Commission approves new site plans

A site plan for the multifamily urban grocer project received city officials’ approval after being tabled for revision in September.

The Columbus Plan Commission approved an amended site development plan submitted by Flaherty & Collins. The development will be located at the southeast corner of Lafayette Avenue and Second Street. According to a report by planning staff, the project includes a 15,000-square-foot grocery store and an apartment building with approximately 200 units.

The developer’s updated request featured waivers regarding setback and allowing two primary structures in the same lot. All four waivers were approved by the commission.

According to city/county Planning Director Jeff Bergman, the revised site plan includes updates such as the addition of a recycling container and a change to the urban grocer’s façade.

Planning staff recommended 15 conditions for approval in regards to items such as subdivision, landscaping, sidewalks and comments from city officials.

These conditions were included in the commission’s vote, along with an additional requirement. In making the motion, commission member Dave Fisher added that the building materials should be “similar” to what was presented by developers. The motion passed 7-1 with Evan Kleinhenz voting against.

Afterward, he said his vote was due to the inclusion of a condition regarding the placement of shopping cart corrals. The condition states that the corrals will be removed from the parking lot and located along the south side of the grocer building.

“I just didn’t want to limit them with regards to the location of that shopping cart corral, in case they wanted to use that space for other, more appropriate activities,” Kleinhenz explained.

The area to which the corrals will be relocated is currently shown as a grassy lawn on site plans, said American Structurepoint senior project manager Rob Bray. That space was envisioned as a possible space for temporary events, and the team believes they can move the corrals there while still having room for events.

Kleinhenz also said he would have preferred that the additional requirement include a statement regarding color.

Fisher said that he intended colors to be part of the motion, and commission member Michael Kinder added that he believes it falls within the wording proposed by Bergman. Kleinhenz replied that, in that case, he would have been an “aye.”

Prior to the final vote, the commissioners were split 4-4 on a motion made by commission member and city engineer Dave Hayward, which included the staff recommendations but not the requirement regarding renderings.

“I trust the developer,” he said.

Hayward, Zack Ellison, Dave Bush and Amber Porter voted for the motion. Kleinhenz, Fisher, Kinder and Julie Abedian voted against.

Prior to voting, the commission and developers discussed the revised request, with officials asking about some potential components not included in the plan.

One of these was additional retail space, which was also brought up at a previous meeting.

According to the staff report, the developer has since received a conditional use approval from the Columbus Board of Zoning Appeals Hearing Officer to have multifamily residences on the ground floor of the apartment building.

The conditional use approval was required because the Commercial Downtown zoning district mandates that multi-family residential use is only permitted on upper levels of buildings, and the first floor should be used for retail or offices.

Derek Newman with Flaherty & Collins said he looked into the idea of adding more retail to the development and locating it on the first floor along the west façade. However, due to factors such as height and plans for residential space, he said it’s “just not feasible at this point.”

“It was never taken into consideration from just day one project deliverables and planning,” Newman said. “We had only anticipated roughly 200 multifamily units and a grocer component.”

In addition, Flaherty & Collins has seen in other recent projects that it can be challenging to find retail tenants, he said. The low visibility in this particular location is also an obstacle.

Ellison replied that he’s spoken to architects from Bloomington who say that additional retail space can help “draw more people in.”

“A grocery store’s going to be great for 200 families that live right there in the apartment, but what else is going to draw them down there?” he said. “If you don’t have something else — some kind of retail space or banking buildings or something like that — it just seems to me like you’re not going to have that magnetism to draw a lot of dollars down there.”

He also mentioned one project where an architect said a grocer co-op needed additional retail to attract people to their business.

Flaherty & Collins, in talking with a potential grocer, has not heard that same concern, Newman said. He added that proximity to the grocer is an amenity for the nearby ground-floor units.

City councilman and downtown business owner Tom Dell agreed that the grocer should be a sufficient draw for people from “all over” the downtown area.

“What I’ve heard on the ground, from everybody I’ve talked to, from basically Second Street all the way up to 19th Street, is they’re so happy to have a grocer that’s going to be convenient and accessible to them,” he said during the time for public comment.

While an official grocer for the site has not been announced yet, Nicholas Blewett with Bloomingfoods Co-op Market has confirmed that they’ve had discussions with the developer about “fulfilling the grocer component of this project.”

Another amenity discussed was the nearby People Trail.

“They will be relocating the People Trail on this property from a location primarily along the south property line to a location that works its way between that county parking lot and this development,” Bergman said.

The new trail location will also align with the planned 1821 Trail at the intersection of First and Lafayette.

Bray said that the existing trail on the property will need to be closed during construction.

In addition to approving the site plan for the mixed use development, the commission also approved a revised site plan by Flaherty & Collins for a Bartholomew County parking lot located south of the development.