Residents of northwest Columbus have been on something of a roller-coaster ride in the past several weeks.
They've gone from longstanding concern about the possible development of the 57-plus-acre "sheep farm" adjacent to the Ohio State University Airport off West Case Road to elation when Mayor Andrew J. Ginther announced July 19 the city intended to buy the site for green space.
That was transformed into disappointment and dismay when it was announced Columbus Recreation and Parks Department officials intended to recoup a large portion of the unanticipated budget hit of $5.3 million by selling 15 of the acres to Dublin City Schools and an additional 34 acres to Upper Arlington to be used by that city for additional recreational sports fields.
Joy returned when Columbus Recreation and Parks Director Tony Collins, in a letter dated Oct. 22, announced the Upper Arlington deal was off the table, but the agreement with Dublin City Schools would move forward.
The announcement came after an intense lobbying effort undertaken by members of the Northwest Civic Association, Friends of the Historic Sheep Farm and homeowners associations in the neighborhood.
"With a long-term and phased approach, Columbus Recreation and Parks Department will work with community members from the northwest community regarding future development of the park space," Collins said.
The conclusion to back away from the Upper Arlington deal was made "primarily due to community input," said Sophia M. Fifner, community relations chief for Recreation and Parks.
"We focus on people, and for us that means not just having a team of professionals who go to work every day with our mission in mind but also listening to people," she said.
"We look forward to hearing from community members as we move forward with development of that property."
"You can tell the world that we're elated that the city listened to us ... and decided to give us a true community hub on West Case Road at the historic sheep farm," said Roy Wentzel, an enthusiastic advocate for preserving the site as green space.
"We were ecstatic when the mayor ... announced (the city was) going to buy it. When we saw Upper Arlington's plan, I was absolutely devastated. We were very taken back, and we kind of called out the troops and said let's start writing letters making our feelings known.
"They listened, and that's the good news."
"On one level, we have managed to avoid selling the property to developers who would cheerfully build high-density, infrastructure-stressing apartments that could affect property values," Northwest Civic Association President Nick Cipiti wrote in an Oct. 23 email in response to the announcement from Collins.
"On another level, some of the land will go to improving Dublin City Schools which is good for so many of our residents who attend (or) will attend there.
"And on yet another level, the property will remain with the city of Columbus for the benefit of northwest Columbus neighbors."
A statement about the proposed sale falling through was posted Oct. 23 on the website of landlocked and land-poor Upper Arlington:
"Upper Arlington City Council was in the process of exploring this opportunity and actively seeking community input when we received this news. Since the proposal represented a rare opportunity for the city to address a long-recognized need for additional sports fields, it is disappointing that Columbus' decision has brought this review process to an early end.
"That said, the city understands that Columbus' priority is to serve its residents to the best of its ability, and its leadership has every right to adjust its long-term goals for the property."
"The first thing that we're going to do is see what the city has in mind," Wentzel said. "Columbus Recreation and Parks is forming a foundation ... to help with all their parks in getting donations. I believe our own next step would be to form our own (nonprofit organization) to get our own donors. We're going to continue to advocate for making that a true community hub."
Wentzel said he could envision the space being used for a farmers market or to hold "Taste of Northwest Columbus" events showcasing the fare of local restaurants.
"Now that we have a location we just have to make the space viable for those kinds of events," he said.