The former site of the Grove City Library on Park Street will apparently become a recreational site for residents as opposed to residences.
Grove City Council Nov. 4 voted unanimously to approve legislation stating the 3-acre site that includes the old library parcel, the city-owned land east of the library site and Artubus Avenue will be preserved for a public-gathering space.
The ordinance also directs the administration to develop plans for a park, with public input, to include a performance space and public restrooms.
Grove City resident Gregg Smurthwaite began an effort seven months ago to gather residents' support for using the site as parkland or greenspace rather than residential development.
He said he collected more than 600 signatures from residents favoring his proposal.
"The people wanted it so much. That's the reason this result has happened," Smurthwaite said. "There's already plenty of apartments planned for the Town Center. Why would you build some more at this site and not preserve some green space that families can enjoy in the Town Center?"
After the Grove City Library opened its new building in October 2016 at 3959 Broadway in the Town Center and vacated its old building on Park Street, the city obtained the rights to the building and grounds on Park.
An update of the Town Center framework that still is being finalized recommends a mix of uses for the site.
The greenspace owned by the city to the east is designated as public park space.
In 2017, the city sent out a request for proposals seeking ideas from developers for how the old library site could be redeveloped.
Beulah Park developer Pat Kelley submitted a proposal in partnership with the Weiler Group and Castro Communities that included a mix of residential, small retail and restaurants in the space of the old library building and in the parcel to the immediate west. The concept included pedestrian access, open green space, restaurant patios and general outdoor sitting areas and proposed that office or low-density urban residential use be placed behind the old library site facing Civic Place.
The other proposal from the Pizzuti Cos., which developed the Broadway Station apartments behind City Hall, included a three-building, 117-unit multifamily project fronting Park Street, six for-sale two-story townhomes proposed for Voeller Avenue, a restaurant to occupy the museum building across Park from the old library site and a pocket park at the southwest corner of Civic Place and Arbutus Avenue.
Council President Steve Robinette sponsored the ordinance council approved.
Converting the old library site into a community space "will provide a Town Center amenity we can program as often or as little as we choose for things like plays, for music, for festivals," he said.
"It will also act as an economic driver for our Town Center," Robinette said. "When we start having activities (there) it'll get people more accustomed to coming down for events and who hopefully support the businesses and can spur other businesses."
The park space does not mean development cannot arise around the site, he said.
The Columbus Commons project installed the green space first, and the development there followed, Robinette said.
Councilman Jeff Davis voted for the ordinance, but said he was concerned earmarking the entire 3-acre site specifically for a park may "potentially limit our options for development."
When he joined council eight years ago, the Town Center was mostly bereft of activity, especially during the week, Davis said.
The city set on a path "to build life into downtown" with the two core components being the new library building and the Broadway Station apartments, he said.
Those projects are in place and the Town Center has seen an increase in the number of restaurants and pubs, the kinds of places where people want to gather in a downtown area, Davis said.
An amenity like greenspace is desirable for the Town Center, but with the legislation specifically directing where the greenspace should go, it may limit the city's ability to encourage opportunities for development done in combination with establishing greenspace, Davis said.
When the city held a public meeting to review the initial draft of the Town Center framework and sought residents' views at the meeting and in a subsequent survey, the public's preference for using the old library site for a public-use space was made clear, councilwoman Christine Houk said.
"I think a lot of that is a reaction to the times we are living here in Grove City," she said.
"We're seeing a lot of growth and this kind of public-use space becomes kind of a beacon" and a place where residents can envision themselves gathering together, Houk said.
"If we don't preserve a space that we can identify today (as future public space), then perhaps we lose that in discussions as we move forward," she said.
Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage said his administration has never been against the idea of providing greenspace in the Town Center.
The two proposals the developers submitted for the old library site were rejected by the city, in part because they did not provide sufficient greenspace, he said.
His concern with the legislation, Stage said, is whether it would allow the consideration of how to use the old library site for greenspace to occur in the proper way, which involves bringing the matter to the city's parks board where public discussion and input could occur.
Council previously approved purchasing land to be set aside for parks before the concept of the park had been determined, Robinette said, so his legislation was nothing new.
In addition, it specifically directs the administration to develop the site as a park with public input, he said.
Smurthwaite said he is gratified that it appears the old library site will become a public park.
"It's been seven months of work, but all along the public support for this idea kept growing," he said.
"Now, we can't rest," Smurthwaite said. "Now, we have to make sure the city fulfills the promise of the ordinance."