Westerville News & Public Opinion

Council gets early peek at updated parks plan

More bike trails, 50-percent expansion of Community Center for seniors on the list

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As the Westerville Department of Parks and Recreation looks to the future, city leaders envision an expanded community center, more recreational trails, more parks, an outdoor "adventure" park, Uptown civic space and better access to local waterways.

The city began working on an update to its parks and recreation master plan last summer. Parks and Recreation Director Randy Auler presented the community priorities that have emerged through the public-input process to City Council at an April 9 work session.

The original plan was created in 1998 when the city passed a 0.25-percent income tax to support the parks and recreation system, said Council Chairman Mike Heyeck. The concepts in the updated master plan aren't meant to require additional funding from the city but to determine how the city will spend the money from the levy until it expires in 2020, Heyeck said.

Thousands participated in surveys, and nearly 350 people participated in focus groups about the parks and recreation system and its future, Auler said.

The top request was for an expansion of the city's 26 miles of bike trails.

"That's really kind of a national trend," Auler said. "That's almost the No. 1 thing across the country and certainly in our community."

Residents said they wanted to see a larger community center, with more aquatic, fitness and programming possibilities, Auler said.

That need could be combined with the need for new and expanded space for senior programming.

"We've outgrown (the senior center), and it's really not at the level of service we need to be able to serve our growing population of older adults," Auler said.

The preliminary concept is to expand the community by 50 percent, adding space specifically for seniors with its own entrance, Auler said. Multigenerational programming would help utilize the combined Community Center/Senior Center, he said.

Auler said he also could see an outdoor "adventure" park, with features such as a climbing wall or zip line, which he said would appeal both to families and young professionals.

That could be installed in the northwest corner of the city, where developers of a planned apartment complex have gifted eight acres of land to the city for a park.

To fit with the goal it set when residents passed the PROS 2000 parks and recreation income tax in 1998 of having a park within a half-mile of all residents, the city needs a park in that portion of the city, as well as one to the east and one to the southeast, Auler said.

An Uptown civic space ties into a need shown by the Uptown plan being developed by the city, Auler said. That space could be used for farmers markets or community events like 4th Friday Celebrations.

With Alum Creek running through the city and Hoover Reservoir bordering it, residents said they wanted to see more access to the water, Auler said.

He presented to council a series of connected possibilities for the parks that line Alum Creek: a new park in the northwestern quadrant, the Westerville Sports Complex, Heritage Park, Alum Creek Park North and Alum Creek Park South.

The city has talked tentatively with the city of Columbus, which owns Hoover Reservoir, about a long-term agreement that would allow for water access there, Auler said.

"People like to interact with water," Auler said. "It also presents an opportunity, I believe, to provide economic development and also preserve the waterways."

Finally, the city's analysis, and request from community sports groups, show a need for more athletic fields, Auler said.

Complaints about fields mostly focus on condition rather than quantity, Auler said, but the quality of field suffers because the city doesn't have enough fields to adequately rest the ones it has between events.

There also is a need for adult-sized softball fields and general-purpose fields, such as those used for lacrosse, Auler said.

At this point in the planning process, Auler said the plan's developers will begin focusing on priorities and how much projects could cost.

A preliminary plan will be written and presented for more public feedback before being presented to the Recreation Advisory Board and finally, to City Council for formal adoption.

"Did we get it right, is essentially what we're asking," Auler said.

City Council members did ask Auler some questions and provided some positive feedback on what was presented.

"All of these goals are laudatory," said Councilman Craig Treneff.

He encouraged Auler to focus on the development of parks in the southeast, east and northwest portions of the city to achieve the half-mile goal.

"We've just got to figure that one out. We can't let that one go another 15 years without addressing that," Treneff said. "It's unfinished business that we promised the voters (in 1998)."

Heyeck said the concepts presented by the parks and recreation team continue the city's intense focus on its parks system.

"The 'city within a park' concept is really alive within this book," Heyeck said.

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