Worthington News

UMCH site's future

City planners emphasize height limits, deep setbacks

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It's too tall, too close to High Street and possibly too dense.

And what is wrong with cul-de-sacs?

Those were some of the comments of Municipal Planning Commission/Architectural Review Board members as they were allowed to share their thoughts on proposed guidelines for the redevelopment of the United Methodist Children's Home site.

City-hired consultants from MKSK have been studying the 42-acre site for a year and have held several public meetings to collect input on how the community would like to see the site developed.

The final product will not be a development plan but an amendment to the city's comprehensive plan, which is a set of guidelines to be used by developers and city leaders in considering land usage.

The June 26 MPC meeting was the first opportunity commissioners had to express their thoughts on the draft copy of the comprehensive-plan update in regard to the UMCH site.

Chris Hermann of MKSK will review the commission's suggestions and revise the proposed comprehensive-plan amendment prior to its next MPC hearing July 24,

Several commissioners said the combination retail/office buildings that would face High Street should be less than the recommended five units in height and set back farther from the sidewalk than is proposed in the draft document.

"It feels really huge to me," said Jo Rodgers, who sits on the Architectural Review Board. She suggested High Street buildings be limited to four stories and be pulled back from the sidewalk.

Commissioner Mikel Coulter suggested the office building be three stories and possibly terracing back to four stories.

MPC member James Sauer said he always feels fortunate to live in Worthington when he drives south on North High Street and sees all of the offices set back from the sidewalk, with wide, welcoming front lawns.

"We need to respect the setback of this area," he said.

Commission chairman Richard Hunter said the office/commercial buildings along High Street should not be built at the sidewalk. With a setback, five stories might be acceptable, he said.

Hermann said the plan was designed for an urban feel, where residents walk or ride bikes to nearby businesses. The UMCH site could be the first in that part of High Street to set that tone and encourage pedestrian traffic.

"We've created a great place to drive," he said of the area, which is lined with lawns and setback office buildings.

Sauer persisted.

"How much business are you going to get from people walking up and down High Street?" he said. "Very little."

Commissioners also favored encouraging cul-de-sacs, as opposed to through streets. The only street that should connect to Evening Street is a residential one, with business traffic prohibited.

Commissioners generally approved of plans for single-family homes around the outside of the development, with denser developments near the center of the property.

Questions about how dense the multifamily development should be weren't answered.

"I don't think anyone sitting here can plan a specific density," Hunter said.

He and others also objected to the proposed placement of retention ponds on the site, saying they are dangerous and difficult to maintain.

Hermann said he would take all of the remarks into consideration and return to the July 10 ARB/MPC meeting with a revised document. The proposal is expected to be voted on that night and sent on to Worthington City Council for final approval.

Also discussed at last week's meeting was the need for new office space in Worthington. During past meetings, several residents pointed out the abundance of "office for lease" signs around Worthington.

Worthington economic-development director Jeff Harris and Tom Dalcolma, a commercial real-estate professional, testified that Worthington has a high quantity of office space available, just not a high quality.

In fact, Worthington is the only community around the north outerbelt that has no Class A office space.

If a Worthington company expands and is ready to take over a Class A office, it must move from Worthington.

Companies that have grown often have to move to a nearby community where Class A is available. Worthington is the only north outerbelt community with no Class A office space.

The definition of Class A is subjective but generally drives rents to the top 30-49 percent, has high-quality fixtures, is highly accessible, has curb appeal and could be kept in good condition.

"We don't compete with newly constructed offices," Harris said.

The Crawford-Hoying building under construction on West Wilson Bridge Road will have the city's first Class A offices in many years.

Dalcolma explained that not every real estate sign in the city is there to rent space. Sometimes the land agent who places the sign is more interested in advertising his company, he said.

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