As the city begins a new year, city leaders are looking beyond 2014 to create a new vision for Westerville.

As the city begins a new year, city leaders are looking beyond 2014 to create a new vision for Westerville.

For more than a year, a plan for the city's historic Uptown district has been in the works, as has a new Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) plan.

Work on those plans should be finalized early this year, and the city will begin to look toward implementing some of their recommendations as the year moves forward, said City Manager Dave Collinsworth.

City leaders also will launch a comprehensive planning process, something that hasn't been undertaken in Westerville since the 1970s.

"This is kind of the first attempt in modern history," Collinsworth said. "They don't call it a comprehensive plan for no reason. There's going to be a lot of touch points with the community and with (City) Council. It will probably be an 18-month process."

The decision to launch a comprehensive plan came from interest shown by developers in some of the city's last remaining vacant land, such as Braun Farms at the corner of Cleveland Avenue and Cooper Road and the land along Africa Road, Collinsworth said.

"We anticipate a lot of development coming soon," he said.

The city must determine the best uses for vacant tracts, as well as areas in which in-fill development might be possible, he said.

The city has hired a new assistant director of planning and development to spearhead the comprehensive planning process, which Collinsworth said will begin in the first quarter of this year.

The parks department likely will roll out the recommendations of its PROS plan, including a recommendation to seek renewal of its quarter-percent income tax in November, and the city will be looking hard at those recommendations throughout the new year, Collinsworth said.

"That's going to be a major thread for 2014," he said.

The city also will make more finite plans for the 67-acre Altair property, at the southeast corner of Polaris Parkway and Cleveland Avenue, which it is in the process of purchasing from a private developer.

The seller agreement for the property is being finalized, Collinsworth said, and city leaders have been in talks with four development companies to see what their ideas are for the land and how the developers can help the city produce a successful mixed-use development on the site.

"They're the people who have the knowledge, the expertise on how to best market the site," Collinsworth said.

The city will look to partner with a private developer to attract businesses, which city leaders will hope will include a hotel and conference center, to the site, he said.

As has been the case for the past several years, the city once again will invest big in capital improvements for 2014.

Schrock Road will be overhauled from Pointview Drive to Hempstead Road beginning early in the spring, Collinsworth said. Though the city's development department had floated different ideas for a reconfigured roadway, Schrock Road will be rebuilt to look as it does today.

"That was pretty much the feedback that was received (from residents)," Collinsworth said.

The city also will wrap up gateway improvements at South State Street and Interstate 270, and overhead utility lines will begin to be moved underground along South State Street from the 700 block north through the 500 block in anticipation of having the roadway, including the Schrock Road intersection, improved in 2015.

The city's bike trail that now terminates at Hempstead Road and Walnut Street will be expanded west to Spring Road.

A $3 million expansion to the Service Department's facility on Park Meadow Road will wrap up in the first quarter of 2014, and the pace of construction on the $11-million overhaul of the city's water-treatment facility, needed to comply with new federal EPA guidelines, will increase early this year, Collinsworth said.

Internally, the city will have an increased focus on customer service, Collinsworth said, with employees being retrained in customer-service guidelines to keep standards high.

"That's where we feel vulnerable, sort of resting on our laurels. We get good grades from residents, but psychologically, that might be our weakness," Collinsworth said. "The whole philosophy is to go from good to great."

The city also is working with UnitedHealthcare to move to a self-insurance model for 2014.

That will keep the city's $5 million health-care costs flat for the year, compared with a 14-percent increase that was projected if the city signed a new private health insurance contract, Collinsworth said.

The city also will change its internal operating systems, allowing more to be done online rather than relying on paper systems.

"It's going to be a big change for our organization," Collinsworth said. "It's a big investment, but we think it's going to help make us more efficient."