Frustrated by the prolonged lack of activity at the Macy's site at the Kingsdale Shopping Center, city leaders are revisiting options to combat "dark stores" in the community.
Four years after Kroger Co. announced it was buying the Macy's building and its 6.2-acre site, what was a 45-year anchor of the Kingsdale center remains a vacant building with no signs of redevelopment.
Backed by concerns from residents and how the "eyesore," as he called it, is affecting surrounding property values and future investments, Upper Arlington City Council President Kip Greenhill has called on fellow council members and the city attorney's office to look at potential tools to force action at the site.
In 2007 and 2015, council had similar discussions that yielded no added requirements for Kroger or the owners of other big-box properties that languish for extended periods.
Still, Greenhill and other members of council are increasingly open to considering options like forcing the demolition of a vacant building after a defined period of inactivity, or placing further restrictions on where and how new big-box retail spaces can be built in the city.
"I think all of us have questions about the Macy's property," Greenhill said.
He said before any action might be proposed, officials want to hear what residents think about placing more government controls on businesses and property owners. They also want to know what developers think, including if such measures might hinder Upper Arlington's ability to attract economic development when other communities don't have similar standards.
That said, Greenhill is ready for something to happen with the Macy's site.
"I think we have to take a look at surrounding properties," he said at a Feb. 19 council conference session. "That big blue building (Macy's) does not help property values or make anyone want to move into a vacant area there.
"I think we have to protect other people's property values."
No Kroger plans yet
Since announcing in January 2015 that the company would buy the site, Kroger representatives have continued to indicate they plan a mixed-use development, which may or may not include retail, office, residential, restaurant, bank and grocery uses, according to Upper Arlington Senior Planning Officer Chad Gibson.
However, Kroger has never submitted plans for developing the project, and it's unclear if or when the company might do so.
"Kroger is still in the process of developing the plans for this site and continues to work with the city," Amy McCormick, a corporate affairs manager at Kroger, said March 11. "No timeline has been set for plan submission."
City Attorney Jeanine Hummer said in February that past councils opted not to place further conditions on big-box properties, primarily over concerns about property owners' legal rights and the potential to hinder economic development.
Councilman Brian Close said he has similar reservations about reopening the debate.
He said forcing a property owner to develop a site within a certain period might result in lower-quality projects being built or could even drive developers to other communities.
"I like the desire," Close said. "Everybody wants to have retail full and the community full, but some of this seems like it goes too far."
Most council members, however, indicated an interest in exploring additional government controls that could limit prolonged, dark-store vacancies.
Councilwoman Carolyn Casper said the city should seek options because Henderson Road, U.S. Route 33/Riverside Drive and the Five Points area all have large retail buildings that potentially could become inactive sites.
Councilman Jim Lynch said Kingsdale neighbors and residents throughout the city continue to seek a use for the Macy's site and are tired of the prominent vacancy.
"This has bubbled up because of the vacant property at Kingsdale, and this community has been more than patient," Lynch said. "I can tell you my constituents are getting increasingly frustrated and I understand why.
"We're working here all the time to keep Upper Arlington a pre-eminent community in the state," Lynch said. "Leaving a piece of valuable property vacant -- prime real estate in the middle of our city -- works against those efforts."
Hummer said comparable Ohio cities such as Grandview Heights, Shaker Heights and Westerville do not have dark-store provisions for retail sites, but she said Alliance and Dublin have some limited zoning restrictions.
Gibson said there have been "multiple property complaints" about Macy's since Kroger took ownership of the property, including about potholes in the parking lot, overgrown weeds and broken windows on the building's doors.
"Each time we've alerted (Kroger), they've resolved them in short order," he said.
Still, Councilwoman Michele Hoyle said, the city should look into legislation that might prevent entities from owning large properties in the city and doing nothing with them.
"We're going on year four ... of ownership of the property without anything moving forward in terms of what our expectations can be," Hoyle said. "Right now, we have no way to move it along, There may not be. But I think that just as we have an obligation to give (Kroger) the opportunity to do what they need to do, they have an obligation to the community, as well."