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Citizens group seeks rezoning referendum

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A new group opposed to plans to build professional offices at the Upper Arlington Municipal Services Center is mounting a campaign for a referendum in November.

The Committee to Overturn MSC Rezoning filed paperwork late Monday, June 16, with the Franklin County Board of Elections in hopes of placing a referendum on the fall ballot.

The group seeks to reverse Upper Arlington City Council's 4-3 vote June 9 to rezone 5.36 acres to allow professional office development and parking at the northern edge of the MSC's 7.43-acre property at 3600 Tremont Road.

The rezoning was approved despite widespread opposition from residents of the neighboring Trouville condominium community, as well as others who said Upper Arlington should not develop its city hall site.

"We believe that the price of losing our public land is too great to justify commercializing this important part of our city hall setting," said Martin Cordero, a UA resident and treasurer for the Committee to Overturn MSC Rezoning.

Council's approval of the rezoning was supported by the Upper Arlington Community Improvement Corp. and the Upper Arlington Area Chamber of Commerce.

The rezoning came after the city received two informal development plans in March for the MSC site.

Trivium Development LLC proposes to build a 36,000-square-foot medical office project. Daimler Group Inc. and Kohr Royer Griffith Inc. have proposed a 40,000-square-foot office.

According to the Upper Arlington City Manager's Office, those types of projects would bring approximately $160,000 in added income taxes to the city each year.

City Manager Ted Staton and other city officials have supported the rezoning as part of a strategy to fill an approximately $6 million annual gap in revenue lost following the elimination of Ohio's estate tax and cuts to the state Local Government Fund.

"When members of city council are elected, part of their charge is to carefully consider difficult issues such as this and to ultimately vote for what they believe will be for the greater good of the community as a whole, and in the vast majority of cases council's decisions go unchallenged," Staton said Tuesday, June 17.

"Development and rezoning issues are often the exception to the rule because Upper Arlington is landlocked and built out, therefore most proposals for new or redevelopment projects represent change and some level of impact to the surrounding neighbors," he said.

"The opportunity for citizens to seek a referendum on a rezoning issue is deliberately part of our democratic process, affording opposing viewpoints the opportunity to challenge council's decision by seeking the opinion of the entire community through the ballot process."

The Committee to Overturn MSC Rezoning has argued that development is not appropriate on the site of the city's government headquarters.

"Using our public land should be the very last thing we consider, not the first," Cordero said. "At best, the revenue generated by this project would be a drop in the bucket."

Suzanne Kull, marketing and communications team co-coordinator for the Committee to Overturn MSC Rezoning, said the group currently has 80 to 90 members representing a "cross section of Upper Arlington residents" and is growing.

The committee's organizing members include former Upper Arlington mayor, councilwoman and planning commission member Priscilla Mead; former city tree commission member Mary Duchi; resident Gus Crim; and Marilyn Pritchett, widow of former Upper Arlington mayor Clark Pritchett.

Kull said the committee wants to repeal the rezoning so green space at the MSC will be maintained. In past years, that area has been used as public parkland and a community gathering space.

The group must collect at least 1,800 signatures of registered Upper Arlington voters within the next 30 days in order to place a referendum on the November ballot. If that occurs, voters from throughout the city would determine if the rezoning will be upheld.

"We will be collecting in all wards of Upper Arlington," Kull said. "This is no longer just a Trouville or 43220 issue."

Upper Arlington Community Affairs Director Emma Speight said June 17 the city will continue to review development options at the MSC and plans to share information about the Trivium and Daimler/Kohr Royer Griffith proposals during a town hall meeting from 9 a.m. to noon at Upper Arlington High School on Saturday, June 21.

"It's a process that will unfold as it unfolds," Speight said of the potential referendum issue. "The city would not do a campaign against them, per se.

"All we can do is provide the information and encourage people to be informed when they make their decisions."

Additional information about the referendum initiative is available by emailing savetheuacenter@gmail.com.

Additional information about the MSC rezoning and the city's strategies for developing the site is available at uaoh.net.

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