Rezoning of Old Wetherell Property Advances to Service Committee

The Wetherell Dairy buildings have fallen into disrepair.

February 20, 2023
By Editor Rachel Scofield

A proposal to rezone 214 acres at 8185 Pickerington Road for a mixed-use residential and commercial development has been added to the February 22 agenda of the Pickerington City Council’s Service Committee. The meeting is slated to begin at 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers of Pickerington City Hall.

The city purchased the property from the Roshon family in 2018.

“At that time, the property was located within the unincorporated part of Violet Township,” said Greg Butcher, Pickerington City Manager. “The property was zoned as a ‘residential district’ in 1960 with the adoption of the Violet Township Code.”

Coinciding with the purchase, the city entered into a development agreement with Braun Holdings Pickerington, LLC.

The agreement stipulated that the property would be annexed into Pickerington. Once part of the city, its zoning automatically changed from the township’s ‘residential district’ to the city’s R-2 residential district.

“An additional step outlined in the agreement was to rezone the property,” Butcher said.

For more background regarding the city’s agreement with Braun, please read City Seeks to Rezone Property.

The four sub-areas

The rezoning plan divides the property into four sub-areas: single-family homes, condominiums, mixed-use commercial and greenspace.

“Instead of presenting a plan with streets, retention ponds, building lots, et cetera,” Butcher said. “The sub-area concept was developed to allow for creativity and flexibility in the final development plan.”

The property at 8185 Pickerington Road can be seen on the left edge of this map from the city’s Comprehensive Plan. It is designated “PUD Mixed-Use (City-owned)”.

The final development plan will also be presented to P&Z for consideration.

The property is designated for mixed-use in the Comprehensive Plan which the city adopted in 2021.

Per the city’s website, the Comprehensive Plan is intended “to be a guiding document that provides overarching citywide vision for future development and community investments, while maintaining flexibility to adapt to future market conditions and available tools/resources for implementation.”

A map within the plan designates the property at 8185 Pickerington Road as “PUD Mixed Use”.

Behind the business sub-area, the proposal sets aside 20 acres for condominium/patio homes for adults 55 and older. Each owner must occupy their condo.

Rezoning the property would allow the 54 acres fronting Pickerington Road to be developed into a commercial space. 

The 76 acres of land immediately west of the condominiums would be a neighborhood of “high end” single-family homes with two homes per acre zoning.

The city proposes that the property be divided into four sub-areas with the sub-area along Pickerington Road being commercial development. Photo by Rachel Scofield

“The remainder of the property (approximately 56 acres) has been identified as open space,” Butcher said. “To apply context, that amounts to a little more than 25-percent of the overall property.”

The open space would serve as a buffer between the new developments and the neighboring properties.

“To provide additional context to the magnitude of the open space, the total area would allow for 43 football fields,” Butcher said. “The area of the open space nearly equals the total acreage of Sycamore Park and Victory Park combined.”

The Service Committee will discuss the nature of the greenspace.  The original concept called for the greenspace to remain largely undeveloped except for a possible bicycle path along Sycamore Creek. The new homeowners’ association would be responsible for minimally maintaining the area.

Councilman Wisniewski said he personally would like to see the city eventually add a walking and/or bike path along the wooded area of the greenspace as it is a very beautiful area that should be enjoyed by more of our residents.

Although the proposal specifies the acreage and use for each sub-area, no actual plans have been developed.

“The proposed rezoning addresses two basic components,” Butcher said. “First, it satisfies the requirements in the previously-mentioned development agreement and secondly, it positions the city to be ready should development be proposed for the property.”

A forest of beech trees borders Jefferson Woods.
Photo by Rachel Scofield

Neighbors say proposed development does not fit.

At both P&Z meetings in which 8185 was discussed, the audience was standing room only and spilled out into the city hall entrance.

These community members own homes in the unincorporated portion of Violet Township adjacent to the property.

Jenny Camper, who owns the farm to the east, spoke at both meetings.

“Dense housing, condos and commercial business development are very much inconsistent with the surrounding rural and large lot properties that comprise Pickerington Road, Busey Road, Allen Road and Basil Western Road (east of the Amanda Northern intersection),” Camper said. “Should you drive this area, you will see the existing homes on farmland, five-acre-plus lots, acre lots and space. To place commercial businesses and dense housing just here does not fit.”

Wisniewski disagrees.

“Using the Fairfield County Auditor’s website, I researched the first five properties on the north and the first five homes on the southside of Jefferson Drive in Jefferson Farms which directly abuts 8185,” Wisniewski said. “These homes sit on lots that are 0.5 to 0.7 acres in size (verses the five acre lots mentioned) and are valued at or have sold in the last few years, from the mid $200’s to as high as $506k.”

Nature reclaims this house near the southern woods.
Photo by Rachel Scofield

Wisniewski compared the proposed development to the homes in the Reserve at Pickerington Ponds, which is within the city limits and has the same zoning as the 76 acres at 8185. Homes in that neighborhood are selling in the $450-$600,000+ price range. Same as homes being constructed on Long Road which likewise have the same zoning and price points.

P&Z Chair Randy Hughes said that growth is happening all over central Ohio and the best that local governments can do is to manage the developments.

“Most of you are living in homes that other people didn’t want,” Hughes said. “People in Jefferson Woods were not happy when Jefferson Farms moved in. Everyone wants commercial growth but not near them. People have the right to develop their land.”

Camper agrees that private land owners have a right to develop their land.

“However in this situation, the ‘people’ who own 8185 is city government, which is accountable to constituents/taxpayers in Pickerington,” Camper said. “This is not private land being developed by a property owner. So, my hope is that city officials see that they have obligation to the people they serve and note that in a recent community survey respondents overwhelmingly say they don’t want more housing and they want more green space.”

The survey to which Camper refers was completed by Pickerington in 2021 as part of its process to develop the Comprehensive Plan, the results of which are posted on the city’s website.

A small stream joins Sycamore Creek along the western edge of the property.
Photo by Rachel Scofield

When asked “What type of community asset would you most like to see improved within Pickerington?”, the top answer with 27.78-percent of the response was “Bicycle and Pedestrian Connections” followed by “Parks and Natural Areas” at 21.88-percent.

When asked “What type of housing would you like to see added to the city?”, 65.1-percent of respondents answered, “No desire for additional housing.”

For information on the survey and the Comprehensive Plan, please read The Community Speaks.

Pickerington is a desirable place to live and the city will continue to channel growth to provide for people who wish to have homes here, Hughes said.

 “No one is saying others can’t build here,” Camper said. “We are asking that you limit the growth, do it strategically and in this Picktown Road area, most importantly, plan for single homes on large lots and stay consistent with what is in this area.  Better yet, make it green space and park, which is what residents have overwhelmingly said they want!

For the 8185 property, the people most directly impacted by this development live in Violet Township.  My hope is that the City officials want to work with us to determine a plan for this property that is consistent with the rural residential that already exists in this area.” 

Kelly McClellan, agreed.

“When you leave, you don’t see a single commercial building until you hit Olde Pickerington,” McClellan said. “Drive south down to (US Route) 33 and it’s the same thing. This just does not fit.”

During much of the 1900s, Wetherell Dairy served as a major employer for Pickerington families.
Photo by Rachel Scofield

Glenn Sheller, who remembers when Hill Road was two lanes, believes that the city should develop the land into a park or nature preserve that would be “cherished for generations”.

For Beverly Wetherell Brown, the property was her grandparents’ dairy farm and her childhood home.

“It broke our hearts to move,” Brown said. “But we didn’t have a choice.  It is devastating to me and my neighbors who have been here for some time. At one point Wetherell Dairy was Pickerington’s major employer.  I wish the city had a little more respect for my grandpa and for the land than just ‘house, house, house, commercial’.

Neighbors question the city’s deal with Braun.

“I understand a contract was entered into that requires zoning changes and this is also part of a city ordinance and council members must vote on this or be in violation of their oath of office,” Camper said.

“Councilman (Bob) McCracken said that an ordinance was actually passed that compelled this action.  He said he ‘has no choice’ but to vote for the commercial zoning.   Why in the world would city officials create such a boxed in, intractable position for themselves?”

Camper “cannot understand why they don’t own this mistake, go back, and rethink the ‘commitment’ and instead be flexible to our concerns and remove the commercial part.”

The second story of the long dairy barn has partially collapsed.

The agreement with Braun occurred before McCracken took office and Butcher became city manager.  The only current elected officials who were in office at the time of the agreement are Mayor Lee Gray, Councilwoman Tricia Sanders, and Fairfield County Commissioner Jeff Fix who at that time served on city council.

Lori Kelley, whose home is surrounded on three sides by the property, believes that the agreement with Braun was an “ill-conceived, comedy of errors” which has lost its silliness as it moves closer to becoming a permanent change.

“It’s not too late to say, ‘this is not a good idea – let’s not do this,’” Kelley said.

On this map from the Fairfield County Auditor’s Office the portions of Violet Township incorporated into the city of Pickerington are screened to a lighter tint.

Neighbors question the annexation method.

To annex an unincorporated area of a township into a municipality, the land must share five percent or more of its property line with that municipality.

In 2018, the Pickerington city limits ended about a quarter mile north of the property.

Per the Fairfield County Auditor’s website, on August 15, 2019, Pickerington annexed nearly 13 acres at 8349 Busey Road which extended the city limits to a 280-foot strip adjacent to the 8185 Pickerington Road property.

On June 9, 2019, the city annexed the first 14 acres of 8185 Pickerington Road, then on February 6, 2021, Pickerington annexed the remainder.

Neighbors say the city did not notify them.

“There have been comments on how the city’s plans have been in the public domain and transparent from the get-go,” Camper said. “I have no doubt most everything was done properly and openly. Yes, we have seen the story that was in This Week/Dispatch.  But here’s the thing – exposure in the news media or posting on a website is not the same as what is legally required to alert neighboring property owners.

Proper, proactive notifications to adjacent properties were not sent until the December 2022 meeting.   And these notifications were limited to the ‘by the book’ number – for this February meeting, many more neighboring property owners were notified. Thank you for these notifications.  It is not realistic to think that neighbors are responsible for checking all news media constantly or checking the city’s website.”

Development lessens tax burden on residents.

Camper asked how much of a “game-changer” would 54 acres of commercial space be in terms of lessening school district taxes for residents?

“I’m told the development may not happen for many years,” Camper said. “If dense housing goes on this property, it burdens the schools and the argument for commercial tax base increase goes up in smoke. I have a hard time reconciling dense housing when you know it will burden schools and services. Do we know that existing commercial areas are being filled and are in demand?”

A view of the property looking north.
Photo by Rachel Scofield

The city purchased property to slow development.

“This city is taking over 200 acres of land that is currently zoned 100% residential and reducing that to 76 acres for single-family homes,” Wisniewski said.

In addition, the agreement sets aside land for a 55 and older condo community, “so there is little to no impact on the school district”. It adds commercial development which the city can control, and it sets aside more than 25-percent of the land as greenspace. 

“Regardless of what happened before the vast majority of the current council was elected, we have legal obligations we have to abide by,” Wisniewski said. “This plan, I believe, meets those legal obligations and meets several points of the 2021 Comprehensive Plan, all while preserving far more greenspace than I am personally aware of in any development in the city or the township.”

Camper is not convinced. 

“I have heard this comment a few times, ‘this could have been a lot worse – 400 homes could be going there!” Camper said. “We can work together to make this something that fits our area. Council members have the opportunity to do the right thing – the thing that impacted residents want.   I am asking – please go back to the drawing board, let’s figure out what is appropriate for this area. I’ll tell you what it isn’t – dense housing, condos, and commercial development.”

Click on the arrows on the sides of the slideshow below to see more photographs.