Worthington News

Traffic and housing still concerns for UMCH neighbors

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Potential traffic congestion on the streets of Worthington Estates seemed to be one of the major concerns of the nearly 250 residents who attended a meeting about the redevelopment of the United Methodist Children's Home (UMCH) property March 26.

"It seems irresponsible to dump traffic onto Evening Street," said Doug Foust, one of the many Worthington Estates residents who attended to provide input into recommendations for the 42 acres at 1033 High St.

The meeting was at the Worthington Education Center on East Wilson Bridge Road.

The abandoned UMCH home site is for sale, and the city is taking a proactive stance in its redevelopment by hiring planning firm MKSK to update the city's comprehensive plan regarding the site.

The plan will be used as a reference for potential developers and for city planners.

Consultant Chris Hermann urged everyone at the meeting to not get too concerned with the details of the plans he has presented, saying it is unlikely the property would be developed as the plan suggests.

"Do not fixate on the plan," he repeated three times.

Instead, he said, they should focus on the four color blocks that show MKSK's recommendation for rezoning.

According to those recommendations, rezoning along High Street should be commercial; a strip of land on the outside of the property, abutting the streets in Worthington Estates, should be zoned for single-family homes; and the land in the middle should be zoned for an integrated mix of housing types.

Land along Rush Run, on the south edge of the property, should be set aside as green space, according to the recommendations.

The recommendations will be tweaked and sent on for approval by the city's Municipal Planning Commission and by Worthington City Council in approximately three weeks, Hermann said.

Multiuse paths should be built along Rush Run and through the development, according to the consultants.

Since a first public meeting in December, the consultants have increased their emphasis on the need for green space. That has been a primary concern among residents at that meeting and in responses to proposals posted on the city's website.

Traffic, especially how it enters and exits the site, seems to continue to be a top concern among residents.

Hermann presented several ingress/egress options, but all included connections to Evening Street and Longfellow and Larimer avenues, as well as to High Street.

Hermann said the streets could be placed in a way that encourages connectivity without increasing cut-through traffic, but some residents did not seem convinced.

Foust drew applause from the audience with a suggestion that the entire development be built around a cul-de-sac, with a connection to High Street only.

Hermann said no responsible planning professional would recommend such a plan.

"The goal is to have multiple points of entry," he said.

Another concern expressed by residents was about the type of housing being recommended, especially the mixed, relatively high-density housing recommended for the center of the site.

Some said they liked the idea of providing housing for older people, or what is referred to as "aging-in-place" units in the form of patio homes, condominiums and apartments.

Some questioned the need to also try to attract young professionals, which are people under age 36 who do not have children.

Darren Meyer of MKSK said that demographic has an impact on the viability of the business community.

Not everyone seemed convinced.

"We need to be cautious about doing something trendy," resident Richard Lamprey said.

Resident Justin Taylor said he agreed with some of the concerns of his neighbors but agrees with the zoning recommended by the consultants.

The process started with a proposal for a large Giant Eagle supermarket. That proposal was withdrawn after overwhelming community disapproval in 2012.

"We're a lot better off than we were a year ago," Taylor said.

Hermann told the crowd he has met with potential developers to get their feedback on how the site might be developed. They are excited about the site and see it as primarily residential, with some retail along High Street, he said.

Though city leaders would like to see offices built along High Street, developers said that would be feasible only if the city were to offer tax incentives.

"They saw the value of green space to make it more attractive," Hermann said.

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