Sunbury Planning & Zoning Commission has approved a zoning change for the Northgate Center Development proposal.
Acreage recently annexed into the village was rezoned from agricultural zoning to planned commercial district (PCD).
In mid-July, Greg Chillog and Richard McBride of the planning, development and landscape architecture firm EDGE, joined developer Pat Shivley of the Northgate proposal at a Village Council meeting for an informal presentation of a Northgate concept plan.
Shivley and his Northgate Center partners said during that July meeting they would soon ask members of the Sunbury Planning & Zoning Commission to approve a zoning change for acreage recently annexed into the village from agricultural zoning to planned commercial district (PCD).
Shivley, Chillog, and attorney Glenn Dugger, of Smith and Hale, came to Nov. 23 zoning commission meeting for a public hearing to rezone 251 acres east of I-71 from agricultural to PCD as a first phase of Northgate Commerce District.
The Ohio Department of Transportation has determined that the routes 36/37 and Interstate 71 interchange improvements are needed. An “intersection modification feasibility study” is underway. ODOT calls a southern I-71 interchange in the vicinity of the abandoned ODOT weigh station south of the existing interchange a preferred site for an intersection modification.
The concept plan presented Nov. 23 shows a new four-lane roadway within recently annexed properties, Sunbury Parkway, with upscale and big-box retail stores around the proposed southern I-71 interchange. The roadway in the concept plan leading into Sunbury would be entirely within village limits.
Dugger said the newly annexed property east of I-71 now within the village is agricultural, but is increasingly attractive for development. He also noted that developers are working with ODOT on the traffic component, and Northgate Commerce District developers hope to have interchange approval by the second quarter of 2016.
“Sunbury Parkway is one of the fundamental components of this application,” Dugger said. “It will become the primary way people get in and out of Sunbury, we want it to be a welcoming approach; and it will be the economic engine that will build the interchange.”
Chillog said the Northgate Commerce District concept plan would require high quality building materials, four-sided architecture (no blank walls), and restrict some unwelcome uses.
“Our text has eliminated adult stores and clubs, used-car lots, storage units and truck stops that are not very nice neighbors,” Chillog said. “Some multi-family like senior 55-plus living would be allowed. Apartments and freestanding multi-family would not be a permitted use – they would have to come back to you.”
Chillog described limited curb cuts, shared parking and Sunbury Parkway landscaping similar to landscaping around Easton Town Center.
The plans showed black crossbar horse fence and spaced brick pillars lining Sunbury Parkway at a visually appropriate distance from the roadway; consistent signage would be at the pillars, and light poles would blend into the surrounding landscape.
“Sunbury Parkway will have a nicely landscaped median and a rural feel,” Chillog said. “We’re trying to keep the character of Sunbury. You’re not Delaware or Westerville or New Albany.”
There were questions about the southern boundary that backs up to the residential Estates at Cheshire.
Dugger explained that a 15-foot tree preservation zone, and a 35-foot buffer with mounding and additional tree screening would provide a visual block. Buildings starting at the 50-foot setback would be limited to a 35-foot height and increase one foot every additional five feet off the setback to a maximum 85-foot building height at about 250 feet from the setback.
Dugger also noted sidewalks on both sides of Sunbury Parkway, narrower building setbacks to avoid large parking lots in front of businesses, and a 10-foot wide trail system connecting to the village center.
“Best practices encourage shared parking and sensible setbacks,” Chillog said. “Sunbury Parkway is going to carry a lot of trips, we need more pedestrian-friendly streets and buildings at a pedestrian scale. Our purpose is to make Northgate Commerce District walkable, welcoming and inviting.”
Sunbury consulting engineer Wes Hall of CT Consultants reminded everyone the public hearing and application was only for a rezoning from agricultural to PCD.
“This is all conceptual,” Hall said. “The southern interchange, Sunbury Parkway, and South Wilson Road all needs to be approved by the county and state. This application allows for flexibility of development; the text was prepared to capture that without restrictive use.”
Hall said the Sunbury Parkway corridor is going to be aesthetically pleasing, with details being approved in the final development plan.
“No formal development plan has been submitted yet,” Hall said. “This is just the final conceptual plan allowing developers to move forward and secure funding for that interchange. It’s a balancing act, but ODOT has tentatively approved that southern interchange. It’s just a matter of when.”
Hall said the Northgate Commerce District conceptual plan is within 95 percent compliance of Sunbury’s zoning code.
“There’s just some minor tweaks to the text that are needed,” Hall said. “And we would strictly enforce the landscape plan along that southern border.”
Commission member Len Weatherby said the village is moving into new territory.
“We’re dealing with things we’ve never done before,” Weatherby said. “We’re doing a broad stroke with this Planned Commercial Development, but I don’t mind going forward with it.”
Commission member Dave Martin said approving the zoning change application was not, in his words, a slam-dunk.
Hall added that, if approved, the application would go to Village Council for three readings and an up-or-down vote. If approved by council, there would be a 30-day statutory referendum waiting period.
“Then they would come forward with a final development plan in great detail,” Hall said. “Buildings, drainage, traffic impact study, they will all come forward in stages, then final engineering.”
Mayor Tommy Hatfield, who sits as a voting member of the zoning commission, said a New Community Authority attached to Northgate Commerce District will fund the interchange, but a portion of NCA dollars will also fund associated roadways, sidewalks, recreational trails, and divert money to schools and other taxing authorities.
“Sunbury has always said we’re doing our best to have the people developing pay for the impact of development,” Hatfield said. “There’s never enough money that comes in to pay for the impact of development, but this can be responsibly done in a way we can all be proud of and live with. We think this document has some truth in it. We know it’s going to look nice.”
Commission members approved the zoning change request, contingent on final engineering and legal approval, by a 4-1 vote, with commission member Tim Gose dissenting.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093