When Blueprint Columbus, the green infrastructure project designed to keep rainwater from rushing into the Olentangy River, moves into a new section of Clintonville soon, leaders will take a new approach to help avoid catching anyone by surprise.
Resident involvement will take place early and often, said Leslie R. Westerfelt, a public-relations specialist with the city who has served as point person since the installation of rain gardens and other features began in the northern part of Clintonville -- to howls of protest from some and warm support of others.
"There are so many reasons why so many of us do not want them, and they are all valid reasons," Lawnview Drive resident Karen Kennedy told ThisWeek Booster last October, referring to the rain gardens that now jut out into several Clintonville streets, including Glenmont Avenue and Blenheim, Northridge and Chatham roads.
"We will do anything to stop this," Kennedy said. "Over my dead body are they going to put this thing here."
Columbus has been ordered by the Ohio EPA to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows. The gardens help by filtering rainwater through layers of stone, soil and plants before it drains into the river.
Blueprint's next phase is called Clintonville 3 and encompasses a wide swath of the central and southern portions of the neighborhood, from Hollenback Road south to the Glen Echo ravine. Westerfelt said this time around, the locations of the oft-controversial rain-garden installations will include more consideration for the desires of people who own property nearby.
"That area, what we're going to do in an effort to make sure we're learning lessons from the first round, we are having what we're calling '30 percent' design meetings," she said, with 30 percent meaning the process is nearly a third finished.
Engineers have developed proposals for locating rain gardens where they will provide the most benefit, but community input might, in some instances, lead to minor relocations, Westerfelt said.
She used the example of a resident who is strongly opposed to a rain garden in the right of way in front of his or her property and a next-door neighbor who welcomes one. Both may be able to be accommodated, Westerfelt said.
"In some situations we have some wiggle room, and in some of them we don't," Westerfelt said. "It's really kind of neighborhood-dependent.
"The way that we're trying to improve this process is getting people in front of the process," she said. "We're not doing a whole bunch of work and getting the community's reaction. We're going to have three review meetings with people before there is any work.
"As much as we can create win-win situations, that's what we're looking for. We do want this to be a collaborative process."
That's probably going to leave some people in the first phase of Blueprint Columbus upset that this process wasn't in place before, said Libby Wetherholt, chairwoman of the Clintonville Area Commission.
"I guess we just have to chalk it up to experience, both the experience of where people live and the experience of the city workers," Wetherholt said.
The District 3 representative, whose constituents live within the Clintonville 3 area, applauded the new approach.
"They have instituted a series of resident meetings, some very early in the planning process," she said. "It will give people at least a heads-up and some opportunity to have some input, as much as it's possible. We've really added quite a bit to that outreach and engagement part of the program in these areas moving forward."
Clintonville 3 is broken up into five subsections. Because that includes so many residents, Westerfelt said the first "30 percent" sessions might have to be held for different sections.
The dates have not been determined, but the meetings should take place before the end of the year, she said. Meanwhile, in Clintonville 1, Blueprint Columbus will move into the phase that addresses private property, checking sewer lateral lines and roof-water redirection. This will involve, with advance notification, city personnel coming onto people's property, Westerfelt said.
"They're going to be looking at the downspouts, figuring out where they're going out and coming up with a plan ... and the same things for the laterals," she said. "We'll require surveyors to be walking on their property, but they're going to be getting a minimum of five days of notification."