The Greenfield Board of Zoning Appeals met this week regarding a variance application for the school district’s new bus garage being planned where a practice field is currently located.
It’s a meeting that didn’t have to happen, according to Ohio law regarding political subdivisions, which includes public schools and municipal zoning. According to that law, the school district doesn’t have to go through the process of applying for a zoning variance, but it’s something that the Greenfield School District’s administration wanted to do to give everyone a chance to hear first-hand about the project and have any questions or concerns addressed.
According to information supplied to zoning board members Steve Pearce, Eric Borsini, Michelle Cunningham and Otis Wagner (Bruce Gabriel was not in attendance) by superintendent Quincey Gray, something called “Brownfield immunity” applies in this instance.
Three residents came forward with reasonable concerns, not about the project itself, but about the placement of the project at the practice field.
One of the concerns had to do with Greenfield’s updated zoning codes. The village earlier this year approved the updated codes. Part of the reason for overhauling the outdated codes was to protect neighborhoods, but the concern raised at the meeting was that if the school builds at the practice field, whether through a granted variance or the legal route of securing its rights under the law, then the updated zoning codes mean nothing.
The other concerns were raised by two residents that live near the practice field whose worries include the noise from the buses, the additional bus traffic, lights from the buses, and diminished property values. None were against the project itself as everyone stated such a facility is needed.
For as long as most people can remember, the practice field, which sits a block from the school, has been used for football and band practices.
Architect Doug Karnes with McCarty Associates presented a slideshow to help inform everyone at the meeting. It began with the existing conditions at the practice field which includes very poor drainage, storage for football equipment is in three mobile containers off to the side, no sidewalks, no restrooms, and basketball courts in need of repair. The proposed development would alleviate all of that and without impeding residents’ vantage points of the happenings on the fields when there are practices.
The plans show that on the west end of the property on Eighth Street is where the bus garage will be built. It will house buses and includes three maintenance bays. The building would also include storage for athletics and district maintenance. Moving east on the property there would be a full-size football field with a 70-yard football field next to it. Parking would remain, and even be extended along most of the McClain Street side of the property. And two new, paved basketball courts would be placed on the northeast corner.
There are currently two basketball courts at the southwest corner of the property that see much community use. The school district said it was important to keep that aspect.
According to Karnes, much thought was given to the placement and appearance of everything on the property so that the views enjoyed from homes that allow residents to freely watch practices would not be hindered. The building’s placement along Eighth Street was chosen because there aren’t houses on that block of Eighth Street, just a factory parking lot. Eighth Street will also be where the buses exit. Landscaping “buffers” would be planted at the back of the building along North Street to help keep lights from being a nuisance to residents.
Sidewalks would be installed all along North and Seventh streets. Underground irrigation is planned for the property and grading to remedy the drainage issues. The building itself would reflect the main campus and would have a brick facade with limestone accents. There would also be a shaded area with picnic tables, something overheated kids could use during practice or a place for residents to enjoy. The property will still be accessible and usable to the public, which was another factor the district said was important
At Tuesday’s meeting, other concerns raised were about parking. There is not enough parking at the school for sporting events and parking often spills out onto the side streets and down to the practice field. It’s a well-founded concern, but the parking situation at the practice field should actually be improved by the project, Karnes said, since there will still be parking all along McClain, but also at the building along the Eighth Street side.
Initially, the district looked at building a bus garage at its property off of North Fifth Street, but Karnes said that came down to logistics and the money it would require to overcome logistical obstacles. The Fifth Street property would have needed extensive grading and drainage work to accommodate the bus garage, a large stretch of road to reach the street, and there are wetlands on the property that can’t be built on. However, the property on Fifth Street would work for the athletic fields.
Two other properties were offered to the school district for the building of a bus garage, but according to Gray, security issues at one of the locations were a major concern and both properties were too far away from the school campus.
The practice field made sense with location and the ability to have so much under one roof and close to the school campus. Additionally, with the new building, students practicing there would have access to restrooms and an athletic training space, things that are not available currently at the field.
The zoning board will decide whether to grant a variance so the school can build the facility on the practice field, an area that is currently zoned Neighborhood Urban. A variance would not change the overall zoning of the area, but would allow the school to build the facility.
Pearce assured everyone in attendance that as the board deliberates on the variance application, any decision made will not be based on personal feelings, but on a set of standards that are to be followed.
When someone asked Gray what would happen if the board did not grant the variance, she said that would lead to a legal process, which is not what the district wants to do.
“Our goal is to be a good neighbor,” Gray said, adding that the district has worked to ensure that the public is informed, that all things have been considered, and that the design and use of the development is something that will be an asset to the school and the community.
The zoning appeals board is scheduled to meet to vote on the matter at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19 in the council chambers on the third floor of the City Building.
Angela Shepherd is a correspondent for the village of Greenfield.