NOAH, Arbor Shoreline request rezoning of old HS site
By Matt Echelberry
A public hearing regarding the rezoning of the former Galion High School property on Church Street was held during Galion Planning and Zoning Commission’s Nov. 13 meeting. Arbor Shoreline, Inc. put a bid on the site earlier this year, in hopes to develop it into a senior independent living apartment complex.
Arbor Shoreline is a subsidiary of Showe Management Corporation. Scott Hunley, vice president of SMC, was present to represent the company, which owns other housing complexes in Bellefontaine, Columbus, Findlay, Newark and Pataskala.
Arbor Shoreline has partnered with the local non-profit group Project NOAH to create designs for Eden Independent Living, the proposed senior apartment complex. Hunley had conceptual drawings to show that evening, explaining that the structure would be two stories and incorporate design features of surrounding homes to help it blend in with the neighborhood. It would house about 40 energy-efficient units.
The complex would be for senior citizens, including those with physical disabilities, but Hunley noted that it is not intended as an assisted living facility or halfway house.
Sue Rowles of NOAH was also present. She said if the complex is built, NOAH would be the primary owner. She further explained that there is a high population of senior citizens in Crawford County: About 25 percent of the population is 55 or older. During the 2012 county fair, NOAH conducted a survey which found that many seniors want a space like Eden Independent Living.
“We need to create accessibility for seniors and space that is suitable to their needs,” Rowles commented.
NOAH currently owns Faith Community in Crestline. Rowles said it has been open for about four years and is usually full. When vacancies arise, people on the waiting list move in quickly.
Eden’s potential location on the former High School lot means easy access to medical care and drug stores, the Uptowne District and Heise Park. Hunley said a branch of Arbor Shoreline would be the contractor for the project, but as many local workers would be used as possible during the estimated 18-month construction period.
City Building Inspector Matt Ross noted that, logistically, the project can be done. It would meet local zoning requirements. “It’s just a question of ‘does the community want it?’” Ross said.
If the Planning and Zoning Commission rezoned the area to make the project possible, Hunley said his company would apply for state funding, which would make rent more affordable for the future residents. State funding has strict requirements, including obligating his company to a 30-year commitment to keep the property maintained and the rent affordable. The application would be due in February.
Nineteen Galion citizens were in attendance. One audience member was worried about property values in the neighborhood being affected by the complex. Several others agreed, asking if duplexes could be built instead.
Hunley explained that the Ohio Housing Finance Agency would not provide funding for such a project. It must be a single complex, which is more efficient overall, and convenient for the residents, than separate buildings.
Bruce Angel, also of Project NOAH, was present. He argued that independent living complexes improve neighborhoods. He has checked out complexes in other cities like Akron and Cleveland and said the complexes are beautiful, safe neighborhoods.
Audience members were not opposed to the idea of the project so much as the proposed location. Several of them expressed that it did not make sense for a large complex to be placed in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
One member pointed out that 40 percent of Galion properties are currently rented. He did not feel Eden would help that situation, asking what it would actually profit the citizens.
Hunley responded that his company would pay property taxes. Event though NOAH would be the primary owner, SMC would retain some ownership.
Another concern was whether or not the complex would retain enough residents to be profitable. Galion Chamber of Commerce President Joe Kleinknecht was in attendance. He noted that the senior apartments on the Public Square were usually full.
Planing and Zoning Commissioner Bob Cerar was concerned with the fact that the site was a cemetery, stating that when the High School was being built, several unmarked graves were discovered and more could still be there.
Planing and Zoning Commissioner Steve Rowan was also concerned. He referenced a 2005 study conducted by CTL Engineering. According to the report, the soil on the property is contaminated with arsenic.
Hunley explained that before his company can begin construction, an environmental review, market study and other reports would need to be conducted. If there is still arsenic or any other contaminants in the ground, or the site does not meet other EPA requirements, they will not be able to move forward with the project.
Cerar then took an informal poll, asking audience members who were attending specifically to hear about the proposed project to raise their hands. Out of the 19 present, about 15 raised their hands. Cerar then asked who was against the project. Six hands were raised.
Cerar said he would like to see the results of those studies before the Commission made any decisions. Other Commissioners voiced their agreement.
Hunley said the market study will take 30–40 days to complete and agreed to present it to the Commission.
There will be no zoning change until there is a market study and environmental review completed. Waiting on the results and a decision from the Commission, as well as City Council approval, will take some time and will most likely not be finished before the state funding application is due in February.
“The bottom line questions is: Is this good for the city in the long term?” Cerar concluded.
Citizens who have questions or concerns regarding the project are encouraged to contact the City Zoning and Building Department at 419–468-2642.
After the public hearing, Planning and Zoning’s other item of business was a request to rezone the O.E. Meyer Company, located on Sixth Avenue, to general commercial. The business, which distributes industrial and medical equipment, is growing and would like to expand to the north.
The Commission approved the request. Its next meeting is Dec. 11 at 5:15 p.m. in Council Chambers.