ARCHBOLD - A controversial residential development proposal has been shelved - at least for now - after village council voted to deny a zoning change for the project.
The future of the 60-unit complex to be operated by National Church Residences of Columbus is uncertain though it could still be built under the existing zoning.
NCR would like to rent 80 percent of the units to persons with lower incomes, who meet guidelines under a government subsidy program.
Council questioned the developers and listened to residents for nearly two hours before voting 4-2 to deny the change from R-3 residential medium-density housing to S-1 special zoning.
“In my years on council I've never struggled with an issue as much as this one,” council member Marcia Cody said.
“It's the most difficult decision I've had to make [on council],” said Larry Baus.
Before the rezoning vote was cast, council heard several people voice concerns about income discrimination.
Members of council said they had received widespread objection to the project. Council members voiced concerns regarding management and ownership of the complex by an outside company and the fact that most units would go to low-income renters.
The income question was raised several times, with some visitors asking whether there was objection to providing housing for lower-income families in Archbold, a community that has enjoyed prosperity.
“This is not about incomes,” Ms. Cody said. However, discussion often returned to what the income would be of the people who might move into the NCR apartments.
Several visitors at the public meeting wondered aloud whether council aimed to discourage low-income residents from living in the village by disapproving a rezoning request.
The Rev. Thomas Lyberg, pastor of St. Martin's Lutheran Church in Archbold, voiced concern about “a perception of Archbold from outside that we are arrogant, that we don't want poor people to live here.”
The owner of the property, Robert Frey of Frey & Sons Realtors/Auctioneers of Archbold, asked for the zoning change prior to selling the land to National Church Residences, which has 160 housing complexes in 11 states.
The zoning change was requested so NCR could build a planned-community complex with streets configured to its own design. The S-1 zoning allows streets and parking to be built without meeting village codes.
The village maintains R-3 streets but not streets in S-1 zoning, which would be maintained by apartment operators. The S-1 zoning is “basically cluster housing with nondedicated streets,” Mayor Peter Short said.
The proposed complex would have nine buildings around a circular street.
The NCR complex could be constructed in the R-3 zone but planners would have to re-design streets and parking lots or possibly re-position buildings.
“I don't understand opposition to the project,” Mr. Frey told council. “I feel there has been a campaign against us.”
The special meeting was called to consider the zoning change, but talk often was about the apartment project and who would live there. Council members questioned Mr. Frey and John Stock, vice president of National Church Residences.
Council members also raised concern about lack of information in a previous meeting. “We were misled,” Ms. Cody said. “In January we asked repeated questions about income levels of renters and no mention was made of it [low-income rentals]. I have insisted to people who ask that it was not low-income housing and now learn that's not the case.”
Mrs. Cody said she has heard from village residents both for and against the project, with some of them “begging me to vote against this.”
Councilman Kevin Morton said he was concerned that “some people would be eliminated by how much money they make. It discriminates. We would be excluding some [higher income] people from living there.”
Pastor Lyberg had earlier written a letter supporting the project. At the meeting he said he lamented the fact that discussion kept returning to who would move into the apartments. “It disturbs me, as a pastor, that there is a perception that, because of our wealth, we don't want people of low incomes here, that it's OK for some people to work here but not live here.”
Councilman Jeff Fryman questioned the need for that many new apartments, noting that there are many empty houses for sale in Archbold.
But Kevin Frey of Frey & Sons said, “People call every day looking for rental housing.”
Robert Frey cited several local businesses whose employees, because of low to moderate incomes, would benefit from living in the complex. Mr. Frey said he did not know whether the project would go ahead after the denial.
The planning commission did not make a recommendation on the rezoning request but passed it on for council to decide.
Council members Brad Grime and Mr. Baus voted for approval of the zoning change. Ms. Cody, Mr. Fryman, Bill Rufenacht, and Mr. Morton voted against it.