Worthington News

'Elephant in the room'

City planners working on zoning change for UMCH site

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The United Methodist Children's Home is the elephant in the room, and it is breathing down the city's neck.

The Municipal Planning Commission acknowledged that fact during its Jan. 24 meeting, when members made clear the urgency of getting a planned-unit-development zoning category into the city's zoning code.

The commission reviewed the zone wording and sent it back for final app-roval to Worthington City Council.

The PUD zoning, if it becomes part of Worthington's zoning options, would give the city more control over the development of large parcels, such as the 40 acres for sale at the UMCH site. It also allow would a developer to place multiple uses within one piece of land. Residential, office, commercial and other specific uses could be built under one PUD rather than require separate zoning categories.

The city would retain control over each subarea in a PUD. Among areas to be controlled are character, design, screening, coverage, traffic, parking, environment and phasing.

In September 2012, Continental Realty presented to residents its plans to build a Giant Eagle supermarket, a gas station and apartments on the land across from the Worthington Municipal Building. The site abuts the Worthington Estates residential neighborhood.

The Giant Eagle plans were withdrawn following a public outcry, but residents and city officials assume that more plans are coming, and they want to be ready, with the PUD in place.

"It's something we feel a need to be put in place as soon as possible," said Lynda Bitar, city development coordinator.

Evening Street resident Michael Bates asked the commission to postpone its approval of the PUD ordinance, asking for more time to allow residents to get involved. He belongs to an organization of residents who want to be part of any decisions about what is developed on the UMCH land because it is so central and so vital to the community.

Philosophically, he said, he has no issue with the ordinance but believes something that fundamentally changes the zoning code of a city should be subject to plenty of citizen input.

He cited a PUD in Columbus that does not seem to work well. On the site of the former Northland Mall on Morse Road, a department store and a government office building have been constructed, but the front lots along Morse remain empty, Bates said.

The way Worthington's PUD ordinance is being written would preclude that problem, Bitar said. Worthington would be able to dictate which parts of the overall development would be built first, she said.

She said she plans to present the PUD ordinance for introduction during the first Worthington City Council meeting in February, with the public hearing and possible vote during the third meeting of the month.

"We are already behind our sister cities," review board chairman Richard Hunter said.

Scott Myers assured Bates that the commission and council are quite interested in the input of the people who belong to WARD (Worthington Alliance for Responsible Development), the organization formed to be a watchdog of the UMCH site.

"The whole reason for your organization is the catalyst for this," said Myers, a City Council member who also is a nonvoting commission member. "I believe there is a certain urgency and a certain catalyst for this," he said.

The board had not seen another proposal for development at the UMCH site, but it is the "elephant in the room," Hunter said.

"Nothing has come before us, from an official standpoint, at this place and time," he said.

Something eventually is going to happen on that property, though, Hunter told the crowd.

"We can be sure that not everyone is going to be 100 percent happy," he said.

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