Zoning Commission approves The NOAH Project
The Planning and Zoning Commission held two meetings during consecutive weeks in December. During the Dec. 11 meeting, representatives of The NOAH Project, a countywide, non-profit community development organization, were present. The organization would like to build a senior independent living apartment complex at the former site of Galion High School on Church Street. A public hearing regarding the project had been held during Planning and Zoning’s Nov. 13 meeting (story appeared in the Nov. 17 edition of the Inquirer).
At the Dec. 11 meeting, Su Rowles, executive director of NOAH, presented the Commission with the promised market study. It was conducted by Vogt Santer Insights, an appraisal company in Columbus that specializes in real estate market research. “The market study shows that there is a need. To adequately support the community and this project, there are enough seniors that should qualify to be residents there,” she said.
She was asking the Commission for approval to apply to the state for funding of the project, but emphasized that NOAH was not pushing commissioners to make a decision. Eden Independent Living would be 51 percent owned by NOAH, and the other share would be retained by the contractor, Arbor Shoreline, Inc. (a subsidiary of Showe Management Corporation). Both entities would be required to own and maintain the property for at least 15 years.
The Commission asked about how the market study was conducted. Rowles commented that Vogt, which is a very reputable company with no association with NOAH or Showe Management, did the preliminary study using state data and electronic/phone communication.
Rowles later explained that the market study evaluated some of the current senior housing facilities in the Galion area, including Buckeye Arms, Cedar Gate Apartments, Central Hotel, Crawford Manor, Eastwood Meadows, Galion Arms and Harding Manor.
She noted the vacancy rate at such places is low.
In addition, Rowles also presented data on the expected senior population growth through 2020, which indicates that Crawford County will be one of the fastest growing and highest counties in Ohio for seniors. She said the proposed facility would provide a minimum of 35 units—as recommended by the market study—which could help “grow the community, retain seniors in the county and bring others in.”
Commissioner Bob Cerar had concerns of the previous use of the property as a cemetery. Rowles noted that Eden would not have a basement, so they would be disturbing the ground as little as possible.
Commissioner Steve Rowan asked if there would be an EPA study performed. Rowles responded that there has already been one study, but they would be required by state law to do a more complete study before the final funds for the project are received.
The issue was tabled for the Dec. 18 meeting so commissioners could review the study in more detail.
Representatives of The NOAH Project returned for the Dec. 18 meeting. Scott Hunley, vice president of Showe Management Corporation, also attended to continue the discussion about Eden Independent Living. Arbor Shoreline, Inc., a subsidiary of his company, would be the contractor for the project and primary owner of the eventual facility.
Hunley corroborated that 35 units would be the most his company would build for the facility. Some of those units would be one bedroom, some two. If the project is approved, potential residents of the facility would need to meet annual income qualifications of either 30, 50 or 60 percent of the average annual income of the county. A specific amount of units will be reserved for each income level and the income qualifications would be adjusted annually.
Hunley also addressed some misconceptions regarding the project. First, he does not want to take residents away from other properties in the area and noted that his company watches the market of the area closely, which currently indicates that there are many more seniors in need of a facility like Eden.
As far as the size of the structure itself, Hunley said its height will not be more than that of a two story house. Aesthetically, it is designed to blend in with the neighborhood. The outer wall will not be flat, but instead have depth to make the building look more like individual homes.
His company would pay property taxes, as the facility is required by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency and the IRS to be owned by a for profit entity. This would generate income for Galion City Schools.
Recently, 32 notices were sent out to the neighbors in the immediate surrounding area. Cerar commented that, while some citizens at the meetings have responded negatively to the project, he has also gotten a lot of positive feedback.
Kit Walter, a Union Street resident who was at the meeting, was concerned about the environmental impact the project would have, specifically on the storm sewer. He said he had sewer problems on his property when the former high school was operating at the site. Walter also asked the Commission to consider the increase of traffic and noise on the area and the added stress on utilities.
Bruce Angell of NOAH argued that the high school would have used more water than the proposed facility would. There would be significantly less residents there compared to the students who attended the high school, so it was not a fair comparison.
Rowan asked again about the EPA and ground study. Hunley responded that it would be conducted within the next few months and any issues would be addressed.
Cerar noted that the Commission is especially concerned about the possible unmarked graves on the site and wants it handled. However, the law is unclear regarding unmarked graves and who would be responsible for properly relocating the human remains, if any are found.
Commissioner Chuck Miller said the manager of a local cemetery told him that if remains are found, the cemetery will take care of the relocation of the remains.
Commissioner Rick Swain did not want to decide until he had some questions answered regarding the specific timeline for construction and logistical details, questions that he did not feel Hunley could answer at that time. Hunley noted the project would have an 18-month construction period from start to finish.
Swain also recalled the deconstruction of the former high school being loud and extremely messy, and was concerned about broken promises that have arisen in the past with other projects.
Cerar argued that deconstruction is much dirtier than construction. Hunley admitted that the construction will be loud but he hopes to complete the project with as little disturbance to neighbors as possible.
The application, if the project is to get underway, would be due on Feb. 21, 2013. Hunley explained that he would need a letter that states the proper zoning will be in place and the issue is going through the legislative process of the city government, otherwise the project would not be approved for a 2013 start.
Miller motioned to approve the rezoning and to draft a letter of approval for the proposed project, seconded by Commissioner Sharon Baldinger. The motion passed 3–2 with Rowan and Swain dissenting. The Commission’s recommendation will now go to City Council for discussion.
In the meantime, Hunley said the market study will be completed and a Phase 1 Environmental Review will be conducted. The project will also need to meet other requirements of OFHA’s Qualified Allocation Plan, which can be viewed at: www.ohiohome.org/lihtc/2012QAP.pdf