The rigmarole that has been the pending Willowbrook Apartments development on South Houk Road in Delaware, now renamed the “Flats on Houk,” led back to the Delaware Planning Commission on Wednesday. Unfortunately for the developers, the results were no different than the original submission to the commission, when neither the preliminary and final development plan, nor the amendment to add units, was recommended for approval to City Council.
Ronald Sabatino, owner of Medrock LLC, is seeking an amendment to the zoning text that would allow him to increase the number of apartments in the development from 140 to 180 units on the 15 acres.
At the April 9 council meeting, Sabatino agreed to revise his proposal to address what he deemed “every legitimate comment” made from residents of neighboring communities. The ordinance was remanded with a 7-0 vote.
Among those concerns was a buffer between the apartments and the houses sitting north of the development, on the opposite side of Boulder Drive. Essentially, residents with houses along Harmony Drive, Diverston Way and Blakemore Drive, don’t want to be able to see the apartments from their yards.
Under the proposed revisal, Sabatino agreed to make the 5-foot-tall mound along Boulder Drive continuous, as well as add “a significant amount of trees” that would bring the total amount of trees along that stretch to over 100. All trees will be 6-foot-tall.
Planning and Community Development Director Dave Efland pointed out the trees would be staggered, as opposed to in a straight line as the renderings show, to reduce any potential holes in the treeline.
“Whether there are 180 (apartment) homes or 200, it’s invisible to the people to the north with the plan we’ve submitted,” Sabatino said.
But the most concerning issue residents have continued to voice their opinions on is the increase in density the 40 additional units would cause. In particular, those residents are concerned with what the increased density would mean for traffic and the safety of residents as a result.
“All the things that go on at the (YMCA) and the (Ohio National Guard) Armory, there’s so much traffic already. One hundred forty units, I consider it the max,” a resident stated to planning commission members.
Matt Weber, a city engineer and specialist in traffic management said, “Overall, we are satisfied that the impacts to Houk (Road) won’t be any more severe than the original traffic study contemplated.”
To date, Sabatino’s attempt to appease the concerns has been to reduce the number of units on Area 4, a future development that residents are not concerned with as it doesn’t affect them in the present.
The remanding of the ordinance at the April 9 council meeting, giving Sabatino time to reassess his proposal, sparked cautious optimism from nearby residents that the developers might reconsider the number of additional units requested.
Sabatino, however, remained steadfast with the request for 40 additional units to Area 3 in his presentation of the revised plan.
Asked by commission member Andy Volenik if he would entertain finding some middle ground between the approved 140 units and the proposed 180 units, Sabatino said, “We’re here tonight to ask for a vote for 180 units,” while proceeding to give a three-minute answer that served as a detailed “no.”
Commissioner Jim Halter asked Sabatino if residents had a right to be concerned or to be adamant about not increasing the density, after having been told the development would house 140 units when their houses were originally built.
“I’m always concerned about the people who are already there — what their property rights are, what their concerns should be,” Halter said.
Jeff Lewis, Sabatino’s attorney, said in a rebuttal, “If somebody had taken a look at the development plan, they would have foreseen and said, ‘You know what? This development plan envisions changes in the subarea densities, and this could be more dense than what is in the development plan.’”
“What’s in it for us?” one resident asked the planning commission. “We have a lot of concerns, but we’ve yet to hear what benefits we get from this change.”
The ordinance will return to council Monday, May 7.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @ddavis_gazette.