Design for Grove City Town Center park to include land east of Arbutus

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Grove City Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage stands at the former Grove City Library site on Park Street on Oct. 21. The site now is a green space. City Council was presented with a draft for a Town Center Park at the old library site, but revisions are being made to the proposal after residents raised concerns with the site design.

Grove City officials say they'll draft new legislation to clarify that a plan to redevelop the old Grove City Library site on Park Street as a public park will include the adjacent portion of Arbutus Avenue and the vacant land east of the roadway.

The legislation will constitute what Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage called "a rebooting" of the park-design process.

A draft concept for the park presented at the Oct. 19 City Council meeting showed only the 1.01-acre parcel that includes the former library building.

Council members and residents who spoke during the livestreamed meeting said they and most residents had been under the impression that the park design would incorporate the area east of the building site, which is in Grove City's Town Center.

The draft design presented by Aaron Domini, senior partner and planner with OHM Advisors, proposed a mini-commons concept for the park similar to the Columbus Commons in downtown Columbus.

"Once we started thinking about the programming that was being developed (for the Town Center park), that style made a lot of sense," he said. 

The commons style is "traditional, timeless and flexible," Domini said.

The proposed program features were developed taking into account the planning goals set in the Town Center framework presented in 2019 by the city's development department, the data gathered as part of the park design process and the feedback received from interviews with nine stakeholders, he said.

Although a community survey was not conducted as part of the design process, the plan incorporated feedback received from others in the community, Stage said.

The draft concept for the park included an entry plaza at the north end of the library site off Park Street with a large promenade.

A stage immediately south of the plaza would open up in two directions toward the plaza for smaller performances and toward a "great lawn" in the park's center that would accommodate larger crowds and would be used by visitors for recreational activities, Domini said.

"The great lawn provides a great deal of flexibility in the space," he said. "You can imagine dozens and dozens of different activities that could be programmed there."

A cluster of trees would be established on either side of the lawn, Domini said. Trellises would be tucked into the trees and along walkways, and swinging benches would be placed under the trellises.

The south end of the park toward Civic Place would feature a splash pad or something similar, he said. An improved pedestrian walkway would connect the park to the existing parking area and Broadway.

The estimated cost of developing the park would be $2.5 million, based on 2020 construction costs, Domini said. That total includes a 30% contingency allowance.

The cost estimate also states that if the park were developed in phases, an additional 3% to 5% should be added for each succeeding year of construction beyond 2020.

A draft concept presented to Grove City Council on Oct. 19 by Aaron Domini, senior partner and planner with OHM Advisors, featured only a 1.01-acre parcel that includes the former library building. City administrator Chuck Boso is expected to draft new legislation to include that portion of Arbutus Avenue and the land east of Arbutus.

The design as presented was not what council member Ted Berry had envisioned for the park, he said. He was expecting the park design to include the removal of Arbutus Avenue and incorporate the green space east of the street, he said.

"My vision from what I heard from residents was open space, trees, benches," Berry said. "What people are clamoring for is open space."

The park design presented by Domini puts too much activity into too small a space, he said.

The great lawn as proposed is designed to accommodate about 1,600 people, Domini said.

The city might have "dropped the ball" a bit in not including more public input in the design process, council president Christine Houk said.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges, the city had ways to gather more feedback from the community, she said.

Like Berry, Houk said she also had envisioned a larger park concept that included the area east of the library building site.

The proposed design falls short of what community members want and need for a Town Center park, said Gregg Smurthwaite, the Grove City resident who began an effort in early 2019 to gather public support for using the library site as a park or community space rather than for potential residential development.

About 150 people filled council chambers and spilled out into the lobby Nov. 4, 2019, when council voted on the legislation to earmark the library site for a park, he said.

The overwhelming majority of them left the meeting assuming the park would include the land east of the library building, Smurthwaite said.

"We can't shortchange them by making this park this small and not serving the overall needs (of) the community," he said. "(It) should be an outstanding, accomplished, full-service Town Center park."

The land east of the building site is owned by the city and set aside for the community's use, Smurthwaite said.

Smurthwaite's son, Christian, said he and other residents supported the ordinance that was approved in November with the understanding that it was intended to protect the library site from commercial or residential development and was not meant to limit the park to only that site.

The design map submitted by OHM labels the green space east of the library building as being a "future development opportunity," Christian Smurthwaite said.

His concern is that developers could notice the vacant land and the city could be accommodating to them, he said.

The city had solicited proposals for the redevelopment of the old library site from developers in 2017, Stage said. Nothing is in the works for the vacant land, he said.

"There is no developer, and we have had no discussions, as far as I know, with any developer who wants to take over that acreage on the east side of Arbutus," Stage said. "And we haven't offered it."

The park-design proposal was limited by the wording of the ordinance council had approved in November, he said.

The legislation states that "the site commonly referred to as the old library site which is bounded by Park Street on the north, Arbutus Avenue on the east, Civic Place on the south, and First Ave on the west, shall be preserved for public gathering space."

If council wanted specifically to include the area east of the library building, the ordinance should have been amended at the time it was approved, Stage said.

City administrator Chuck Boso is expected to draft new legislation to include the area east of the library site for the park design, he said.

If that land is included, it would set aside about 2 acres for the park, Boso said.

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