Westerville News & Public Opinion

'Gateway' project in final phase

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RYAN M.L. YOUNG/THISWEEKNEWS
Construction on the new south gateway streetscaping project continues in front of US Bank, 833 S. State St. The city initially offered the property owner $145,855 for the 0.205 acres taken by the improvement, but he argued in court that it significantly reduced the visibility of his property and was awarded $1.3 million.

After months of construction and more than a year of planning, the city of Westerville's gateway improvements project is finally entering into its final phase.

"This is kind of a multi-phase project, and this is kind of the final chapter," construction manager Jake Preston said.

The $2.1 million project aims to make the city's entry points more attractive, specifically at the northeast and southwest corners of the South State Street intersection with Huber Village Boulevard-Heatherdown Drive.

Brick piers along with a large "Welcome to Westerville" sign will be the feature of the improvements, and will include signs along pathways directing visitors to Otterbein University and the Uptown District, among others.

A large part of the project will also add thousands of feet of sidewalk in the city. One stretch -- from Huber Village to the Interstate 270 ramp -- features a 1,000-foot stretch of new walkway. The pavement will be teamed with about 140 trees, more than 2,000 shrubs and 7,000 perennials as well as an ornamental fence.

Despite the scale of the project, Preston said there haven't been any large challenges along the way yet, and work is on track to finish by mid-summer.

"Things are going smoothly," he said. "Like any construction project, it's always a challenge as you move into the spring, and rain delays can become an issue. But I think progress has been pretty good."

One snag the city is dealing with is James Taylor, the owner of the US Bank at 833 S. State St., who won a court ruling in May 2013 that awarded Taylor a payment of $1.3 million from the city for seizing a 0.205-acre piece of his property under eminent domain in late 2012 to complete part of the gateway project.

The city initially offered Taylor $145,855 for the land. The court decision awarding nine times that amount did not prompt the city to make any changes to the project.

Taylor's lawyer, Bruce Ingram, said the city appealed the ruling to the Franklin County Court of Appeals, and the case is still in the court system with no timeframe on wrapping up. While Westerville is fighting the case, Ingram said Taylor has plenty of support from other sources.

"Mr. Taylor's brief was supported by the National Federation of Independent Villages, the Ohio Realtors Association and Ohio Retail Merchants," Ingram said. "The city is claiming that he cannot receive compensation for loss of visibility on his property under Ohio law, and we of course dispute that."

Westerville's law director could not be reached for comment.

But while the case is determined by the court, Westerville's project is still a go on what used to be Taylor's property.

"All the improvements are moving forward, and we should have everything finalized at this point," Preston said.

City spokeswoman Christa Dickey did not comment directly on the US Bank eminent domain cost, but said the improvement is an important part of the city's larger $9 million project to bury utility lines, widen sidewalks and improve the South State streetscape.

"This ground was needed to complete the improvements to that intersection as part of the city's $9 million investment in the reconstruction and revitalization of Westerville's South State Street corridor," Dickey said.

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