Delaware city leaders strategize for safe, diverse community with 'high quality of life'

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek

Quality, cost-effective public services designed to foster a high quality of life in Delaware were the focus of a City Council work session Feb. 1.

Members of the city administration presented an update to a set of municipal goals that City Manager Tom Homan said had been formulated in 2019 and 2020.

Delaware City Hall

"We're checking back just to give you an idea what we've been working on, refresh your collective memories to what those goals are that we established (and) get clarification, provide additional information and feedback," Homan said before reviewing a summary of the goals.

The summary lists the objective of "a vital, safe and diverse community that promotes a high quality of life, great neighborhoods, balanced economic growth and quality public services." 

Achieving the objective is linked to what the summary calls four pillars of a healthy economy, safe city, great community and effective government.

Linked to the objective are specific strategic items to be prioritized, including:

• Developing and implementing a strategy to attract more white-collar employees, including office uses if possible

• Increasing funds for local street maintenance, possibly including a tax levy

• Securing a downtown parking garage

• Increasing development along Sawmill Parkway and near the airport on the city's southern edge

Two items focus on topics that drew discussion in 2020 – the need to meet a projected demand in workforce housing, including consideration of multifamily units, and local calls for increased diversity, equity and inclusion in city government.

Attainable housing also is a component of the recently completed update to the city's comprehensive plan, said Dave Efland, city planning and development director. 

"We've been spending a lot of time talking about housing and how we have a diverse housing stock in the community. (The) emerging comprehensive plan continues the theme (and) talks about promoting housing quality and variety, including attainable housing," he said.

Efland on Jan. 25 told council that city employees and a committee of more than 30 citizen volunteers had been working since 2018 on an update to the comprehensive plan, which last was revised in 2004. 

Their draft of the update – called Delaware Together – includes six goals, almost 60 objectives and more than 230 separate actions, he said.

Through Feb. 12, the public could comment on the plan using a link at delawaretogether.net, which also lists a complete draft of the plan and a summary, he said.

Efland told council Feb. 1 that one proposed action involves working with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission on regional housing. 

MORPC in September released the results of a regional housing strategy that looks at individual communities and outlines 115 potential actions or strategies a municipality might employ, MORPC planner Jennifer Noll said.

Homan told council Feb. 1 its recent approval of a plan by the nonprofit Homeport of Columbus to develop 52 new residential units at 50 Channing St., now home to the Delaware County Engineer's Office, "is, I think, an example of how you reach that goal (of affordable housing), how you support it."

  Homeport said it would seek tax credits through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency that, if approved, would allow apartments with rent based on income, as well as single-family homes at market prices.

Laura Comek, an attorney representing Homeport, on Jan. 11 told council the Homeport plan is "not the old concept of affordable housing or housing projects.” These are equity-funded tax credits,” she said. “It's not a traditional Section 8 voucher program."

In July, such groups as the Delaware African American Heritage Council, the Second Ward Community Initiative, the Ujima Consortium and Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church called on council to improve diversity, inclusion and equality in city government.

The summary of city goals cites an internal focus of examining the city's efforts in all its departments, identifying opportunities for improvement and action, drafting goals in the second quarter of 2021, hiring a consultant by the third quarter to review practices and policies and providing training for all staff, also by the third quarter.

The summary lists other goals, such as the following:

• A reopening of the pool at Mingo Park under city management and resumption of baseball, softball and pickleball leagues, all this year

• Implementing use of police body cameras this year

• Developing a potential hotel project on Spring Street. The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic scuttled plans by Columbus-based Indus Hotels to build a 6-story hotel with up to 118 rooms at 7 and 27 Spring St. The city bought four adjacent parcels, including two empty lots and 7 and 27 Spring St., for $750,000. Specific plans include a municipal parking lot at the site, Homan has said.

• Evaluating possible energy aggregation in 2022

• Studying "greenway" projects, including developing a bicycle-walking path along Delaware Run from the downtown to Houk Road and beyond and linking paths on the city's southeast edge

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