The city of Columbus will try to tighten up development standards along two major thoroughfares on its northwest side.

The city of Columbus will try to tighten up development standards along two major thoroughfares on its northwest side.

Officials in the planning division have proposed establishing regional commercial overlays, which call for additional design standards for new and some existing properties along Bethel and Sawmill roads.

The stricter standards, also called an RCO, were requested in the Northwest Plan, which was developed by the city from input collected by the Far Northwest Coalition (FNWC) and the Northwest Civic Association (NWCA).

"It's basically for the community because they were worried about a mishmash of developments," said Devayani Puranik, a senior planner for Columbus.

One of its major considerations is a maximum 25-foot setback from the road, which promotes a more urban feeling.

Puranik said an RCO seeks to accomplish many things: to create a pedestrian-friendly environment, establish appropriate and consistent setbacks, allow for safe access to lots and encourage adequate internal circulation.

She said property owners shouldn't be concerned: the RCO mostly effects undeveloped land and buildings that are expanded by 50 percent of the gross square footage or expanded toward a public street.

The provisions do not apply to routine maintenance or residences, she said.

Overlays have been applied to various parts of Columbus with the same goals in mind: promote walkability, aesthetics, signage and lighting. In Clintonville, for example, the urban commercial overlay that was applied to High Street has gotten mostly good reviews, although it has its share of critics.

Paul Harris, a member of the Clintonville Area Commission, said the CAC often is split on the overlay's application and whether it's too strict in some cases. The NWCA and FNWC should keep an open mind when asked for a variance, he said.

"I would be cautious about extra zoning restrictions that might have the effect of chasing business away," Harris said. "I think we need to be more flexible and willing to work with developers to bring jobs and revenue to this community."

Puranik said she's heard complaints about the overlay in Clintonville but is confident the RCO would work in northwest Columbus.

"I think the vast majority of the people will appreciate" the design standards, she said.

Bill Carleton, president of the NWCA, said he's generally upbeat about the proposal. However, the civic association will not vote until the city gives a formal presentation on the issue.

"I think we're holding off saying too much until we really see that," he said.

The FNWC had planned to vote on the matter Wednesday, Sept. 24, said its president, John Best.

Public hearings will be held on the RCO in upcoming months. Because it is a change in zoning, the guidelines must be adopted by Columbus City Council. Puranik said she doesn't expect council to consider the legislation until after the first of the year.