered with Westerville City Schools and the Westerville Partners for Education by supplying over 500 books to 53 classrooms in support of their Many Voices Diverse Library program," Russell wrote.

"The building materials and construction methods that we have chosen are intended to leave a lasting heritage for many generations to come," she wrote. "The stonework is composed of natural stone. The wooden lintels over the café windows are made from oak. Our first choice for the cladding on the main entrance is a thin-gauge metal with a copper-green patina finish. ... The gas lanterns are copper and made by hand in New Orleans."

The garage will be carefully dismantled, she wrote, and its materials, including "hand-hewn beams, wood ceiling panels and corrugated metal, will be repurposed for use in the interior of the new café building."

The site also will have four bicycle racks and ADA-compliant pedestrian pathways, Russell said. 

"Incorporating two smaller outdoor patios will help to dissipate sound, while the veranda on the east patio will eventually be covered in vines creating a natural canopy from the weather," Russell wrote. "The landscape plan follows a heritage garden theme focused on texture and includes native varieties. Raised cedar garden beds will establish a connection between the cafe’s offerings."

The proposal does not require council approval.

The commission also met March 24 and was expected to consider two major applications: Otterbein University’s plans for what’s called Campus West (formerly Uptown West), on property known as the Braun Farm and a preliminary development plan and development standards text for a new mixed-use development, what’s known as the Sharp Farm redevelopment, on Africa Road by Epcon Communities and Vincent Romanelli.

 According to Jayme Maxwell, the city’s deputy clerk, both applicants requested that their plans be tabled. Commission discussion will resume when the applicants reintroduce the proposals.

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