The city of Westerville has been looking for ways to revitalize its Uptown district for some time and has been working on the Uptown Plan for more than a year. At a City Council work session April 8, council members and city planning staff discussed the latest update to the plan, including input from the community.
"For the last year-plus, we've been working on this plan," City Manager David Collinsworth said. "We've focused on the Uptown area and identifying the physical improvements and other improvements necessary to effectuate the future desired state for Uptown that we're looking for. We've spent a lot of time working with the community at large and Uptown residents and merchants."
That community input helped to shape the plan, and after three public meetings and hundreds of website survey participants, 30 stakeholders were interviewed, and more than 640 comments, ideas and votes were submitted. City planners now believe they have a better grasp of what the community wants Uptown, the city's historic business district, to be.
"The planning process and especially the public open houses were very valuable," senior planner Bassem Bitar said. "We had large sheets that had different ideas and different topics that people were able to walk up to and talk to individual members of the planning firm of MKSK, our preservation consultant, and they were able to put sticky notes on the boards indicating which areas and topics they liked or which ones they felt needed more development or additional details."
Through the process, Bitar said, a group of projects emerged as clear favorites among the public. Projects such as improving streetscapes, enhancing alleys, bike connectivity and preserving the State Theater were common, and became the city's "Catalytic Projects," to base the plan around.
"We heard several topics that seemed to be clear that there was consensus on, and those led to recommendations of about 10 total projects that were identified as catalytic projects," Bitar said. "There was a feeling that those would be important to the Uptown district."
As a whole, it seems that the public wants a more aesthetically pleasing Uptown, both on the main streets and behind or in between buildings.
"For all of the flowers and the beauty that we have in Uptown Westerville," Bitar said, "there is an interest in enhancing the feel of the street being part of the public realm and being comfortable sitting on the street."
But improvements have their downsides as well. Most council members voiced concerns with adding more stress to an area that already has parking issues, and despite Bitar suggesting that enough parking was available to meet the area's needs, Councilman Mike Heyeck wasn't so sure.
"You made the statement that we really have enough parking, and technically by mathematics, we do," Heyeck said. "But the perception is that we have a parking problem, because that's all we heard. So I would challenge you to look at every nook and cranny of Uptown Westerville to develop parking to keep this area vibrant."
Council Vice Chairman Larry Jenkins, however, said that if the city can work with Otterbein University -- which sits just west of Uptown -- to reduce their parking issues, it would benefit Westerville as well.
"It's Otterbein that has a parking issue that falls over into the city," Jenkins said. "If we could deal with that, I don't think the city has as bad of a parking issue as is implied. If you took out all the cars that sit for long periods of time, sometimes two weeks ... all of the sudden, I think you would have more flexibility."
After receiving recommendations from the steering committee, the Uptown Review Board and the Westerville Planning Commission, the plan will now be under review by City Council.
Its formal adoption is set to be determined May 6.