Commercial Real Estate Spotlight: Powell attempts to balance continuing residential construction with traffic flow

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Powell's residential market expands amid resistance to downtown projects.

Southern Delaware County has led the regional residential market that serves the corporate offices between Dublin and Westerville for decades.

Most notable in the county is Powell, a relatively quiet bedroom community anchoring the well-regarded Olentangy Local School District. Its residential construction boom peaked in 2003 and 2004-also spurring retail development to take care of the ebb and flow of daytime workers and residents just before the Great Recession slowed construction throughout the region and nation.

But Powell has experienced an uptick in new housing in recent years, even if a bit uneven, and two new single-family communities have raised the prospect of more robust activity this year.

One of those, homebuilder Romanelli & Hughes' Verona residential development on the former Shamrock Golf Club site, will pull in tens of thousands of visitors to Powell as the site of the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio's 2016 edition of the Parade of Homes.

In addition, Pulte Homes-the buyer of Dublin-based Dominion Homes in 2014-has proposed a subdivision with 123 homes at Home and Steitz roads on the city's northern reaches once Powell approves its requested annexation. "It looks like housing development will be strong here for several years to come," says Powell City Manager Steve Lutz.

The former Shamrock course will feature 112 estate lots and 54 patio homes, with the host developer as the exclusive builder on the latter detached housing product with common maintenance. The estate lots have attracted 16 builders in addition to Romanelli & Hughes for the BIA showcase set for the last half of July.

"It's a nice development because of the mix of estate lots and patio homes," Romanelli & Hughes partner Gianni Romanelli says."Powell is a great location and the Olentangy school system is very desirable." The homebuilder is well-regarded in the Powell, Liberty Township and southern Delaware County submarket where it has built homes on scattered lots and land developed for housing.

BIA Executive Director Jim Hilz says the portfolio of established upscale builders set for the 2016 Parade of Homes marks the highest number of builders participating in the home tour since 2005. He says the swath of Delaware County from Westerville to Dublin "has remained strong even in difficult times."

Lutz says the Parade will give Powell a chance to sell itself to prospective residents attending the home show. Powell, he says, has become popular because of the combination of the school district, an income tax at a mere 0.75 percent, its network of bike trails connecting its subdivisions as well as the natural beauty of its location between the Scioto and Olentangy rivers.

Powell also offers a mix of quaint shops downtown and a burgeoning dining and entertainment scene. "We're becoming a mecca for restaurants with live music," Lutz says. "People can stroll and bike into downtown. You see a lot of people out and about."

That entertainment scene has combined with daily commutes and traffic heading to and from the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium to create logjams through downtown, giving rise to opposition to building more urban-style housing in the downtown district.

Residents in nearby single-family subdivisions led a successful referendum on the November 2014 ballot to ban housing development in a specified downtown district after Powell's council approved developer CV Real Property's plans for 64 apartments and two 7,000-square-foot retail strips on 8.2 acres at 147 W. Olentangy St. earlier that year.

Those same neighborhood forces led a November 2015 referendum that overturned council's approval of a rezoning for builder Arlington Homes' plans for 47 detached condo homes just outside the restricted downtown district. That gated community called Harper's Pointe would have been built on 8.8 acres where the shuttered Powder Room shooting range and a restaurant once stood between Grace and Beech Ridge drives.

Both elections have resulted in lawsuits. CV Real Property has challenged the 2014 referendum in federal court on constitutional grounds since the project just needed administrative approval of the site plan and architectural details within the existing zoning. That should have made the project ineligible for a public vote, the developer has argued.

Len Pivar, a 31-year Powell resident and Arlington Homes' president, charged opponents to his project misled voters regarding the amount of traffic the project would generate. He says the target demographic of older adults without children and retirees in Harper's Pointe-situated outside the district where housing was banned-would generate less traffic than commercial redevelopment since residents would want to walk to downtown Powell for dining and shopping. The homebuilder and referendum proponents are in the midst of litigation tangentially related to the ballot issue.

Pivar vows he and investment partner Tom Ewers will submit a similar plan without condo-style maintenance restrictions in late spring or early summer. If the effort fails, he notes the current commercial zoning on the bulk of the site would allow him to build market-rate apartments. "We're not walking away; we're not backing off."

The city's Lutz says anticipated traffic congestion-and the anti-residential development fervor-likely will abate as the city moves forward on various road and traffic signal projects. The city has a $7 million plan to improve the Sawmill Parkway and Powell Road intersection that contributes to backing up traffic downtown. Another $2 million project also nearing construction will extend Murphy Parkway to provide an alternative path for traffic to flow southwest of the suburb's downtown and provide two new traffic signals in and around the downtown.

Residents seeking to halt housing in and near downtown "are not opposed to development," Lutz says. "They'd just like some of the traffic mitigation before development occurs."

In a broader perspective, residential development consultant Rob Vogt says the strength of the corporate office market along the northern I-270 arc puts Powell in the sweet spot for residential development. Multifamily remains a missing component in the community. "It's a logical place for (multifamily) residential development to occur," the owner of Vogt Strategic Insights says. "Powell is sort of a rural community at a crossroads. They don't have to sell themselves anymore because it's such a desirable place."

Columbus-based Schottenstein Real Estate Group will start to fill demand for rental housing as it begins construction by early summer of its Powell Grand project that features 308 housing units geared toward older adults.

Brian Schottenstein, the developer's chief operating officer, says 48 of the 60 ranch quads will have age restrictions where at least one resident is 50 or older. The community being built on Seldom Seen Road also has 128 townhomes spread among eight buildings and a three-story section of apartments with 120 units with the upper floors served by elevators. "The city understands there is a need for this kind of rental housing in Powell," Schottenstein says.

The upscale community which will open its first phases in late 2016 or early 2017 will feature an area for bocce ball, a fenced-in dog park and large clubhouse complete with game rooms and yoga in addition to a fitness center. "We think it will be a home for active adults and existing homeowners who want to remain in Powell. It's definitely not a senior community," Schottenstein adds.

Brian Ball is a freelance writer.