It's only a grocery store, but then again, it might represent much, much more.

It's only a grocery store, but then again, it might represent much, much more.

During a panel discussion on land-use issues sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus last week, experts praised the new Kroger store at 1350 N. High St. as a prime example of the right way to approach commercial development in an urban setting.

Columbus Development Department Planning Division administrator Vince Papsidero and Chester R. Jourdan Jr., executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, were the panelists for "Changing Land Uses: Issues and Solutions," held before a packed audience in the meeting room of the Whetstone Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

The program is part of an 18-month study by the land-use committee of the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus, which could lead in the spring to a change in a long-held advocacy position of the organization regarding development, according to committee co-chairwoman Judy Brachman.

The 60,000-square-foot grocery store at the southeast corner of the intersection of North High Street and East Seventh Avenue, which replaced an aging and not very profitable store that was half that size, was built under the urban commercial overlay approach that was first tested in Clintonville in 1999 and formally adopted by Columbus City Council in 2002, Papsidero said. It requires new buildings to be within 10 feet of the public right of way and parking to be at the rear, or to the side in the case of the Kroger store that opened in July.

A small restaurant or retail operation is to be erected in the spring on a sliver of land along North High, further buffering the view of the parking lot, Papsidero said last week.

Ironically, when Kroger Co. officials wanted to expand and renovate the store in Clintonville, they had to obtain a 363-foot variance from the commercial overlay requirement in order not to have to tear down the existing structure and move it within 10 feet of North High.

"This is a pretty unusual grocery store in the Midwest," Papsidero said of the new store, which is called the "Short North Kroger," although residents used to eschew the old location and referred to it derisively as the "crack Kroger."

Urban commercial developments - such as the new Kroger - that emphasize pedestrians more than motor vehicles could have a major impact on the region if replicated dozens of times, Jourdan told the people who assembled for the panel discussion.

During his portion of the presentation, Papsidero, who was appointed to his post in April 2005, said his division is involved in neighborhood planning in a variety of ways, including the development of specific neighborhood plans, urban design, historic preservation, public art, development review and special projects. The division is also involved in annexations, although that aspect of the work, once at the forefront, has settled back to levels not seen since the 1930s, he said, which is good.

"We're probably large enough," Papsidero said.

The 52 adopted neighborhood plans cover more 92 percent of the city. Division planners work on creating or updating five neighborhood plans a year. The one covering what is called Northland I, the traditional area within the Outerbelt, is among several in various stages this year, according to Papsidero.

This used to be a process left almost entirely up to residents, but five years ago, a uniform process was created to focus the plans on urban design and development standards, leading to more consistency throughout the city, he said.

"It's been very beneficial," Papsidero added.

In his presentation, Jourdan focused on the need to take a regional approach to development, the connectivity between jurisdictions in central Ohio and the changing role of transportation.

"If you live upstream from somebody, you live downstream from somebody else," he said.

Columbus is and always will be central Ohio's core city, Jourdan said. In speaking with leaders of suburban communities, he said he emphasizes to them that Columbus is "not the evil empire" and squabbling over economic development isn't helpful on a regional basis.

"If that's the battle, then we've lost the war," Jourdan said.

In the new global environment, some major corporations based in central Ohio could operate anywhere in the world, so it's vital that land use be based on maintaining and improving the factors that resulted in those decisions in the first place, he said.

"Quality of place matters," Jourdan emphasized. "It is at the heart and soul of what a community is."

Major road corridors in central Ohio in the past were viewed as "racetracks to get out of town," Jourdan said. Instead, he said, they should be considered the front entrance to the neighborhoods that branch off of them.

"I tell people all the time, we don't have transportation problems, we have land-use problems," Jourdan said. "Transportation is a means to an end, and not an end in itself."

Columbus, Papsidero admitted, was once a leader in emphasizing the automobile when it came to development, but this has changed in the past decade.

"That's not the culture in public service any more," he said.

The emphasis now is on mixed-used developments that focus more on walkability, Papsidero added.

In response to a question from the audience, both men touched on new initiatives to increase cooperation among the various jurisdictions of government in central Ohio. Agreements are being finalized for adoption by various city councils to put an end to what has often been referred to as "job-poaching," Papsidero said.

Jourdan pointed to a pilot project currently under way that uses experts from Battelle to look at improving the efficiency of transporting students in the 17 school districts in Franklin County.

These districts spend $128 million a year on busing students, with no coordination, but taking a logistics approach, Battelle experts are expected to find ways to save somewhere between $25 million and $30 million of that cost in the first year alone, according to Jourdan.

"It's about regional service delivery," he said. "It's about regional collaboration."