The Nov. 5 general-election ballot includes 13 candidates running for three Worthington City Council seats.
Candy Brooks, Peter Bucher, Paul Dorothy, Michael Farley, Karen Filina Wilson, Barton Hacker, Seth Kraut, Eddie Pauline, Jennifer Rhoads and Michael Troper are running against incumbents Doug Foust, Bonnie Michael and Doug Smith.
Brooks, 68, of West North Street is a retired community journalist.
Bucher, 28, of River Glen Drive is a water-resources director for the Ohio Environmental Council.
Dorothy, 51, of Kenbrook Drive is a civil engineer for SEA Ltd.
Farley, 41, of Haymore Avenue South is an attorney for the Ohio Insurance Institute.
Filina Wilson, 50, of New England Avenue is a qualitative-market researcher.
Foust, 63, of Highgate Avenue is the managing director of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.
Hacker, 47, of Stafford Avenue is president of the central Ohio chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc.
Kraut, 44, of Bowerman Street is a software engineer for Upstart.
Michael, 66, of St. Antoine Street has been an attorney in private practice since 1991. She has served on council since 1995 and is its current president.
Pauline, 39, of Robbins Way is director of business development for Ohio State University’s corporate-engagement office.
Rhoads, 48, of Hawthorne Street is president and CEO of Ohio Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.
Smith, 36, of East North Street is the director of the St. Patrick Catholic Church charity board.
Troper, 55, of Highland Avenue is an area coordinator for the Ohio Department of Education.
The candidates were asked to respond to two questions posed by the ThisWeek Worthington News. The questions and their responses follow.
What do you see as the biggest issue Worthington faces and how would you work to address it?
Brooks: First, we must protect and enhance our historic, family-friendly community while encouraging economic growth. Second, we must restore trust in City Council, so that residents can speak to council and be assured that their ideas are heard and respected.
Our community is one like no other in central Ohio. Its history dating back to 1803 is alive and exciting and reflected in our architecture, our beautiful downtown, our churches and schools, and our neighborhoods.Not only can we continue to grow, we must. Our income tax assures us the funds to provide the wonderful services that we sometimes take for granted. We are suffering financially because our biggest employer, Anthem, left us with an empty office building.
City leaders are working hard to fill that. But we also need more Class A office space, including along High Street at the (United Methodist Children’s Home) site, along Wilson Bridge Road, and in other properly zoned areas in the city. Five years ago, hundreds of residents met three times with city leaders and told them, repeatedly, that the newly rewritten portion of the city’s comprehensive plan was not what they wanted. They emphatically said “No!” to a plan showing dense, multifamily housing on the UMCH site. They objected to the density, the traffic and safety issues that would be created, and the lack of green space, and the added pressure on our schools.
Council did not change the plan. Nor did it change after a developer proposed a plan nearly identical to what was called for. Once again, the community came out loudly against the proposal.
Today, the comprehensive plan continues to call for high-density, high-rise apartments and townhomes. The same developer is back and has indicated he plans to try to push his plan through. Unless council begins to listen immediately, we will have in the middle of our city high-rise apartments, townhomes and little or no greenspace.
Please elect new council members who will not allow this to happen.
City Council has a long, proud history of being responsive to residents. We must elect new council members who are dedicated to returning the city to its residents.
And, yes, I do favor a community park on the UMCH property. The people have spoken; now the city must thoroughly study how a park can be located there. The park will be expensive, but there are several ways of financing it. Residents need to know how it could work, what other projects might have to be deferred and the many options for making this dream come true.
Bucher: I believe Worthington needs more leadership in proactively involving the community in major decisions like development projects. When faced with how to best utilize the limited space we have in a way that benefits the city long-term, we are obligated to better outline potential impacts of a proposal and proactively seek community input. This can be done through engaging community groups, public forums, online information, direct mailings, door-to-door outreach and through other forms. I will increase transparency and opportunities to engage in the decision-making process.
Dorothy: The intelligent renewal of our municipal infrastructure and services must be a priority. As we face the future needs of our community together, we must not forget that our municipal infrastructure and services underpin the health, safety and security of our community. Be it the need to renew water lines that are past their useful life and contain lead elements, the need to ensure that our transportation infrastructure is renewed in ways that make our community safe and accessible to all, regardless of age or mode of transportation, or the need to renew our neighborhood gathering places and parks so that future generations can enjoy the same community-building events we sometimes take for granted -- just to name a few. Unfortunately, there is a finite amount of funding and financing available to support these necessary building blocks of our community. While the results of the community-visioning process will help us understand some of the priorities that our citizens place on these needs, it will take an extra effort on the part of council to gain a full understanding of the best way to balance these needs against the requirements of a sensible financial policy. My significant experience as a civil engineer in dealing with government infrastructure projects and programs demonstrates that I have the knowledge, experience and leadership capabilities to ensure the best outcome for Worthington’s future prosperity and to serve as a steward of a sustainable community.
Farley: The biggest issue facing Worthington is the pending budget difficulties. Soon the city budget will be placed under strain as revenues outpace growing expenses. City revenues are made up of about 70% income tax. The only way income taxes grow are through development inside our cities. We must bring in high-paying jobs. The city of Worthington should develop a nimble and creative development strategy to grow revenues in order to maintain our current levels of service.
Filina Wilson: Our current council has been divided and, for the most part, passive in the face of major development issues that impact residents’ quality of life. I will act. For example, the pool is one of a few key amenities (good schools, shopping/entertainment, community rec center) that, like it or not, define a community’s desirability and livability. Our community pool is in need of repair and upgrade and our current leadership continues to throw up barriers for what should be an easily approved endeavor -- which, by the way, has significant grant money ready and waiting to be matched.
It appears to the public that the city is at the mercy of developers. In particular, a very large property located directly across from our city buildings and centrally located on High Street (the UMCH property) has been weighing on the minds of residents for four years now. The developers did not have a proposal that was acceptable to the community and since then, they have been entirely unresponsive to discussion or collaboration. Developers exist who are good partners and corporate citizens.
It is my firm belief that council is the board of directors to its shareholders: the residents of Worthington. I will listen. It should be council’s mission to listen to residents’ hopes and dreams for their community and turn over every stone to make those happen -- not fall at the feet of big, arrogant developers.
The key to our future is not to make short-sighted decisions in a panic for income. I will help build unity. We will need to come together to develop a well articulated vision and bring the necessary leadership to enable us to calmly and confidently take the long view.
Foust: Our biggest issue will be finding solutions that strike a balance between the many factors, forces and demands all converging at once. Attracting and retaining business that supports our budget, delivering city services to residents’ expectations and balancing a demand for housing without exacerbating school overcrowding and traffic issues are all part of the issue.
My first priority is to see the visioning process through to completion as a true citizen-led and -focused activity. I will advocate for more city resources being allocated to our development staff and have also already committed my availability to staff to accompany and support them in future sales opportunities after the first of the year.
Hacker: We are currently in the longest economic expansion in U.S. history, and according to a Sept. 10, 2019, article published by The Columbus Dispatch ("Columbus hiring outlook for fall best in nation, manpower survey shows"), the central Ohio region has the strongest job growth in the country. Why then are there so many empty storefronts and vacant office space on High Street between Restaurant Villa Nova on Worthington's south end and Interstate 270 to the north?
A healthy business climate is critical to Worthington remaining a vibrant community. Municipal income tax represents 73% of our total annual revenue. Income taxes generated from Worthington-based businesses help pay for quality services, existing parks and recreational facilities and expanded programs that make ours a preeminent community. It allows city government to operate without having to compete with our schools for additional funding through property taxes.
While Worthington has a positive fund balance, actual tax collections for 2019 are down from the same period in 2018. This troubles me as I field questions about safe pedestrian crossings, sound barriers along state Route 315, bathroom facilities at city parks, poor water and sewer system infrastructure issues, the deer population, the need for multigenerational housing, and traffic congestion. How are we going to address all these needs while maintaining what we have come to expect from our city? What happens when this economic expansion slows down, or worse, stops? Securing our financial stability is therefore the most important issue Worthington faces as a community.
We must start by recognizing this and prioritizing our actions to account for it. I believe we should set our annual budget and invest some of our reserve fund balance in ways that encourage business health and economic growth; things that will generate positive revenue receipts for our future. We need to better understand why some businesses choose to open in Worthington while others do not and consider hosting informational forums with commercial real estate brokers, our existing business owners, and representatives from Columbus 2020 and other regional economic development organizations to find ways that Worthington can be more attractive to business investment. Council must communicate how intertwined our ability to provide city services is to a healthy business environment.
Kraut: The biggest issue is economic development. Residents are concerned about development and how it impacts them. Developers are struggling to propose projects that residents deem acceptable. Everyone ends up unhappy, and Worthington is financially poorer on top of it.
I believe that we as a community need to come together and decide what we want Worthington to be. Instead of resisting all change, we need to decide what must stay the same and what can change. The visioning process is a key part of this.
I will ensure the visioning process completes successfully and use that to guide our work. The output from that process should inform City Council’s decisions. It should also provide a framework for developers so that they understand the types of projects that work for Worthington.
Michael: Promoting economic, social and environmental sustainability in our community is key to maintaining vibrancy in our community. Since 70% of the city’s revenue is from income tax, strong economic development programs are essential and provide the umbrella for protecting the city’s fiscal health. Securing venture grants, state/federal funding and local and regional collaborations also plays a major role. Together these initiatives provide consistent delivery of the city’s outstanding services and ensures Worthington maintains the many features that create its sense of community: safe walkable neighborhoods, thriving businesses, historic charm, green spaces and strong partnerships with schools that promote quality education. Complementing our operating budget, the capital budget, for large and permanent projects, must address restoring aging infrastructure, reducing energy production, seeking multi-modal transportation opportunities and funding master-plan recommendations for parks, bicycles and pedestrian pathways.
Pauline: Embracing change. I recognize that change is difficult and during dynamic periods of change like we are now facing in central Ohio, we need thoughtful collaborative leadership in local government to help guide us through that change. Many of our peer and neighboring cities have realized this and are headed toward a prosperous future. Instead of resisting change, pretending we don’t have to adapt to change or vilifying people with different viewpoints, I want to create an environment where people feel confident and aligned about our future. We have some divisiveness in our city now and some of our current council members are perpetuating that divisiveness. This is unacceptable. I will be a leader who will work collaboratively to ensure our basic needs as a city are met, proactively work with people and organizations who want to invest in our community and work to convene and build consensus among community stakeholders who are looking for leadership during these dynamic times.
Rhoads: I see four major issues: 1. UMCH development 2. an absence of leadership on Worthington City Council 3. the Worthington Pool’s financial problems and risk of closure, and 4. increasing crime in our neighborhoods, ranging from a rash of vehicle break-ins in area neighborhoods to numerous burglaries and break-ins around Villa Nova, Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza and vicinity.
While others are being wishy-washy about their positions, I will be clear. I will support office development at UMCH but not apartments. We already have plenty of apartments in the city, including those newly built at Worthington Mall, near Linworth and new senior housing on Wilson Bridge, Proprietors and elsewhere. We badly need the income-tax revenue from offices. Apartments do not generate income tax. It’s that simple.
I will strongly support renovation of Worthington’s outdoor pool. Nearly every city in Franklin County supports their outdoor pool to keep it modern, functional, safe and fun. Worthington is the unfortunate and strange exception -- our city manager and council have ignored the pool’s problems. Now, we are at risk of losing $1 million in state funding. It’s unbelievable! This brings me to my third point -- the absence of leadership.
We have a city council with no apparent leadership. There’s infighting amongst council members. They can’t decide what to do about UMCH. They can’t decide what to do with the community pool. They can’t take action to protect our neighborhoods from crime. We need decisive leaders, ones who avoid stagnation and vacillation. We need leaders focused on combating crime in our community, not distracted defending their own actions in others. It’s time for new leadership on Worthington City Council.
Finally, on crime, I will invest in our local police department and find out what they need to help prevent the break-ins and petty thefts that are generating so much community concern.
Smith: As our residents age, we need to quickly provide ways for them to age in Worthington; whether that be aging in place or providing senior housing opportunities. With the right people on council, we can achieve this by providing support and services to seniors and provide authentic development opportunities for senior housing.
Troper: Swiminc, which runs Worthington Pools, has an immediate need for improvements. Swiminc will probably ask the city of Worthington for a contribution of one million dollars or more. The Anthem building is vacant and is costing the city conservatively a half a million dollars or more in lost income tax revenue. The 2019 Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan outlined significant improvements needed for Worthington. The 2017 Park Master plan outlined significant improvements needed for our existing parks. Our water and sewer lines need repair. Worthington has many needs and limited resources to fund them. Worthington must attract businesses to maintain and grow our income tax revenue to continue to provide excellent services and amenities to our residents. City Council must support development that fits in with the charm and character of Worthington.
The Worthington Gateway and Northeast Gateway developments are changing the face of the city. How do you see these projects affecting the city’s future and what role should council play in it?
Brooks: Both projects will improve the area of the city that is key to its economic viability. As someone who once worked on Lakeview Plaza Boulevard, I can assure you that the traffic congestion at the Wilson Bridge/Huntley/Worthington-Galena intersection is not only inconvenient, but is bad for business. Those endless traffic tie-ups is one of the reasons my company eventually moved out of Worthington.
Back in the early 1950s, our modern city was brilliantly planned by people like the late John Coleman. The zoning plan they created set aside much land for office, manufacturing and warehousing in an area that does not encroach upon our lovely residential neighborhoods.
Some people live in Worthington for years without realizing that we have a thriving business area on the edge of our city. It has provided our city the income-tax base that pays for our city services. It is invaluable. Not all nearby cities (i.e. Upper Arlington) have such a business/manufacturing area. Those cities must rely upon high taxes and now, infill development, to continue to exist.
Improvements to that area are long overdue. The ReCap program recently loaned/granted money to some of those smaller businesses to update their exteriors. That continues to be a good program and may be expanded.
The Wilson Bridge Road improvements, which were once called River to Rails, are also needed. The city’s investment in infrastructure and amenities like sidewalks, bikeways, lighting and other aesthetics will make the area more inviting to residents, workers, business owners.
The new hotel/restaurant/shopping complex underway at the corner of High Street and Wilson Bridge Road will also attract businesses as well as people who want to live and work in Worthington.
Already we are seeing new development and redevelopment with two new apartment complexes and the complete rebuilding of the office complex at 350 W. Wilson Bridge Road. Hopefully, it will serve as a model for the other large office buildings along West Wilson Bridge Road.
Those buildings were built in the 1980s and many have not been upgraded to meet the needs of today’s offices. Probably the city’s greatest challenge will be to convince the out-of-state office owners to invest in those buildings, providing us with the Type A offices that we so badly need. I would like to work with our city economic-development director to see how we can convince those owners to make the needed improvements.Surely other communities have faced this problem. We need a solution.
Overall, the improvements on the north end of our city will be exciting to watch over the next years.
Bucher: I think development can positively impact the city’s future by creating smarter corridors like the Northeast Gateway and by bringing in new and exciting businesses and restaurants to increase income tax revenue. City Council should engage the community and utilize their input to develop a long-term plan for development and housing in Worthington. With limited space, we have to use it wisely to improve quality of life and not permanently alter the characteristics that make Worthington unique.
Dorothy: Worthington Gateway -- As I write this, the Worthington Gateway is a hole in the ground surrounded by unsightly chain-link fencing. I attended the February 2016 town hall meeting held by Alliance Hospitality when they unveiled their preliminary concept for the redevelopment of the site. Now, 44 months later, we still do not have a completed project and most likely will not for another 18-24 months. All the while, our Convention and Visitors Bureau and other community groups which are partially funded by the bed tax primarily generated by this site are underfunded. While it can take time to make sure that development is done right, we cannot portray to the region that it is difficult and slow to establish businesses in Worthington. We must attract quality employers to Worthington and keep our existing employers to ensure financial stability. Only with a clearly articulated and consistently applied policy toward development and redevelopment can Worthington position itself within the region to attract the best employers to choose Worthington as home.
Northeast Gateway -- As a citizen, I attended the Bike and Pedestrian Committee hearings on the Northeast Gateway project. At that time, the project plans and analyses were presented to the committee and the design was very far down the path, yet no attention had been paid to adequately addressing bike and pedestrian needs within the reconfigured infrastructure. I and others fought to ensure that all modes of travel were adequately addressed in the design plans. Changes to the design plans to partially accommodate all modes of travel as an afterthought resulted in rework and additional expense to the city. However, this accommodation and support for “complete streets” ultimately became a key factor in winning MORPC-directed funding, which was necessary to make this project a financial reality. In the future, all modes of transportation must be considered at the beginning of any process to renew our transportation infrastructure and council must support this fair and equitable approach to providing for all members of our community.
If we are going to prosper and grow together as a community, we have to be willing to work together to craft a combined vision for our future that serves the greatest good and the greatest number of our citizens.
Farley: These projects are steps that the community is moving forward. City government has been appropriately involved in both projects. As we move forward, both projects will need slightly different levels of engagement by city government. The city of Worthington must sell the Northeast Gateway to help develop and grow the Huntley corridor. As for the Worthington Gateway, we must continue to encourage the owners to move forward -- promptly -- on the project. This project has the potential of being a signature property as people enter into Worthington from the north. The eyesore of weeds and a pit must only be temporary. Hotel taxes and income tax are needed benefits, as well.
Filina Wilson: Support and investment like these projects will have a snowball effect for our future as it tends to draw attention and interest in the area. More businesses, and therefore more income to our city, are to come! The Worthington Gateway is especially exciting because of its direct impact on tourism.
Even though construction itself is an eyesore and inconvenience while in progress, both the Worthington Gateway and the Northeast Gateway projects will be worth it in the end.
I see these two projects as the beginning of a new chapter for our whole corporate corridor which city council must champion. In the recent past, the city has lacked vision and leadership when it comes to development of all kinds: Commercial, Residential and Quality of Life/Entertainment. Once we have a well articulated and exciting vision for Wilson Bridge, Huntley and Proprietors, those with understandable concerns about our city’s income sources will be able to relax knowing our needs will be met. Similarly, a well articulated initiative placing a wide variety of housing all over our city will demonstrate our residential needs will be met. Only then can we all confidently move forward with the quality of life types of developments that we would like for our city. We will be able to expand our downtown experience, add amenities such as restaurants and venue space, enhance our natural areas and walking and biking offerings, and so much more, all of which obviously benefit current residents and families but ultimately support and attract business large and small, and our visitor/tourism goals.
Foust: Council already plays and will continue to play a key role in determining the face of the City in these projects, both functionally and aesthetically. These are long-term projects and the discussion, planning and budget for them has been ongoing. The adoption of the River-to-Rails zoning overlay by council from recent past laid a part of the foundation. Ensuring proper execution and infrastructure, accessibility to all means of transportation including pedestrian and non-motorized travel, and an outcome that invites new development heavily weighted toward that which adds revenue rather than detracts are all outcomes council must keep in the fore.
Hacker: I think it premature and somewhat exaggerated to declare that these two projects are "changing the face of (Worthington)."
The Northeast Gateway is a much-needed transportation infrastructure improvement to ease traffic congestion, it's not a development per se, and the Worthington Gateway project has the potential to initiate change. Specifically, it may help change how residents view other redevelopment opportunities, though this is going to depend in large part on our Economic Development Office's ability to use this project to attract retail, restaurant and Class A office tenants to Worthington.
If successful, I could easily envision other projects extending south on High Street and across Wilson Bridge Road at the Worthington Mall. It is therefore critically important that the Worthington Gateway succeed, as I have already spoken on the need for business investment to increase municipal income-tax receipts. Council has a key role insofar as it can align the city's budget to prioritize business-development initiatives and provide our city staff with the resources they need to succeed. We can also consider structural and financial-incentive packages that can expand redevelopment opportunities beyond the Worthington Gateway.
Kraut: Both are positive projects for our community. The Worthington Gateway will provide new options for residents and economic growth. The Northeast Gateway will improve traffic flow. I believe City Council should set goals, strategy, and provide general direction for these projects just like they do for the city overall.
Michael: These two projects will greatly enhance the Worthington experience now and into the future both as attractive and dynamic entryways into the city and as support of areas adding an integrative sense of community. The Worthington Gateway, once completed, will serve as a welcoming entrance to our city. A well-designed Hampton Inn plus three or four outbuildings for offices and restaurants, and multiple outdoor patios will provide a vibrant destination-location for visitors and residents alike. Council should continue to support this project.
The Northeast Gateway has been in the works for over 10 years. This project is designed to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow through the Huntley Road/Worthington Galena Road/ Wilson Bridge Road intersection. City Council conducted public meetings to discuss the intersection design; ensured that this will be a Complete Streets project with bicycle/pedestrian accommodations; gave final approval to the development plans; sought state, regional and federal funding; and approved the purchase of needed property and easements. At this point, council needs to be very supportive of this project and continue working with staff to see it through the construction phase, which should begin in 2020. Council also will want to ensure that the public is kept informed of construction plans and possible road closures or lane reductions. Once completed, this area will be a lovely and functional northeast entryway into Worthington.
Pauline: These projects will help drive more economic opportunity to the city. I believe council needs to play an important role in partnership with the city manager to continue to help the community understand why we are doing these types of projects, how they are connected to our comprehensive plan (which includes resident input and support), and what impact residents may experience as the projects develop. Open and inclusive communication is critical during these projects - council should ensure that residents know they have an opportunity to provide continued feedback as the city moves forward with development.
Rhoads: All we see right now are weeds growing as the projects get delayed. A new hotel was overdue -- the old Holiday Inn was showing its age. A new intersection in the northeast will ease traffic jams, but your question ignores the real issues in Worthington today -- overcrowding in our schools and developers like Lifestyle Communities who have proposed to build 200 houses and 350 apartments at the UMCH site. That’s what people are talking about.
Worthington Schools Superintendent Trent Bowers recently told residents at a forum that if UMCH is developed (presumably the way Lifestyle Communities proposed) then the school district would have to redistrict -- this means moving kids from Evening Street, Worthington Estates and other elementary schools to some other elementary school nearby. When you combine that with the realization that apartments do not generate income tax for the city, you start to understand why we need leadership on city council.
We know Bonnie Michael, as council president, has been supportive of Lifestyle Communities’ proposals in the past. She pitched the project to other elected leaders as a good thing until the backlash. Now that voters are concerned, she says she has no position. But, does anyone think her position has really changed?
I have a clear position. I am opposed to building a Lifestyle Communities complex with 350 apartments there. The land isn’t even zoned for apartments today. Do you want Bonnie Michael rezoning that land? Vote accordingly.
Smith: The Gateway (Holiday Inn) development will provide a better-quality hotel for visitors and will provide some mixed-use amenities that Worthington residents desire. The developer did a good job engaging the community and the neighborhood to see what would be appropriate. I believe it will be visually pleasing, socially pleasing to residents seeking new dining and retail experiences, and financially helpful to the city. The Northeast Gateway has been a very long process with state oversight and federal involvement. We are in sight of working on this project. I believe the main benefit from this will be the traffic relief it will provide for people trying to get to the Polaris area. This is good for residents and is good for the businesses that have logistics operations in the area. The visual impact will be an improvement as well. The landscaping and walkability will improve. If you have ever tried to drive to the Polaris mall on a Friday evening, you know this project is needed.
Troper: These projects will help improve traffic flow and attract businesses to Worthington. The Worthington Gateway will make Worthington an even greater destination in addition to our excellent downtown. Council should continue to support the economic growth along Wilson Bridge Road, the Shops at Worthington Place and along the High Street corridor north of North Street.