Westerville has determined what it wants to accomplish with the South State Street corridor and now city officials are focusing on the "how."

Westerville has determined what it wants to accomplish with the South State Street corridor and now city officials are focusing on the "how."

The Westerville Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of a motion declaring the need to create a special overlay district in the South State Street corridor and setting its boundaries.

An overlay district is used to distinguish an area that is important to the overall community image; in this case, it will be superimposed on existing zoning classifications and will modify or supplement the underlying zoning requirements, according to city planner Lisa LaMantia.

An overlay can also be created in an area with unique characteristics, unique architecture or history, city planning administrator Rich Kight said. Westerville already has special overlay districts in Central College, Old Westerville and the Hoover Gateway.

The overlay approved Wednesday by the planning commission separates South State into three smaller districts: southernmost will be the Gateway District, then the State and Schrock District, and leading into Uptown, the Old Town District.

"This is the next step in our planning process, improving the 'front door' to our community," Kight said.

LaMantia told the planning commission the purpose of the overlay is to enhance the zoning in the area and to plan for pedestrian and bikeway amenities; focus on urban form, scale and design; create architectural requirements in the area; set standards to incorporate environmentally friendly design and allow for a mix of uses on sites.

"There's a pretty obvious difference in the areas along State Street as one approaches Uptown," she said. "The whole character and feel of the street changes, and we wanted to address that, and not have one (set of requirements) that applies to everything."

Boundaries being discussed by the planning commission currently establish the Gateway District between the I-270 ramps and Heatherdown/Huber Village; the State and Schrock District between Heatherdown/Huber Village and Parkview/Electric Avenue; and the Old Town District between Parkview/Electric Avenue and Walnut Street.

The Gateway would act as an entryway to welcome people to the city, State and Schrock would have a heavy concentration of retail with potential for more pedestrian traffic, and Old Town would be on a smaller, "Main Street" scale providing a smooth transition into Uptown, according to LaMantia.

Planning commission members offered input on district boundaries, building height requirements and making the districts adaptable to changes in environmentally friendly technology.

"This is a great start, and I support this overlay district," said commission member Kim Burton. "We need this to work properly, and we especially need what's developed in this area to work properly."

The commission is on a tight deadline to approve a plan that can be sent on to the city council. Westerville City Council passed an emergency measure Tuesday night to enact a 150-day limited moratorium on new development proposals in the proposed overlay district, so the district needs to be in place before that moratorium expires, Kight said.

He said the intent of the moratorium "was to provide time for the community to work through this tool (the overlay), and to hold off potential applications until we have this overlay as an additional tool."

In order to have a plan in place by the end of the moratorium, city council would have to act on the overlay by its first meeting in April, according to city prosecutor Mike Fultz.

This would give the planning commission one more meeting to review the proposal, and then one meeting to approve it and send it on to council.

"I am a little concerned about this time frame," said commission chairman Larry Jenkins. "We have a fine balance to strike between keeping the character of the district alive, while still having enough teeth that we can enforce it."

The entire overlay district proposal can be viewed at the Westerville Public Library, 126 S. State St., at the Planning and Administration Department, 64 E. Walnut St., and on the Web at www.westerville.org.