Hearing held on appeals regarding proposed library in CW

By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer
It was a long night on Feb. 20 when Canal Winchester City Council spent more than five hours listening to testimony in a hearing on the fate of appeals for the proposed Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) on Groveport Road.

Neighboring property owner John Allen filed a trio of appeals on action taken by the planning and zoning commission in January recommending approval of a setback variance, conditional use permit, and site development plan.

A change in conditional use would permit the construction of the library in a low density residential zone.

The variance would reduce the west setback of the low density residential zoning library site from 150 feet to 73.3 feet and locate an ingress driveway and book drop-off closer to Allen’s home.

“The question is, is the zoning requirement as applied to the property owner and property in question reasonable?” asked Allen’s attorney Bryan Hunt, “not should the zoning requirement be relaxed to allow a sought use. The variances are a substantial detriment to his property.”

Hunt stated the public use zoning was incorrectly applied and that a library is specifically identified in another section of the city’s code under institutions.

When asked which of the three appeals was most important to him, Allen said, “The variance is my primary focus…that distance be respected for the code that exists.”

CML legal representative Aaron Underhill said that variances are in place for a reason, because one size does not fill all situations.

“The design is extremely important to the library,” said Underhill.

Architect Richard Ortmeyer—who started designing libraries in 1995, although this is his first project for CML—said the library system has planning principles and they tend to be most visible in a rectangular format.

“The storm line is a barrier for moving the building back,” said Ortmeyer. “The priority in all Columbus Metropolitan Libraries is to present a broad a face to the general public to make the services as visible as possible.”

Library Chief Financial Officer Lauren Hagan said CML’s new buildings follow this principle and that there is more community engagement with the long side of the building facing the street.

Councilwoman Laurie Amick asked what would be sacrificed if the building size was reduced. The design as approved by planning and zoning is a 30,000 square foot structure featuring a modern architectural style showcasing clear glazing and metal panels across the façade.

Ortmeyer said the first thing would be a reduction in the functionality of the staff area and patron book drop off. He said the change would result in an entirely different plan.

Councilwoman Jill Amos asked Canal Winchester City Law Director Thaddeus Boggs why a special use request was made under the R-3 zoning when a library is clearly defined in another code section under “Institutions”

Boggs said the first thing to be considered was the definition of public use.

“A public use is defined very broadly as a public use open to the general public,” said Boggs. “A metro library constructed as a library is a land use open to the public. When you have ambiguity in a public code, that benefit of ambiguity goes to the property owner, and so considering that with the generality of public use, it was my opinion the library was not precluded from moving forward and applying to be a conditional use.”

In looking at the criteria for conditional use, Hunt said the library is not a public use listed in the R-3 zoning district and the proposed use is not compatible with adjacent land use.

Allen said, “I would say I’m impacted by traffic, but it’s hard to say because there was no traffic study. (There could be) hundreds of cars pulling in throughout the day as opposed to one or two.”

Amos asked city Planning and Zoning Administrator Andrew Moore what accommodations the library made to anything the city requested. Moore replied it depended on who was being asked.

“Because of what you’re describing, it doesn’t sound like much of anything,” said Amos. “It sounds like they don’t play in the sandbox well.”

Underhill said there was an earnest effort on the library’s part to design something the community could be proud of and while some may disagree, it did fit their (CMLs) needs and design goals.

“These issues are complicated,” said Underhill.

Following an hour and a half deliberation behind closed doors, when it came time to take a preliminary vote on upholding the variance appeal, Amos and Councilman Patrick Shea voted in Allen’s favor. The remaining members voted down the appeal.

Shea said his vote was on the basis of safety and Amos felt a lot of her safety questions went unanswered. She said the CML representatives “did not come to the table with a lot of factual information.”

The vote followed the same pattern for the conditional use appeal and the site development appeal. Regarding the site development plan, Amos said additional conversations should have taken place before the Feb. 20 vote was taken.

A final vote will take place at a later meeting after findings, facts, and conclusions of law are submitted.

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