A grass field with bare trees in it on a sunny day.
This 19-acre plot in Ontario is set to become luxury apartments following City Council's approval of a rezone.

ONTARIO — In a move rejecting a recommendation of city planning commission, Ontario City Council approved a rezone request for a luxury apartments project on Walker Lake Road on Wednesday. 

Four members of council approved the request for upscale apartments on Walker Lake Road near the Lexington-Springmill Road intersection. The R-3 zone allows high density residential construction instead of being limited to one- and two-family homes.

Peter Bookman, director of law of real estate for the CJ Donley Corporation, attended the meeting with developer and CJ Donley Corporation president Craig Donley.

“We had a positive night tonight, and we’re grateful that council approved this,” Bookman said. “We’ve had some resistance from neighbors, and that’s nothing new.”

Donley said he has helped bring multiple businesses to Ontario including Menards, Furniture Row, Panera Bread and Pep Boys.

“Our mission is to bring good opportunities to positive communities,” Bookman said. “We’re still dedicated to that and happy to work with the city and bring high-end housing to the community.”

Bookman said this is a $50 million project and a “positive opportunity for everyone here.”

“I think people who voted in favor of this recognized it for what it was and what we could bring to this community,” he said.

Sunderland & Feagin vote against rezone

1st ward councilman Nathan Sunderland and 2nd ward councilwoman Rose Feagin voted against the rezone request. 

At the Oct. 18 council meeting, Sunderland said he didn’t want a large construction project disturbing his constituents.

“You’re doing an upscale project, but how do you know that you’ll have upscale tenants?” he asked. “I don’t want crimes to increase here if people can’t pay their rent.”

Council President Eddie Gallo said he was disappointed with the vote on Wednesday.

“I don’t offer commentary very much from the bench, but I am very disappointed,” he said. “What just got passed better be done the right way, and that’s all I have to say about that.”

This plot is across from homeowners on Walker Lake Road who have had issues with Menards self-storage construction behind their homes.

The planning commission suggested council deny the rezone request at its September meeting. Engineer Mark Rufener said then that he was concerned about an increased strain on the sewer system. 

Mayor Randy Hutchinson suggested the city consider tax increment financing on the project to help improve nearby sewer lines and other infrastructure.

Donley also owns an adjoining 11-acre property in Mansfield already zoned multi-family. He said he would like to get the property annexed into the City of Ontario so one city can install water and sewer service.

Donley said he is planning for about 200-300 apartments across multiple buildings. He plans on building mostly two-bedroom apartments, though plans aren’t final yet.

The zoning inspector and city engineer must review construction plans for the project. City planning commission must approve final construction plans.

Also in Wednesday’s meeting: 

The personnel committee also discussed a tabled ordinance after the city council meeting. The ordinance proposes to raise salaries for office personnel beginning in 2024.

At-large Councilman Dave Rehfeldt said he would vote against it when it comes before council again because of its overtime policies operating under time worked past 8 hours a day rather than state law of 40 hours a week.

“I’m going with my personal opinion because everyone in the private industry does it according to state law,” he said. 

At-large councilman Kyle Webb noted the overtime schedule has been in place for years.

 “In the course of a year, that probably costs the city maybe a few thousand dollars a year and I personally don’t see a reason to change it,” he said. 

In other business:

  • Hutchinson reminded council that the Marshall Park Christmas tree lighting ceremony is scheduled for Nov. 30 at 5:30 p.m. The event will include hot chocolate, a visit from Santa and performances from local school groups.
  • Gallo said the city’s 41st annual craft show is scheduled for Dec. 2 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Richland County Fairgrounds. Entry is $2, or a toy to benefit the local toy drive (no stuffed animals, please). Proceeds will benefit the Ontario Lions Club and Ontario Community Events. Toys will go to the Springfield Township Fire Department and Ontario Police toy drive.
  • Residents can also drop off toy donations to the Ontario Police Department at 555 Stumbo Road, or the Springfield Township fire stations on Lexington-Springmill Road and Park Avenue West.
  • The city treasurer Shannon Lorentz-Wiese and city auditor Mary Ann Hellinger reviewed the temporary budget for 2024 with the finance committee. The budget is scheduled for a vote on Dec. 13.
  • Service-safety director Kris Knapp said leaf pickup will end Nov. 17, so city residents should put their leaves at their curb on or before that date. 

Chuck Hahn, Cleveland Financial Group, invests in this independent reporting through a Newsroom Partnership. Learn more about Newsroom Partnerships.

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Ball State journalism alumna. Passionate about sharing stories, making good coffee and finding new podcasts. You can reach me at grace@richlandsource.com.