Worthington leaders have started the process of updating the city’s comprehensive plan.

The comprehensive plan was written in 1964. It was updated in 1988 and again in 2005.

In the 2005 update, leaders added a “strategic-plan” angle, noting that Worthington had “specific needs to address rather than the broad topics of traditional comprehensive plans.”

The plan covers virtually every aspect of the city, from land use and development to street planning and Old Worthington.

It is divided into analysis and recommendations and calls for ways the city should proceed in a variety of areas.

The impetus for this year’s update came from a motion written by councilmen Doug Foust and Scott Myers that was introduced at a Jan. 2 Worthington City Council meeting.

In the motion, Foust and Myers include economic differences and “changes in our community” as reasons the plan is “nearing the end of its useful life,” leading to their direction to city staff members to begin updating the plan.

The motion was approved unanimously.

When Foust was elected in 2015, one of his main talking points was the necessary update of the comprehensive plan.

He called it “kind of a cornerstone of my campaign.”

Foust also was an ardent supporter of Issue 38, which gave residents 60 days to petition for a referendum on zoning decisions made by City Council – a 40-day increase from the previous time limit.

Now, he said, the plan’s update is “about opening the dialogue and updating to reflect current thinking of the citizens in general.”

“I think the motion and the unanimous vote was kind of a culmination of conversations over not only recent weeks and months, but maybe even the election a couple years ago and Issue 38,” he said. “I think there’s been enough questions raised by the public about whether the comprehensive plan – for as much as the original group tried to do their best with it – whether they really got all the input that they might have.”

Foust said he doesn’t think enough of the community was involved in the 2005 plan. He used himself as an example and said he didn’t remember being aware of the update in 2005.

“I think of myself as a fairly engaged citizen, even before I was a councilman, and I wasn’t paying attention when the last rewrite occurred,” he said.

The motion also lists the items city leaders should include in a proposal for the new plan.

Those items include “maximum inclusion of all interested citizens,” a plan for bringing “stakeholders” together, a communications plan, an educational component, a statement of goals and an opinion on whether consultants should be used.

The consultants portion was a specific topic of conversation for Councilman David Robinson, who was a public proponent of Issue 38 in 2015.

Robinson argued that consultants were partly at fault for portions of the plan that discussed treatment of the United Methodist Children’s Home property, with which he and others have disagreed.

“This speaks directly to the UMCH portion of the plan,” he said of the mention in the motion, “which, written by consultants, has been criticized as reflecting the development industry’s interests and not the ideas and vision of Worthington residents.”

‘Figuring it out’

With direction from City Council, staff members now face the daunting task of planning the revamp of the plan.

“That’s what we’re still in the early phases of doing – figuring it out,” said Lee Brown, director of planning and building.

The update process does not have a timeline.

For now, Brown said, he and his team are trying to determine “how to move it forward and what that would look like.”

He said early priorities would be to “find out what we want as a result of this” and then frame that concept for the next steps.

But those next steps might be months away.

Brown said “these can take a year” and the conversation will touch virtually every part of the city’s operation.

“I have a feeling it will be (the planning department) being the lead, but it’s going to touch on everything from economic development to engineering and service to parks and city management and probably finance,” he said.

Foust said he knows the plan update is no small endeavor.

But his goal is to make the project as wide-reaching and inclusive as possible, he said.

“Somehow we have to, at the end of the day, be able to say we did a truly exhaustive effort, that we put everybody we possibly could on notice,” Foust said.

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