Upper Arlington News

City notes

MSC rezoning a choice between preservation, need


An issue receiving attention in the community pertains to a current effort by the city to rezone a portion of the land that houses the Municipal Services Center (MSC) in the hopes of facilitating an office development on the northernmost tip of the site -- at the Tremont and Kenny intersection.

As the proposal has been working its way through the public review process, concerns for what could ultimately happen at the site have been brought forward primarily by residents living in the Trouville neighborhood to the south.

This issue is a prime example of the conflict between preserving the UA we know and love while trying to find viable options for strengthening the city's financial footing so that we can assure a strong future for all in our community.

With interest in the site expressed from the development community, we are doing our due diligence by considering the possibilities and benefits an office development to our immediate north could yield for the city.

The city has suffered a significant loss in its revenue stream -- in the range of $6 million annually -- from the elimination of the estate tax and reductions in other state funding. Plus, since the purchase of the former AOL/Time Warner site by Tree of Life, we have lost both development opportunities and property and income tax revenue from the largest office building and second-largest commercial site in our community.

Using industry standards, this represents a loss of at least $550,000 in income tax revenue alone each year.

Despite the belt-tightening and reduction in services that have already been accomplished, along with a welcome rebound in the economy, we are still far from bringing our annual operating costs and the price tag for significant capital needs into alignment with revenue for the long haul.

Economic development can't solve our dilemma singlehandedly, since less than 5 percent of the city is zoned for commercial use. However, it is a critical contributor to the cause, which is why we have been actively pursuing an enhanced business community for more than 15 years. Economic development is included as a primary goal of our master plan and continues to be a top priority for city council.

The Community Improvement Corp. was formed to support these efforts and most recently, the work of the Citizen Financial Review Task Force quickly concluded how vital it is that the city continue exploring feasible business opportunities to maximize our income tax revenue potential.

When the city purchased the site from the Trouville Co. in 1970 in order to build the Municipal Services Center, the price paid at the time -- $282,000 -- was reflective of a typical market price for commercially zoned land and significantly higher than the Franklin County Auditor's valuation of $46,580. And while our City Hall does serve a public purpose, it also is technically an office building -- filled with employees who pay income taxes to the city and commute to and from the site on a daily basis.

I suspect that if asked to pick from our primary zoning classifications, many residents would assume the site is already zoned for office use because of the MSC and its weekday activities.

Also of note, at the time of purchase, the site was zoned RCD-3 Community Development District, which allowed for a hospital use. Resulting from what we believe was an oversight, when the city's Unified Development Ordinance was adopted by city council in 2002, the site was unintentionally folded into a blanket RCD zoning that we have today.

The city and its representatives are the community's stewards and as such, we always want to be good neighbors. But we must also consider the benefits that any development proposal may ultimately bring for the community as a whole.

From the start, even though we initially proposed a rezoning of the entire parcel, we have only been open to the possibility of an office development on land furthest from residences. Tremont and Kenny roads and the intersection at which they converge are among our more heavily traveled thoroughfares and are designed to accommodate the needs of both local and through traffic.

Compared to the traffic generated by the MSC on most days (and some nights), an office building of approximately 35,000-40,000 square feet would not generate an excessive increase in traffic. We are confident the impacts of such a development would be nominal.

As the public hearings and discussions to date have occurred, we have been paying close attention to concerns raised by those living nearby.

Recognizing the legitimacy of some of the issues raised, we have worked to modify the parameters of the proposed rezoning. Moving forward, the proposal will focus on a smaller acreage, specific to the land that could be developed, preserving the remainder of the site within its current zoning status, and earmarking an area immediately adjacent to the Trouville neighborhood as a "no-disturb" zone to provide an appropriate buffer of green space.

As we look ahead, the Board of Zoning and Planning is scheduled to revisit the issue at a special meeting on Monday, June 2, with Upper Arlington City Council considering its merits at the June 9 meeting. Full details on the issue can be found at uaoh.net under the Headlines section of our homepage.

I encourage you to become informed on this issue and to let us know your thoughts.

Theodore J. Staton is Upper Arlington's city manager.