Amid protests from residents, Galena’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved an initial plan for a development at the current Blackhawk Golf Course that could more than double the population of the village.
Commission members said they had never seen the Municipal Building filled to capacity like it was Wednesday night with representatives for the developer and concerned residents and neighbors. The meeting lasted about five hours.
Applicant Blackhawk Endeavors LLC is planning a mixed-use development plan for the golf course at 8830 Dustin Road, and the John Wright cattle farm at 8131 Plumb Road. The boundaries are Dustin and Plumb roads, Old 3C Highway, and state Route 3. The properties, currently in Berkshire Township, would be annexed into the village of Galena. They are currently zoned as Berkshire Township recreational and agricultural.
“What brought us to Delaware County? Growth is happening,” said Brian Yeager, president & CEO of The Champion Companies. “This is the fastest-growing county in the Midwest.”
The 220 acres being considered would be developed in five phases from 2020 to 2026, and have more than 1,085 residences, including apartments and rental properties, with some commercial offices (along with Champion’s headquarters — Yeager said he is a Galena resident) and retail businesses such as restaurants and a small hotel; all in the neo-traditional style. There would also be trails and a community pool.
In the 2010 Census, Galena’s population was 687. Officials say the population is now closer to 1,000.
Yeager said his team has spent the last six months refining their plans and have accommodated the village’s requests. While he realized he wouldn’t be able to please everyone, Yeager said, “This is a place people are going to be proud of.”
Although there is a stigma attached to renters, Yeager said the trend in housing is tilting toward rentals for more flexibility by choice from millennials and retirees.
“The rent will be higher than a lot of people’s mortgages,” he said.
Champion has apartment complexes in Dublin, the Easton area, Hilliard, Lewis Center, Pickerington, Powell, Sunbury, Westerville and Worthington. Champion has a 120-page “Blackhawk Redevelopment Plan” that was produced on Aug. 1.
“These opportunities don’t come along all the time,” said Champion’s Chief Construction Officer David Hatcher. “Our preeminent team will continue to work with you all to give you all something to be proud of.”
“We know change is hard,” said David Fisher, zoning attorney at Kephart Fisher LLC. He admitted the project was massive, but it would keep Galena growing. Fisher said he has worked in Sunbury, and the firm’s website said his experience includes Jerome Village near Dublin.
Brian Kinzelman, co-founder of design firm MKSK, said Blackhawk represented “conservation planning at its best,” preserving the stream corridor, keeping as many trees as possible, and being highly-connected and easy to walk around.
“We have spent a lot of time and effort on it,” Kinzelman said. MKSK’s projects include the Grandview Yard, New Albany plans, Uptown Westerville plan, the Scioto Mile, Huntington Park, and Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center.
Zoning Inspector and Code Compliance Officer Levi Koehler gave his report, approving Blackhawk with six conditions. Among the conditions was that the amount of open space would not be reduced and a Traffic Impact Study be completed and approved. The Ohio Department of Transportation has said state Route 3 will not be expanded.
Seventeen people made comments at the public hearing, and all were against the plan. Among the concerns were that the development would quadruple Galena’s population and take away the village’s quaint and rural atmosphere; the size of the lots and the homes as well as the setbacks; the environmental impact of being near Hoover Reservoir; increased traffic and access; the strain on emergency services (Galena does not have a police department) and the Big Walnut School District; higher taxes; return on investment; drainage; the potential of further changes to the plan; and “a sea of houses” resembling Dublin, Powell and Westerville.
“Ultimately, it will be fantastic. But I don’t think it’s the right fit,” was resident Nick Pezzutti’s summation.
Two of the commission members had reservations about the development and spoke at length.
Council Representative Kathy Krupa was concerned about the number of divergences from the village’s Zoning Code, and the precedent it would set if Blackhawk was approved.
“We get one chance to do this right,” Krupa said. “We’re going to drive by it for the rest of our lives.”
Member Alison Cherubini-Hillyer said Galena’s Master Plan, written in 2010, said that Blackhawk would eventually become a more commercial area instead of residential.
The Master Plan calls Blackhawk a logical future commercial area. “The highly traveled state Route 3 corridor offers the most potential for future commercial development,” the Master Plan states.
“We need to change our legal documents instead of letting the developer make decisions,” Cherubini-Hillyer said. “It’s lovely, but it’s what I see everywhere — Powell, New Albany — but why can’t it be unique? We have this one shot. It should be developed by our standards.”
There was discussion with solicitor Ken Molnar about whether to close the public hearing. Yeager then requested a vote.
Someone in the audience said, “Do the right thing for the people. There’s alternatives.”
Krupa and Cherubini-Hillyer voted against Blackhawk. However, members Mark Brooks, Chairman and Mayor Tom Hopper, and Stan Swisher voted for Blackhawk. “I think it’s a good plan,” Swisher said.
Hopper said all but one development in the village has had at least one divergence. He said backup bidders are interested in the property, and no one wants it to remain a golf course. He also said Galena was the first community in the state to have a New Community Authority, which the developer would have to join. The NCA would generate 4 mills each to Big Walnut and Galena if the development were to pass.
“We have to look at the options,” Hopper said. “There are a lot worse options out there.”
Now the plan will go before Galena Village Council, which meets the fourth Monday of the month at 7 p.m. at 109 Harrison St.
Before the meeting started, residents spoke of putting a referendum on the ballot. And after the Blackhawk decision, one person was heard stating, “Don’t forget, we get to vote.” Hopper is up for re-election.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.