Worthington News

UMCH site plans still getting mixed reviews from public

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The community continues to give a mixed review to the mixed-use development plan being recommended for the 42-acre United Methodist Children's Home site.

"Is anybody listening?" Stenten Street resident Richard Lamprey asked during a special meeting of the Municipal Planning Commission on May 29.

The public hearing was the latest of several held over the past nine months to gather input of residents on how the UMCH land should be developed. At the next meeting, set for June 26, the commission is expected to vote on the recommendation, which then would move on to City Council for final approval.

Consultants from the firm, MKSK, are writing an amended section of the city's comprehensive plan to recommend to potential developers how the land should be developed.

The plan is a guide for developers and city leaders to use in making decisions about what should be built on the land and how it should appear.

The draft proposal, which was presented at the meeting, is similar to those shown at previous meetings.

It recommends the front of the High Street property be developed with retail, other commercial uses and offices, with combined parking.

The two-to-five-story buildings should be constructed close to High Street to create an urban feel, the proposal states.

Around the north and west sides of the property, a row of single-family homes should be built with a density similar to that of Old Worthington or the abutting Worthington Estates. On the south side, the Tucker Creek green area should be preserved, according to the recommendations.

The center of the property should be developed with an integrated assortment of multifamily housing, denser than the single-family area, and up to three stories in height.

The residential parts of the plan are meant to provide housing options for older, empty-nest families or for younger adults. Both populations are not well-served by the Worthington housing market, consultant Chris Hermann said.

The draft plan also recommends that park space be included in the "neighborhood core."

Although the plan has drawn considerable support from residents who spoke at earlier meetings, several who question and object to parts of the recommendations spoke up at the most recent meeting.

Lamprey pointed out that little has changed despite continued community opposition to the density of the residential neighborhood being planned and to the lack of parkland.

Nearby Worthington Estates does not have adequate parks, he said, and the UMCH site needs to include green space for the community.

Both Lamprey and Highgate Avenue resident Doug Foust questioned the need for additional office space, saying Worthington has plenty of offices that are empty and for rent.

Hermann said the vacant offices mostly were built in the 1950s through the 1970s and do not meet the needs of businesses today. Those businesses are choosing office space in more modern areas like Polaris or Easton, he said.

"Offices that are vacant are vacant for a reason," he said.

Foust also questioned the consultant's assumption that Worthington should provide housing for "young professionals."

Children who grew up in Worthington do return, he said, but not until they are in their 30s, 40s or 50s and want to raise a family. A younger adult without children would not want to live here and pay high taxes, he said.

He also repeated the often-heard criticism that the plan is too dense and would dump traffic onto residential streets. The plan shows exits onto Evening Street and Larrimer Avenue, besides High Street.

Evening Street resident Roberta Powell agreed.

"I'm hoping Evening Street will not be made more of a speeding thoroughfare," she said.

Building 100 to 400 housing units on the site has implications that stretch far beyond the Worthington Estates neighborhood, Longfellow Avenue resident Eric Gnezda said.

"These decisions will impact the commerce and livability of this city for decades to come," he said.

He urged the consultant to look beyond current market practices, to take into consideration the values of Worthington's heritage. One need not look farther than the Village Green, where schools, places of worship, green space and family homes are all present, he said.

"The decisions we make here, for better or worse, will be our legacy," he said.

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