Westerville is still working through the idea of possible changes to the streetscape of Uptown, but it is meeting pushback from business owners.
City staff members began the public-input portion of preparation for potential changes in August, presenting three proposed changes between Park and Home streets in Uptown. All three options would widen sidewalks and meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
Option A is the most basic alternative, proposing simple additions such as a painted crosswalk and improved sidewalks.
Option B builds on the first alternative, adding curb "bump-outs" designed to slow traffic and make it easier for pedestrians to cross the street. This option would likely result in the loss of 17 area parking spaces compared to Option A.
Option C is the most radical design. It would widen sidewalks by seven feet between College Avenue and Home Street, adding brick crosswalks and the bump-outs. The third alternative would yield 30 fewer parking spaces compared to Option A.
None of those options are particularly appealing to Westerville Uptown Merchants President Debbie Bennati or other business owners she's spoken to, she said.
The main issue for most would be the disruption caused by traffic, along with the loss of parking spaces.
She said the changes would be unnecessary, and that business owners "love Uptown the way it is."
"That doesn't mean we can't change with the times," she said in an email, "but we need to be wise and appreciate what we have before we try to change ourselves to be like every other community in the nation who tries to be a historic town center. After all, we already have what they wish they had."
Lynn Aventino, executive director of the newly formed Uptown Westerville Inc., which works with both business owners and the city, said parking and construction are the concerns she's heard as well.
"We are really appreciative that the city has only so much money to spend every year and they want to invest into our Uptown," she said. "We think that's a good thing."
"How they do it and what's best for the community, I'm not sure we really have the answer," she said.
Bennati said that with owners of small businesses, "emotions run high." She and Aventino both pointed to the fact that many boutique shops and small businesses in Uptown don't have a second location to lean on during any construction or a secondary income to supplement a disruption.
She pointed to the lengthy work on South State Street as an example of her concern.
"We all experienced the South State Street project and the length of time those businesses suffered with people avoiding there area," she said. "We are small, family businesses and cannot take that kind of a hit."
Julie Colley, Westerville's assistant city manager, has been helping to coordinate the outreach for the project. She said nothing has been decided yet.
She said city council will discuss the issue sometime in early 2018.
"Personally, I have received comments from many and all different perspectives," she said. "At this time, no option is favored or ruled out, or is expected to be until council discusses this in (its) work session."
In the meantime, Bennati said she hopes parking and construction concerns will be heard. She said she's been surveying customers, who tell her they don't like the idea of even less parking.
For Aventino, the task will be to balance the ideas of the city with the will of the business owners who have helped usher in a strong era of Uptown.
"I think some see it as unnecessary," she said. "But it's just like everything; there's always many schools of thought.
"Some people see potential and embrace change. Some people see that there could be a large impact on their business. And as a small-business owner, that has to be at the forefront of their mind," she said.