Upon returning to school after spring break, many were shocked by the significantly altered landscape as they took their usual turn onto Beecher Road on the way to Academy. Where hundreds of trees once stood that were home to deer, squirrels, coyotes, and other wildlife is now completely barren: the left side of Academy Ridge’s neighborhood has been clear-cut, with its residents left in the dark.
The neighborhood’s families have been outraged over the project. Over the past six years, there have been multiple attempts to pursue development in this area. The project was initially approved in May of 2017 by the Gahanna Planning Commission which kicked off the plans to create a multi-unit retail development on the corner of Hamilton and Beecher. The plans were initially approved by the city but overturned by the Board of Zoning & Building Appeals (BZBA) after the Academy Ridge Community Association (ARCA) raised the legal issue which stated that the plans didn’t meet the local ordinance requirements, specifically that homes in Academy Ridge were going to directly back up to these new developments.
The developer, identified as Academy Development Limited Partnership, however, was persistent. Plans were submitted once again to develop the corner for retail space in 2019. Due to Covid-19 and continued pushback from the community, the plan was again turned down by the BZBA indefinitely, much to the relief of the residents.
Unfortunately, this bliss was short-lived. In early 2022, the developer stated that the plans should have never been overturned and threatened legal action against the city of Gahanna. In May of 2022, a somewhat secretive agreement was made between the developer and the city attorney, Raymond Mularski, to allow the plans to move forward. Allegedly, the city attorney acted as the sole authority to decide this, assuming a level of power without approval from the BZBA. Moreover, the newly approved plans were never shared with the Academy Ridge community.
After inquiring with the city about the development, the residents of Academy Ridge finally received a blueprint of the construction plans in March of 2023, approximately ten months after Mularski approved the plans. The developer is building a retail strip mall named “The Shops at Oberer’s Crossing” that has two separate free-standing buildings and a large parking lot surrounding both structures.
ARCA received a letter on March 13, 2023, about the construction from Mularski, who acknowledged the concerns of the Academy Ridge community, but said, “I realize that is not the result desired by the residents, but it is the only result that protects the City from a Federal lawsuit that it has little chance of winning and from costing all Gahanna residents, including those that live in Academy Ridge, a substantial amount of money. It also is the only result that ensures our ability to define the project and insist on measures that best protect your interests.”
An attorney for ARCA has since filed a complaint against the city of Gahanna to halt construction. Although the developer was permitted to take down trees, it moved dirt and created a cut out for an entrance directly onto Beecher Road, which was not allowed; as a result, a cease and desist order has been issued, once again pausing construction, though it may only be temporary.
The legal wrangling between the members of the community and the city officials will undoubtedly continue, but the damage has been done. With hundreds of trees cut down, the environmental impact is significant, and the mistrust between the Academy Ridge community and the city of Gahanna may be irreparable.