Traffic congestion, property values, and city code requirements are among the issues facing Perrysburg officials this month as they weigh whether to approve a proposed Costco store, the biggest retail project in the city in a decade.
A public hearing is set for 6 p.m. Thursday on the proposed 154,300-square-foot store near the southeast corner of State Rt. 25 and Eckel Junction Road.
City Council is expected to act March 25 on a special-use permit and the city planning commission is scheduled to vote on March 27 on a final site plan.
Despite concerns by some in the community, the project appears headed for approval. Council members, in general, favor the proposal and none spoke negatively about it to The Blade.
City planning panel members voted in November to approve a preliminary site plan.
Costco hasn’t publicly said much about its 28-acre project, but some residents have expressed objections.
Some question why the national warehouse club doesn’t put its store elsewhere, even within city limits, where the traffic, property values, and other issues might be less of a concern.
Key issues on the project include:
● Traffic. The Route 25-Eckel Junction intersection already handles 41,000 cars a day, and Costco could add 5,100. More lanes are planned this year for the crossing, but even Costco’s consultant said the intersection likely won’t be “desirable” by traffic experts for peak evening drive times, given the additional store traffic.
Some question whether traffic, at times, could back up on northbound Route 25 and force a backup on the I-475 eastbound exit ramp. The Ohio Department of Transportation is reviewing Costco’s traffic study and could suggest other improvements.
● Special-use permit. Among the requirements in the Perrysburg regulations is that a store larger than 60,000 square feet should not be next to residential zoning, should not have a negative affect on property values or on the community, and should “minimize traffic congestion.” Also required is a market-analysis study on the economic justification for the store. City officials have said the project meets the special-use requirements, and they support granting the permit.
● Natural gas pipeline. Costco has been told by Columbia Gas Transmissions that it should not put a parking lot over the 4-foot-deep pipeline, which cuts diagonally across the property, because the pavement would hinder monitoring for leaks and fixing the pipe. Costco has proposed rerouting the pipeline, but the pipeline operator has not agreed to that.
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Perrysburg Mayor Mike Olmstead said Costco should be approved for this location because that’s where it wants its store, it will invest millions in the community, the property owners have agreed to sell, and the project fits the zoning.
“That’s all I need to know,” Mr. Olmstead said. “The government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers; it fits.”
The mayor didn’t want to get bogged down in traffic study numbers. He said the Route 25-Eckel Junction intersection is rated below average and the planned improvements would make it acceptable.
The number of vehicles backed up on the I-475 eastbound exit ramp would be minimal, he said, though an improvement planned by the state for the expressway interchange is needed.
An $8 million project to create a “diverging diamond” layout at the interchange is planned by ODOT, but the project is not fully funded or scheduled.
Costco, of Issaquah, Wash., is a members-only store that sells groceries, jewelry, electronics, clothing, and other merchandise at what are advertised as discounted prices. It had $103 billion in sales last year. It has 462 stores in the United States and more globally.
Its plan shows the store on the southern edge of the 28-acre site, right next to the base of the eastbound exit ramp on I-475. It also shows a 16-pump gas station right off Route 25 and a total of 719 parking spaces.
It shows two unnamed stores near its main entrance on Eckel Junction, and its traffic consultant says those likely would be a 5,000-square foot, drive-through bank and a 6,000-square-foot fast-food restaurant.
If the store is built, it would be the second Costco in the Toledo area.
The first opened in 2007 at Central Avenue and Secor Road in West Toledo, with about 190 employees and projected annual sales of $125 million. The proposed Perrysburg store would be about half of the size of the Town Center at Levis Commons less than a mile south on Route 25, a big retail development that opened in 2004.
Several City Council members told The Blade that they like the Costco company and note that it pays high wages and is “a great regional draw,” both of which would benefit Perrysburg.
“Summed up in a few words, people have a favorable view of Costco, they treat employees well and are good corporate citizens,” Councilman Tom Mackin said. “There are also residents concerned with traffic and how it will be impacted. We have to do our homework before making a decision. It would be premature not to.”
Traffic problems are a top concern among residents. Council members, like the mayor, said the road widening to start this summer would ease congestion.
“[Traffic studies] estimate that, even with Costco, the intersection will be improved and better than today,” Councilman Todd Grayson said.
Councilman Tim McCarthy said traffic is the biggest issue regarding Costco. The road improvements will help, he said, and Costco’s promised funding for an extra lane on Eckel Junction “will be a big help to help get traffic out.”
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The Route 25 and Eckel Junction intersection was rated an “E” in a recent traffic study during evening rush hour. Costco’s own traffic study shows that, after its store is built and the planned widening of the intersection is completed, the road crossing would improve only slightly, to a “D” rating.
Costco’s traffic study says a “D” grade is considered “allowable” but not necessarily “desirable” by ODOT. The grades are determined by how long it takes vehicles to go through the traffic light.
This year, the intersection is to undergo a $2.25 million construction project, getting five new lanes and a longer queuing area for four existing lanes. The work is to be done by December, by which time Costco hopes to be open. Also planned, but not funded or scheduled, is an $8 million project to improve the Route 25 and I-475 interchange.
“There are a number of places Costco could land in Perrysburg,” said Brian Craig of Perrysburg’s Craig Transportation Co. on Eckel Road. “I love Costco, but it is in the wrong spot.”
He also said it would be a “nightmare” to have the road construction under way when the Costco store opens.
Residents at Callander Court, just east of the planned Costco main road entrance on Eckel Junction, have said they fear they might at times not be able to turn out of their subdivision. City officials said they will install a do-not-block road sign to help prevent that from happening.
“Our road is only 70 yards east of the traffic light,” said Callander Court resident Larry Small. “Traffic now is terrible. We have to wait for [backed up traffic to clear] to pull out as it is.”
Mr. Small said he is not opposed to Costco. He likes the store’s hours and dimmed lighting, admitting “it could be a much worse property.”
The special-use permit is required for stores larger than 60,000 square feet. Two of the six requirements to receive special-use approval are to not diminish nearby property values or to create traffic congestion. Permit approval is determined by council.
“Five of the six hurdles look to be cleared,” Councilman Jim Matuszak said. “The other one is if Costco, being in that location, impairs the surrounding location’s property value.”
It is unclear, he said, whether the store would help or hurt property values. Owners of commercial properties probably would love it, whereas residents may not, he said.
Councilman Rick Rettig said, “Property value is dictated on so many things it is difficult and very speculative. The store as a whole, I’m a big fan of their company.”
The market analysis study for a special-use permit isn’t needed, city officials said, because of the company’s past performance of successfully operating hundreds of stores.
The city planning commission voted 5-2 to recommend the special-use permit in November to council.
“I don’t believe it met the requirements for the special-use permit with property value,” Planning Commissioner Byron Choka said after voting against it at the November meeting. “I couldn’t approve it without meeting that requirement.”
The requirements for a special-use permit also say the project cannot abut residential zoning unless the current use is other than residential.
There is residentially zoned property adjacent to the Costco property, though it is undeveloped. The regulations say the special-use should not “impede the normal and orderly development and improvement of the surrounding property.”
City officials have said there are no immediate plans for its development, and therefore, it is not an impediment to Costco.
Mr. Grayson and other council members say the Costco property is zoned C4 highway commercial, which means it could have other uses that some might consider more disruptive.
“It is not going to be a horse farm forever,” Mr. Grayson said. “It could be a sports complex, bowling alley, 24-hour Super Kroger, strip mall.”
He said a Costco would benefit neighbors more than many other business uses. Store hours at Costco are 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. weekdays, so the store would not affect morning traffic and would not have traffic or big outdoor lights late at night.
What lies beneath
Another key issue for Costco — although not something city officials rule upon — is an underground pipeline across the property. The line has slowed the approval process for the project.
Costco seemed to be headed for approval by city officials in December, but the operator of the pipeline, Columbia Gas Transmissions, objected to having a paved parking lot over the pipeline. Discussion between Costco and the pipeline operator has been ongoing for four months.
The pipeline operator said last week that no deal had been reached, but Costco submitted a revised site plan that shows the line rerouted so that it skirts the parking area.
The store chain’s plan would reroute a large portion of the 1,100 feet of pipeline on the property. The line is about 4 feet deep and 20 inches in diameter and carries natural gas at 450 pounds per square inch. Having no pavement above the line, experts have said, makes it easier for the operator to detect leaks and to make repairs if there are problems.
Damon Hill, a spokesman of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, said that operators are required about once every two weeks to check for leaks and usually that is done by flying over the pipeline to look for dead vegetation or cracks in the ground to indicate problems. Parking lots prohibit doing that, he said.
But relocation of a line, he said, shouldn’t be a hazard.
“Our main battle is over accidental hits [to the pipeline] from a third-party excavation,” Mr. Hill said, referring to contractors doing work unrelated to the pipeline who accidentally crack the line.
City officials said Costco will have the rerouted pipeline installed during its store construction but the current pipeline will stay in use for about two years to allow time for approval of permits. A Columbia Gas Transmission spokesman said the relocation talk is premature because the gas company is still in negotiations with Costco.
A done deal?
Despite the concerns and issues, one Perrysburg resident near the Costco site said local approval is a done deal.
“Nothing we say or do can change this; it is happening. It is going to pass,” Mr. Small said. “The city is very anxious to create new jobs and get tax revenue. That outweighs 32 residents [at Callander Court].”
Councilman Matuszak, though, said he is in favor of Costco coming to town but doesn’t know whether this is the best location. Still, he said, he wouldn’t want Costco to pass on Perrysburg.
“I wouldn’t turn them down,” he said. “People in business know Costco is a leader and determines good locations for stores. If they didn’t come here it could scare others as well.”