With the Clintonville Area Commission's recommendation against a proposed car wash for a former White Castle site on North High Street and the developer's subsequent withdrawal of that proposal, Lower Olentangy Urban Arboretum officials are moving forward with efforts to acquire the property.
The goal would be to make the site part of the arboretum, as well as to eventually uncover a stream that runs underneath it.
In fact, arboretum President Mike McLaughlin said, board members have decided to embark on an even more-ambitious project to create a walking trail from Glen Echo Park to the Olentangy River.
"It's going to be challenging," McLaughlin said.
Such a project would mean not only obtaining the property at 2725 N. High St., currently for sale at $750,000, McLaughlin said, but also eventually acquiring the Tim Hortons restaurant almost directly across the street.
"Because there's a viable business there, that might be 20, 30 years down the road before that's realized," he said.
Arboretum board members approved the walking path project along with the "daylighting" of the White Castle site at a meeting last week. Supporting organizations, such as Friends of the Ravine, Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed and United Crestview Area Neighbors are mulling whether they want to join the effort, McLaughlin said.
The proposal to build a state-of-the-art Goo-Goo 3 Minute Express Wash on the former White Castle site is now dead in the water, said David L. Hodge, the attorney who represented the company Nov. 7 before the Clintonville Area Commission.
"Goo Goo has withdrawn the request," the zoning lawyer said last week.
At the commission meeting, four of those present voted against the rezoning. The other four on hand abstained.
The property owned by the Columbus-based fast-food operation, which closed its North High Street store and demolished it in spring 2011, has long been desired by arboretum supporters, McLaughlin said.
"We started looking at that White Castle lot when the White Castle lot was razed," he said. "It never really went anywhere because there just didn't seem to be that many interested people."
The development proposal from the Georgia-based car wash franchise put the concept back on the front burner for the arboretum, McLaughlin said.
"It does make sense to go for the bigger project, because if you look at the walking path from Glen Echo Park to the Olentangy River, that does, in fact, take up the White Castle lot," he added.
The acquisition effort is in its infancy, McLaughlin said.
"Right now, what we're doing is the relationship-building process to see how many other organizations want to join us in this endeavor," McLaughlin said.
Just how much the overall project might cost and where the funding would come from have yet to be determined.
McLaughlin said he does worry a bit that another developer will swoop in and obtain the property before the arboretum can take action.
"That is a concern, but the solace I'm taking is it took two or three years for a developer to come forward ... and hopefully, it would be another three years before another developer came forward. And hopefully, in that time, we would have acquired the lot," he said.
The Lower Olentangy Urban Arboretum was formed in 2010 with the goals of improving water quality, fostering native species and contributing to the quality of life in and around the Glen Echo Ravine.