Westfield council OKs rezoning for massive project near Grand Park

After about 20 minutes of debate Monday night, the Westfield City Council approved the creation of a planned unit development district for 321 acres at the northwest corner of State Road 32 and Wheeler Road, where a new YMCA facility will be built.

Nearly six months ago, Wheeler Farms LLC requested the city rezone the land to create the Wheeler Landing Planned Unit Development District. The request changes land that had been approved for agricultural and single-family rural development into property zoned for a wide range of uses, including apartments, light industrial, educational, retail, warehousing and distribution.

The Wheeler family has owned the farmland in Westfield since the mid-1800s.

Monday night, councilors debated whether the request should be approved before the city and the Wheeler family sign off on a development agreement, in which the developer will agree to address infrastructure and traffic concerns at no cost to the city. The Wheeler family has agreed to extend Oak Ridge Road from 181st Street to Grand Park Boulevard to accommodate an expected increase in traffic since the project is so close to the Grand Park Sports Campus.

Wheeler family attorney Eric Douthit of Church Church Hittle & Antrim told the council the city and the family are close to signing off on the development agreement, and he asked councilors to approve the rezone contingent upon the agreement being approved by the city.

But some councilors wondered why a decision on a project of this size couldn’t wait until the agreement was official.

Westfield Attorney Brian Zaiger told councilors the plan commission’s positive recommendation is reaching the 90-day window in which the council can act. Without a council vote in the next few days, the rezone would automatically be approved without the contingency, he said.

Councilor Chuck Lehman argued he previously vowed not to approve the rezone until the agreement was signed. 

"I have a bit of a concern on a project this expansive," Lehman said. “It's probably one of the biggest that's come along, and I don't think a PUD of this magnitude should have a contingency next to it."

Councilor Joe Edwards asked whether the council could hold off on a vote Monday night and hold a special meeting later to vote on the measure before the Sept. 30 deadline. Doing so might give the city and the family an incentive to finalize the agreement, he suggested.

Ultimately, the council voted 5-1 to approve the rezone, with Edwards casting the dissenting vote. Zaiger said without a signed development agreement the project can't move forward. 

Mayor Andy Cook told IBJ the development agreement won’t go before the council for a vote, but he typically contacts each councilor to loop them in on what the city and developer have committed to. 

So far, little, except the YMCA announcement, has been publicly revealed about the Wheeler family’s plans for the land.

About 10 acres of the land would be used for the proposed $35 million YMCA branch and natatorium announced in May by Westfield Washington Schools. The YMCA would be built at the southwest corner of 181st Street and Wheeler Road, south of the 400-acre Grand Park Sports Campus.

Public plans for the project detail options for the remaining land, which would be divided into four areas to allow for multiple uses:

— In Area I, which encompasses about 27 acres along Wheeler Road, the district would allow for multifamily dwellings, an assisted living facility, a nursing home, a hospice facility, a bed-and-breakfast, educational institutions with dormitory accommodations, agriculture and parks. Area I is where the YMCA would be located. It would also allow for a  multi-story parking garage.

—  In Area II, about 9 acres at the northwest corner of State Road 32 and Wheeler Road, the district would allow for agriculture and parks.

— Area III, about 96 acres in the center of the development and near Grand Park Boulevard, would allow for all the same uses as Area I and a gasoline service station.

— Area IV, nearly 200 acres on the property’s west side, would allow for engineering, research and testing laboratories, retail special handling, a veterinary hospital for large animals, a kennel, light and medium industrial, a self-storage facility, warehousing and distributions operations, wholesalers, educational institutions with dormitory accommodations, wireless communications facilities and an airport. This area would also allow for agricultural use and parks.

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