It’s been a long time coming, but members of Sunbury Village Council on April 6 approved legislation that changes 250 acres of land between South Galena Road and Interstate 71, just east of the closed I-71 Ohio Department of Transportation weigh station, from agricultural use to a planned commercial district.
With council members unanimously approving emergency language contained in the zoning change legislation, the zoning change became effective immediately.
Northgate Centre Development LLC will develop the land, part of a series of Type II expedited annexations that occurred over the past two years.
Northgate principal Pat Shively and partners plan a major commercial development surrounding a proposed I-71/State Route 37 interchange modification – also known as the “southern interchange.” That interchange would connect the core of the village on a new roadway, Sunbury Parkway, built completely within village limits on recently annexed land.
Last week’s vote did not come easy. In November, members of the Sunbury Planning and Zoning Commission approved the zoning change following a public hearing that drew a large crowd of mostly Berkshire Township residents opposing the Northgate Center development.
On Jan. 6, council members held another public hearing, and a first reading of the ordinance that would ratify the zoning commission’s recommendation. Due to public concerns about the development’s impact on nearby residential neighborhoods, the ordinance was tabled. On Jan. 20, the zoning change request was remanded back to the zoning commission.
Members of the zoning commission increased building and pavement setback standards for a portion of the commercial property adjacent to the Cheshire Estates residential development and along North Galena Road, codified a graduated building height standard, and strengthened additional building and parking standards that the Northgate development would be required to adhere to. The zoning commission held another public hearing, approved the amended agreement and sent it back to council.
Last week’s council meeting opened with the fourth public hearing on the controversial zoning change application, and it drew roughly the same audience as the previous public hearings – most opposed to the request and the proposed Northgate Center development, a few in favor.
Those opposed to the zoning change ranged from complete opposition to the development, to others wanting further modifications to the rezoning requirements. Several asked that if council members were going to approve the zoning change, to do so without emergency language. Without emergency language, Sunbury residents would have had 30 days to gather signatures and place a referendum on the November ballot for an up-or-down vote on the zoning change request.
Defending the need for emergency language, Village Solicitor David Brehm said the existing I-71/SR37 intersection is failing, and could not accommodate the 10,000 cars each day that the new Simon-Tanger outlet mall would draw. Brehm said a New Community Authority (NCA) agreement between the village and Northgate Commerce Development would partially fund the interchange modification and additional road improvements.
“ODOT said there is no money to fix that interchange,” Brehm said. “They are going to let that interchange fail. This is a traffic and safety issue. That existing interchange will not handle that growth. This is moving forward. We either stay in front of it, or play catch-up.”
Brehm and Sunbury’s consulting engineer, Wes Hall, both assured audience members that the legislation on the table was simply a zoning change and that each individual element of Northgate Center would come before the zoning commission and council for final approval.
Following the meeting, Mayor Tommy Hatfield said the annexations, NCA and Northgate Commerce Center zoning change is the most complex set of intertwined issues that he has ever faced.
“I have mixed emotions,” he said. “It’s been exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. I truly believe that we live in a great area, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have challenges. Sometimes misunderstandings helps the process work better. We made significant changes to the zoning change request, over and above anything that’s out there today. Now we’ll move forward the best we can.”
ODOT will have a public meeting from 4 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 28, at Northgate Church, 7097 E. SR37, to share the three proposed combined interchange modification options and accept public comment.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093