Council considers 150-acre rezoning request

A petition to prepare 150 acres in Wayne Township near Walesboro for future development is moving forward, despite some debate regarding commitments for the developer.

Columbus City Council voted Tuesday to approve the first reading of ordinances to annex 153.53 acres — including about 4 acres of right-of-way — into the city and an ordinance to rezone 149 acres from Agriculture: Preferred to Industrial: Heavy. The two requests come from TMC Developers, LLC and pertain to property located at 5180 W. 450S and 5440 W. 450S.

Ordinances must be passed on two readings to be fully approved, and the council’s next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 7.

The reason for the two requests is to prepare for future industrial development, according to the planning department.

“We do not have a specific client in mind at this time,” said TMC Director of Construction and Development Mike Balog at the Columbus Plan Commission’s December meeting. He also noted that the property, due to its size, could likely be subdivided in the future to provide spaces for multiple companies, though they can’t rule out the possibility of a single user either.

During the time for public comment at the commission meeting, neighboring property owners expressed concern about issues such existing traffic problems, property values, noise, pollution, drainage, and general impact on neighboring properties.

Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp. President Jason Hester spoke in favor of TMC’s requests, saying that over the last two years, the EDC encountered 38 projects where developers were seeking sites of 100 acres or more.

At the council meeting, neighboring resident Allyson Hill expressed concern about adequate buffering between her family’s home and the potential development. Their residence is west of the subject property and is separated from it by a large agricultural parcel.

“We don’t think it’s fair for a agriculture that is plowed for the majority of the year, alternates corn and beans, beans are 3-foot tall at most — we don’t think that’s a very adequate barrier from the industrial park to our home,” she said.

Much of the council’s discussion on the request centered on buffering, as the commission’s recommendation to council includes commitments for buffering to the east and west of the subject property.

Councilman David Bush made a motion to eliminate the commitment regarding a landscape buffer along the west property line. He pointed out that the property immediately west of the subject area is a large, agricultural property, rather than a residential area, and expressed concern about setting a precedent through the case. He also expressed doubt over the efficacy of the potential buffer.

“For me, we’re penalizing the developer of this property unnecessarily, without any benefit to the residents,” he said.

However, City/County Planning Director Jeff Bergman said that while the council can amend rezoning commitments recommended by the plan commission to make them more stringent, voting to make the commitments less stringent means that the matter would return to plan commission so that they have an opportunity to give input on the change.

“The buffering just allows us to be sensitive to the residents in those areas in order to give them some protection without being unduly burdening on the developers,” added Councilman Tom Dell. He also said that each case that comes to the planning department is unique, so he doesn’t see this decision as setting a definitive precedent.

When asked whether TMC’s preference would be getting the commitment removed or expediting the process, Balog replied that they would “prefer not to drag this process out” so that they can have the property ready if a development opportunity arises.

Bush’s motion ultimately died for a lack of a second, with the council voting to approve the rezoning ordinance as written.

Prior to voting on the first reading of the annexation ordinance, the council first voted to amend the ordinance, as Councilman Frank Miller noted an error regarding which council district the property would become part of. While the ordinance original stated that it would become part of District 4, the correct district is actually District 2.