A high water table and uncontrolled stormwater drainage have delayed a proposed luxury apartment development on Columbus’ westside.
As city officials wait a month for more information from apartment developers, indications are this proposal may become a test of how city officials will approach development requests on the city’s outskirts in the future, where agriculture uses in the county and near the city are colliding with commercial business interests.
If there were to be a test case, the parcel proposed for the Flats of Columbus, based on its current zoning and that of nearby neighbors, could be an example of the types of compromise and flexibility that will be needed.
The Flats of Columbus is aptly named — the proposed 130 one-story luxury apartments are planned for a flat parcel in the 100-year floodway fringe near Menard’s home-improvement center. The proposal from Ohio-based Redwood Acquisition will now be considered by the city plan commission in March. On Wednesday, nearby neighbors, including farmers, gave objections about the project for a variety of reasons — but it was a drainage and stormwater runoff issue that sealed
The land in question is behind a commercial development known as Columbus Crossing, where a Menard’s, Sam’s Club and Charwood Suites extended-stay lodging are located.
Apartment developers want the city to annex the 23.2 acres and rezone it from an agriculture use to residential multifamily. The developers said they plan to raise the building site 2 feet above the 100-year flood stage, which is what Columbus requires when someone wants to build in a flood fringe zone.
Complaints from farmers, who say continuing development in the area causes stormwater runoff to flood surrounding farm fields, caused plan commission members to pause, however.
The commission asked developers to return next month with a preliminary drainage plan that would show how storm runoff from the apartment complex would be contained, something that is not normally required by planning bodies.
Usually, the city plan commission would be asked to recommend approval or denial of the proposal to the city council. Following this recommendation, the developers would submit a drainage plan to the city detailing how the property’s stormwater runoff would be contained. That report is submitted to the city; and while it is a public document, the city does not require a public hearing for it.
Located off Carr Hill Road and Morgan Willow Trace, the property is zoned for agriculture and is bordered by commercial properties off Jonathan Moore Pike. Single-family homes are behind it, on property zoned agriculture preferred, at an elevation about 50 feet higher than the Flats property.
Surrounding this is open farmland, rented by Jim Daily of Hope and his son Ben, who operate the Daily Farm Market. They asked city officials to consider the continuing effects of allowing development to inadequately deal with storm runoff in this area.
The Columbus Crossing businesses use retention ponds to corral stormwater runoff; Menard’s and Charwood each have one. The Flats also proposes a retention pond in the lowest-lying area of its plot, near the Menard’s retention pond. But Jim Daily said it’s not enough to stop the stormwater when combined with the high water table in the area and the sandy soil.
With the current development, water stands on portions of his rented farm fields, delaying and sometimes even preventing planting about 40 to 50 acres, Ben Daily said. Because of the high water table, the retention ponds fill quickly, and there is no other place for the water to go other than the lower-elevation farm fields.
Jim Daily requested that the drainage issue be addressed before the annexation and rezoning were approved, instead of after, so that the developers would be required to have adequate engineering for its stormwater runoff.
He requested that, instead of relying on the retention pond, the developer should be required to hook into the city’s storm sewers, which are nearby, a request that could result in more costs to the developer or the city. There is a stormwater sewer in the area, but it is not extended to the property now.
City Engineer Beth Fizel advised that the developer would be required to contain its stormwater to its property, which is the reason for the retention pond. She cautioned city officials to remember that the Flats developer cannot be held accountable for runoff being created by previously approved developments such as Menard’s and Charwood, whose approvals also were based on retention ponds that were built.
“We’re basically not against the property development,” Jim Daily said after the meeting.
During the meeting, nearby neighbors and the Dailys brought up a wetland area on the Flats property, but for different reasons.
The neighbors want it protected, as geese are known to congregate there. But the farmers said it isn’t really a wetland but standing stormwater creating what looks like a wetland. The city’s analysis of the property says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wetlands Inventory lists the wetland portion of the Flats property as a herbaceous marsh, fen, swale or wet meadow.
Noting “we can’t engineer the drainage tonight,” plan commission president Roger Lang guided the developers and the plan commission members through a negotiation that allows the plan commission to review preliminary drainage plans before voting on the
Flats proposal in March, but the emphasis was on preliminary.
The developers were unwilling to invest thousands of dollars into the full drainage plan if the commission was unwilling to promise a recommendation approving annexation and rezoning.
Beyond the drainage issue, owners of single-family homes whose wooded property borders the edge of the apartment complex also have concerns. And some of those concerns stem from their homes being located in an agriculture-preferred zoning area, which isn’t the same as being zoned residential.
When Charwood Suites was approved, neighbor complaints resulted in a 6-foot opaque fence across the back of the residential hotel’s property to deter trespassing onto the private property — at a higher elevation and covered in trees behind it.
The neighbors were divided Wednesday night over whether the developers should have to build a fence between the Flats property and the wooded area.
Some wanted the 6-foot fence; some wanted a three-rail open fence suggested by the developer; and others didn’t want any fence at all.
Rodney Steele and his wife, Lois, who live on West Carr Hill Road and own property that will border the Flats property, were concerned that the developers would take out trees that shield their homes from the pending development. If given the choice, they preferred less tree removal and perhaps the three-rail fence, so there was some property line noted with a fence.
Jim Frey, representing Redwood, said the developers were willing to work with what the plan commission and neighbors wanted but did not want the 6-foot opaque fence, saying it wasn’t conducive to the luxury look of the complex.
“I think the issues with the water were more serious, compared to the issues we had,” Rodney Steele said after the meeting. “We were more concerned about them tearing up the woods and having people wander onto our property.”
The neighbors aren’t quite as concerned about the complex as the farmers, he said, adding if there had to be development on the property, the Flats proposal might be as good as it’s going to get.
The neighbors were concerned to learn that, with their zoning, there are fewer protections for a buffer zone between a property such as the apartment complex and their nearby residences. Their homes are in the county, while the proposed apartment complex is seeking to be in the city, further complicating how the two properties would fit next to each other. For example, there is a 25-foot buffer zone required, but the concrete patios planned for the back of each apartment would be permitted to go within that zone, closer to the woods.
Even with the buffer zone, Lois Steele said, her property wouldn’t be the same as she and her family would now “spend its time looking down on a group of apartment roofs.”
Her husband said later that although the roofs might be an eyesore, “at least we’re at the top of the hill looking down, rather than having the apartment people looking down on us.”