It's been two-and-a-half years since Lifestyle Communities unveiled plans for the former site of the United Methodist Children's Home in Worthington.

However, recent public comments from a Worthington City Council member indicate the proposal still is creating ripple effects across the community.

Speaking on the topic of development at a public forum for City Council candidates last month, Councilman Scott Myers said LC representatives "lied" to him and other city leaders about their plans for the 42-acre site at 1033 High St., where a residential facility for troubled youth closed in December 2010.

Myers said that meant LC leaders would "have a big hill to climb if they ever want to come into my neighborhood again."

Myers later reiterated that sentiment to ThisWeek.

He said in early 2014 that he and some city leaders and staff members met with LC representatives for a preliminary meeting, "like we do with most every developer that comes in with significant project."

Myers said those conversations included plans for "something in the neighborhood of 200 apartments" in the development.

"We told them we could probably get behind them," he said. "It was consistent with what we were looking for. It had some issues and wasn't completely thought out yet, but we told them they should take it to the people."

In June 2015, in a presentation at the Worthington Education Center, Chase Miller, director of development at LC, outlined a massive plan for development on the 42-acre site.

The plan included some single-family homes but mostly higher-density housing. LC proposed 350 traditional apartments, along with 200 cottages and townhomes known as the "transition zone" in the plan, ThisWeek reported at the time.

Myers said that increase caught him off guard.

"That's what shocked us," he said, "knowing that apartments in any number were going to be a tough sell for us."

Richard Hunter, the former chairman of the city's municipal-planning commission, said he thought Myers' assessment was fair.

"I would basically agree, to the degree that Lifestyles was, as far as I'm concerned, very inappropriate for that particular site," he said. "I'm not sure I'd accuse them of lying, but they were so vague and so wishy-washy that nothing ever got done."

He said he looks back on the process and believes LC was using "smoke and mirrors" to misdirect city leaders. He said LC "didn't follow through" on promises about green space, density, amenities and "all of the above."

"They were making promises that, very shortly thereafter, didn't come to pass, period," he said. "If you want to call that lying, OK."

City Council President Bonnie Michael said she "wouldn't go as far as to say, 'lied,' " but LC presented something that she and others did not expect.

"We had anticipated that Lifestyles was going to come forward with the project ... that was good with everybody," she said.

"It gave a misguided perception that the entire city – council and staff – supported what was being presented."

Former councilman Bob Chosy said it "never occurred to me that they were lying to us" at the time, but looking back, changes in their plan have bothered him since he left City Council in 2016.

He said he definitely remembers "a difference in apartments."

"I've been thinking about that so much because I left council with a bad taste in my mouth, which I hated," Chosy said. "I saw that they were trying to get every inch out of (Worthington) that they could. But I knew that we still had to have all the people weigh in. They couldn't even give us anything to have us agree or disagree on."

Representatives from LC, including marketing director Russell Boiarsky and Miller, have not responded to requests for comment for multiple stories on the topic.

Calls made Nov. 2, 6 and 7 to Boiarsky and Miller seeking comment for this story were not returned.

Attorney David Fisher, who has represented both LC and UMCH throughout the process, said he would not comment on anything UMCH-related.

City Manager Matt Greeson said he had one response on the topic and declined further comment.

"This has been a challenging issue for everyone, and there are understandably strong feelings about the process, the parties involved and the future of the property, period," Greeson said.

"All of that will have to be navigated if or when new ideas are proposed."

Aftermath

After the June 2015 presentation, outrage from residents seemed to be enough to kill LC's plan, for all intents and purposes.

A formal application for the project never went before City Council, and LC and UMCH representatives have yet to present a development plan that encompasses the entire property.

They have introduced only a plan for a two-story, 20,000-square-foot OhioHealth medical facility on a portion of the property in its southeast corner.

A preliminary plan for the project was discussed at a municipal-planning commission meeting in September 2016.

The strife from that summer culminated in the November 2015 approval of Issue 38, a charter amendment that gave residents 60 days to petition for a referendum on zoning decisions made by City Council; it was a 40-day increase from the previous limit.

More than two years later, several city officials said they wish the UMCH process had been handled differently.

Council members issued a joint statement on the topic in October 2015, writing that City Council "has never supported nor does it support the plan presented by UMCH and the developer."

In hindsight, Myers said, that statement came too late.

"Council, ultimately, reacted to it probably not as quickly as we should have," he said.

Michael said she wished the meeting at the education center had not been designated as a municipal-planning commission meeting because it was mean to be an information session for the community. Instead, she said, it gave the impression that the commission or council members had already made up their minds.

"Hindsight being 20/20, I would not have had this be a municipal-planning commission meeting," she said.

Chosy said he wished council members had been more assertive.

"We didn't say (no) because we were just listening," he said.

But as it stands, none of the former plans for the UMCH site seem to matter, Michael said.

"It's almost a moot point, because they haven't done anything," she said.

"They haven't brought anything forward or presented anything or met with anyone that I'm aware of."

After the introduction of the OhioHealth facility, all parties on the project have been silent. LC has not presented an updated plan and UMCH representatives have not spoken publicly about the future of the site.

Myers – who serves as City Council's representative to the municipal-planning commission and the architectural review board – said city officials learned from the experience.

He said he has slowed down two applications in recent months because he wanted to be sure residents had more time to voice concerns.

"We learned a lot," Myers said. "We're approaching everything differently; it's not just UMCH. Everything has slowed down.

"We're a little gun-shy. We want to move forward, but we don't want things to blow up."

aking@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekAndrew