Lifestyle back in town; residents still not thrilled
By LENNY C. LEOPLA
News Assistant Managing Editor
Lifestyle Communities Director of Construction Operations Ron Coyan attended the Monday, March 19, Village of Sunbury Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, and was met with stiff community resistance to the 149-unit townhouse apartments Lifestyle wants to build at the South Miller Drive and Fairland Drive intersection directly across the street from General Rosecrans Elementary School.
Coyan said he attended the meeting for a second informal discussion with zoning commission members. Lifestyle Communities Chase Miller attended the Monday, February 27, zoning meeting with architectural renderings of the proposal.
At the February meeting Miller said the site was zoned in the mid-1990s for multi family townhouse use; that there are 152 existing lifestyle apartments in the village built in 2000. He said the proposed 100 percent rental 149-apartment complex, geared toward a young professional demographic, would contain one, two and three-bedroom two-story townhouses in neighborhood scale streets.
Zoning commission members and area residents at the February meeting expressed concerns about the proposed sites ingress and egress points. The Fairland Drive entrance to the apartment complex is directly opposite the General Rosecrans Elementary School entrance used by school buses and staff; the South Miller Drive entrance is approximately 300 feet north of Fairland Drive; and a stub in the architect’s drawing shows a potential connection to Fox Trail Drive to the north leading through that development to Cheshire Road.
Fox Trail Drive residents attending the February meeting said they were concerned about traffic if their street is made into a collector for Cheshire Road and West Cherry Street. One resident even asked about the history of Lifestyle Communities apartments and crime statistics.
At last Monday’s zoning session Coyan said he was there just to let commission members know the Lifestyle Communities had initiated a traffic study for the surrounding area.
Sunbury’s consulting engineer Wes Hall, CT Consultants, said he had a phone conference with Coyan to work through the scope of the traffic study.
“They’re going to cover intersections adjacent to the site,” Hall said. “They’ll do a traffic study of existing conditions first, and then overlay the impact. Fox Trail Drive is not involved because there is no intersection; there’s no turning, just traffic in and out.”
Commission members were concerned about the hours of day when traffic would be studied; if the study would include school traffic peak hours.
“What they’re trying to find out is the impact made on the intersections by this development,” Hall explained. “You can’t take school peak hours and put that burden on the developer. That’s typical traffic impact study procedure.”
Hall also said the traffic impact study would not include foot traffic, but when the developer designs the project they will make sure there is safe access to the nearby elementary school and park.
Coyan said the traffic impact study would cover the proposed apartment complex peak hours of 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. in the mornings and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the afternoon. To accommodate area resident concerns about school traffic he said they would also cover from 3 p.m. in the afternoon.
Commission members wanted Lifestyle Communities to broaden the traffic impact study to 2 p.m., because of Fairland Drive traffic to the new Big Walnut Middle School that ends classes shortly after 2 p.m. every day.
“My point is if you’re collecting data it has to be encompasses that area,” said commission member Nathan Coey. “I don’t know if we’re doing ourselves any favor if we do 3 p.m. instead of 2 p.m., especially if it doesn’t cost any more money.”
Coyan agreed to broaden the afternoon hours of the traffic impact study; and not begin the study until students return from spring break.
Commission members also discussed the entrances to the proposed apartment complex.
Hall said there was not enough frontage for another entrance on Miller Drive.
“Fairland (at the GRE entrance) would not warrant a traffic signal; a four-way stop maybe,” Hall said. “But I don’t see a four-way stop or a signal warranted at this time.”
Hall said he was more concerned about a Fox Trail Drive connection in and out of the apartments that could intersect with Cheshire Road, interfering with middle school traffic.
Coyan said using the Fox Trail Drive stub was not something Lifestyle Communities necessarily wanted to do.
“We provided our two means of ingress and egress for our residents,” Coyan said. “That Fox Trail Drive connect was something that was added.
Commission member Len Weatherby said considering the concerns that area residents have already expressed, there shouldn’t be a connection to Fox Trail Drive.
“It’s not fundamental to your development,” Weatherby said. “Maybe have that stub opened up for emergencies, but have a gate there. But that doesn’t address the other concerns we have.”
Sunbury Mayor Tommy Hatfield said the problem is the result of difference between the area surrounding the proposed apartment site when it was zoned multi-family in 1996 and what’s happening in the area today.
Non-voting commission member Pam Lillie, the Big Walnut Local School District Zoning Commission Liaison, said the school was built first, so commission members should look after the school when making any nearby zoning decisions.
Weatherby said, in essence, there’s no win-win.
“What we’re talking about here is the lesser of two evils,” Weatherby said. “Two entrances on Miller Drive, or one on Miller and one across from the school entrance.”
Fox Trail Drive resident Trudy McCloskey said her street is the only street in the subdivision without a turnaround and it’s the narrowest.
“There’s senior garden apartments located there and a group home,” McCloskey said. “Crews work there around the clock. They park on the street plus there’s a bus and a van every day. A fire truck cannot get to the hydrant with parking on both sides of the street. It’s hard right now to get down there and you want to open that up?”
Raccoon Lane resident Phil Boyd said Sunbury does not need more apartments.
“We need people to move here and invest in our community long-term,” Boyd said. “The impact of this on our school system will be tremendous.”
Wendy Hughes, Fox Trail Drive, said she has the last house on the street.
“This apartment complex will be next door to my house,” Hughes said. “If that road opens up, the added traffic to Cheshire — the whole area is going to be ugly. I’ll walk out my front door and look at an apartment complex. Our property values will plummet. There are a lot of 4, 5, 6 and 7 year olds who walk to school from our neighborhood. Pedestrian traffic needs looked at.”
Henry Clark, a Heartland Court resident and navy veteran, said he has seen apartments in all kinds of communities.
“Apartments draw a crime element,” Clark said. “We don’t want that here. I moved here with my family for this community, this lifestyle. We don’t want this.”
Cheshire Road resident Jerry Higgins asked commission members if Lifestyle Communities submits a zoning application that meets the rezoning as approved in 1996, do commission members have the right to turn the application down.
Village Solicitor David Brehm said: It’s possible yes, it’s possible no.
“It’s up to this body to approve or disapprove a zoning permit application,” Brehm said. “Then it would go to village council, and then it could even go to the courts. I might add that this plan was approved in 1996 and it had a 10-year development window.”
The next Village of Sunbury Planning & Zoning Commission meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m., Monday, April 23. Commission members will meet one hour early, at 6:30, for a work session.
All Sunbury Planning & Zoning Commission meetings adhere to the mandates of Ohio Sunshine Law and are open to the public.