Upper Arlington moved a step closer Oct. 8 to the $3.15 million purchase of land across from Don Scott Field for what officials say will be the development of a 34-acre youth athletics complex.
City Council heard the first reading of legislation Oct. 8 to authorize the city to enter a purchase agreement for 34 acres at 2425 W. Case Road in northwest Columbus, part of what is known as the Ohio State University "sheep farm."
A second reading is scheduled Oct. 22, and council is expected to take a final vote on the deal with the city of Columbus Nov. 19.
Currently, the ordinance includes a provision that would make it effective immediately upon passage; Deputy City Manager Emma Speight confirmed Oct. 9 that provision would eliminate local residents' ability to overturn the purchase agreement by referendum vote.
In the meantime, Columbus is moving to acquire 57.21 acres of the sheep farm for $5.3 million. That would enable Columbus to sell 34 of those acres to Upper Arlington and another 15 acres to Dublin. Under that plan, Columbus would retain 8 acres.
The city of Columbus and OSU have until Dec. 31 to close the deal.
Northwest Columbus residents wanted Columbus to buy the land to keep it out of the hands of developers, but having an Upper Arlington sports complex on the site isn't sitting well with everyone.
"We don't want their sports fields in our parks," Columbus resident Roy Wentzel told Columbus City Council two weeks ago. "The citizens of northwest Columbus would be appalled and insulted if this happens."
According to Upper Arlington Parks and Recreation Director Debbie McLaughlin, the city needs the land because it doesn't have enough fields for sports that serve 5,000 Upper Arlington youths each year, and because the city is landlocked and has no available space to develop an athletics complex.
"This will allow us to address the shortage of field space that we have," McLaughlin said. "Our fields are overused and we do not have land space available to build athletic fields."
McLaughlin said the proposed purchase price equates to $91,228 per acre. She said that is "much lower" than current land costs in Upper Arlington, which she said can be up to $1 million per acre, depending on location.
The city would finance the acquisition by issuing bonds that would be paid off over 20 to 30 years, she said, in addition to using $450,000 from a 2016 sale of property on Upper Chelsea Road.
Development plans for the fields haven't been finalized, but Upper Arlington is eyeing the construction of baseball and softball diamonds, plus a field for football, lacrosse and soccer.
The proposed purchase is supported by Upper Arlington youth athletics organizations for lacrosse and baseball.
Clayton Hall, president of Bear Cub Baseball, said his organization is struggling to accommodate practice and game needs for the roughly 935 children who take part in the youth baseball program.
"We are at a field shortage," Hall said. "There's no way to say it any more clearly.
"Our numbers have grown each and every year for the five years I've been involved. Adding four fields will greatly alleviate a lot of it."
Of the 17 people who addressed council Oct. 8, seven supported the land purchase and nine opposed it. Several of those who are against the plan live in Columbus.
Another Upper Arlington resident didn't indicate support or opposition, but asked city officials to go back to the drawing board in an effort to reach a more equitable land-use plan for northwest Columbus residents.
One Upper Arlington resident who spoke didn't say if she opposed the purchase, but she said she doesn't support using the land for athletics.
Judy Hirschfeld noted City Manager Ted Staton has indicated the Upper Arlington Senior Center needs $2 million in repairs or to be rebuilt. She questioned whether the community's need for more athletics fields outweighs the needs of its oldest residents.
"Why does Upper Arlington not have an appropriate location for seniors?" Hirschfeld asked. "I think quality of societies is judged by how well they treat their young and their old, and it seems that UA is lopsided.
"We go way overboard with our funds and facilities for the young and forget the old," she said. "I recommend that council rethink what they're going to do with 34 acres and I recommend they look hard for a site for a structure for the seniors of Upper Arlington."
Councilwoman Sue Ralph said she recognizes Upper Arlington "certainly would like to have more fields," but added she wants more information from Columbus as to why its leaders are seeking to retain only 8 acres of the land available.
Still, she noted the offer is on the table and council must consider it.
"The fact that (Columbus) put the land for sale, it's their decision to do that," Ralph said. "I would like to know more about what Columbus is thinking and why they're thinking that."