City doesn't support big-box retail concept
Worthington city officials said a conceptual plan for redevelopment of the United Methodist children's home property is not consistent with the city's comprehensive plan that was approved in 2005.
Developer Frank Kass of Continental Real Estate presented the conceptual plan Sept. 18 in a public-information meeting held by UMCH Family Services, after ThisWeek's press time last week.
Several hundred community members attended the meeting, most objecting to the plan that included an 87,000- to 94,000-square-foot Giant Eagle store.
"It was the large-scale retailer that seemed to be the biggest concern," Worthington councilman Scott Meyers told ThisWeek. "I don't think a big-box retailer of any sort fits what we envisioned in the (city's comprehensive) plan or currently today."
The comprehensive plan specifically addresses redevelopment of the Methodist children's home site: "The preferred development mix must address community needs (i.e. office uses, targeted residential markets and small retail uses like restaurants) ..."
Meyers said that along High Street, the comprehensive plan calls for buildings to be closer to the street, with parking lots behind the building.
"A 90,000-square-foot retail building requires about 5 acres of parking, and that's a great deal of asphalt to be out in front of a store," Meyers said, referring to what was in Kass' conceptual plan.
City Manager Matt Greeson said it's critical that the children's home site be redeveloped properly.
"The conceptual plan shown at the public meeting doesn't meet the goals and objectives of the comprehensive plan, in particular the large-format grocery store," Greeson said. "(Redevelopment of that property) is a once-in-a-generation decision, and you don't get it back. It's in the community's interest that it be a well-developed plan."
The conceptual plan included apartments, medical offices and a gas station.
UMCH Family Services owns 48 acres of property at 1033 N. High St. and intends to sell about 41 acres, creating an endowment with the funds to support its mission of helping children and families in need, said Sean Reilly, executive director of the agency.
David Fisher, chair of the UMCH Family Services' land development committee, said that along with being able to create an endowment, developing the land would bring other benefits.
The property no longer would be tax-exempt and would "create a significant tax base for the city of Worthington and Worthington schools," he said. The conceptual plan is estimated to bring in about $1.6 million in property taxes, he said.
Also, a written statement said that after it is completed, the development would "create 400 to 500 new full- and part-time jobs" to the city.
"We are working with a premier developer in central Ohio that has a phenomenal track record of providing successful and exciting developments throughout central Ohio," Fisher said, noting that the plan is in the preliminary stages and would be worked on more.
Meyers agrees that a mixed-use development would work well for the city, noting, however, that the community prefers a 25,000- to 30,000-square-foot grocery similar to the Jubilee specialty shop that once was in the 900 block of High Street.
"Giant Eagle is a big-enough and successful-enough retail company, and Kass a successful-enough developer that if he thinks there's a product that fits my constituency, he's going to present it," Meyers said. "(Kass) heard at the meeting what people want if it's going to be a grocery store."
Fisher said the UMCH Family Services has been "part of the fabric of the Worthington community for over 100 years" and has and "will continue to be good neighbors."
"We had a very good meeting with the community," Fisher said. "Some excellent comments and suggestions were provided, and we look forward to continuing to work with the community, the Worthington administration and our board and move forward with a project that will result in a win-win situation for all parties."
Meyers agreed with the outcome of the public session, he said.
"I walked away feeling it was productive," he said. "Everyone was able to voice their concerns, and I think the developer heard them. This is just the beginning; maybe he can come up with something that's right with what we need."
Kass' company is in contract to purchase the land. The property would have to be rezoned to allow for commercial use, though.
Though two small sections of it are zoned commercial, the majority of it is zoned "Special 1," which does not permit commercial use other than a nursery school.
Worthington has a series of approval processes necessary before developments may be constructed, including that of the planning commission and architectural review board.
Kass could not be reached for comment before ThisWeek's press time.
To find information or to provide input on the issue, visit "The UMCH Worthington Campus Land Sale" link under "About Us" on the UMCH Family Services website: umchohio.org.