A more inviting, and more easily navigated, alley system could be the focus of Westerville's Uptown plan.
An alley system running north-south behind businesses the length of Uptown, with mid-block alleys running east-west between businesses, could alleviate congestion on State Street, make navigation more intuitive, better link businesses and parking and provide businesses with space for patios, window displays or other uses, said Westerville Senior Planner Bassem Bitar.
The city began work on a plan for the Uptown district last fall, looking at existing conditions in Uptown and at what could be done to improve the area.
At two public meetings held in January and February, participants latched on to the idea of mid-block alleys, Bitar said.
"The one idea that seemed to pick up the most steam or interest was the concept of what we're calling, for now, 'the back alleys' -- where there could be some improvements to the back alleys to take some of the pressure off State Street," Bitar said.
In one example, a back alley system would be beneficial in better linking parking to businesses, Bitar said.
There is a public perception that Uptown lacks parking, Bitar said, but an analysis showed that Uptown has 1,100 parking space. Ideally, urban mixed-use districts should have three parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of space, which would be 977 parking spaces.
With clearly defined alley system, Uptown patrons would have a better idea of where to park and would more easily be able to make their way from parking to the businesses on Uptown's main roads.
Alleyways also would give pedestrians and bicyclists more space to travel through Uptown, as sidewalks along State Street are limited in how much they can be widened to accommodate pedestrian traffic, Bitar said.
"If you compare Uptown Westerville to downtown Worthington, for example, even though Worthington has High Street, the sidewalks are much wider," Bitar said. "There is only so much widening that the Uptown sidewalks can handle."
As the Uptown planning committee moves toward developing a draft plan, the committee also is looking at a public civic space in Uptown, the creation of gateways on College and Main streets, how to increase pedestrian safety and how "infill" businesses could make a more continuous district.
Another public meeting to present more detailed concepts will be held in May, and the city will continue to gather feedback on the plan through the PlanUptown.com website.
The website also includes more details on the concepts, including drawings.
The plan will go before the Uptown Review Board and the Westerville Planning Commission before it heads to City Council for final approval.
City planners hope to have the plan up for a council vote before council members begin their summer recess in July.