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  • Doug Smith

UMCH Update

By now you may have heard of some discussions about the United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH) site on High Street. This article is to share my insights about where things stand today, and to provide a little historical context.

In 2015, Lifestyles Community ((LC) presented a development concept including a 350-unit apartment complex, a series of 271 townhomes and houses, and some retail and commercial space. The 600+ housing units would have increased Worthington’s residential housing by approximately 10 percent in one central location. Based on public feedback at that presentation, the community and council expressed to LC that the concept would not be accepted in Worthington.

In the Spring of 2016, Worthington Alliance for Responsible Development (WARD) - a resident watchdog group – hired a third-party to conduct a community survey engaging approximately 700 residents. They spent the next months developing a white paper with thoughts and possible uses about the UMCH property. They shared the results publicly and submitted the white paper to council January 2018, and council listened to a presentation from WARD regarding the white paper.

It is important to note that there are many diverse opinions about the property. However, most people in general support commercial development on High Street. Commercial development provides income tax revenue for the city, and enhances the city’s social life through restaurant and retail amenities.

In early 2018, Steiner (primary developer of Easton) contacted city staff and council to explore development opportunities at UMCH. Steiner was working in conjunction with Lifestyle Communities. Following an assessment of development options and probably public opinion, Steiner informed council in early 2019 that he was no longer working with LC on any UMCH project.

Within the past month, LC has made it known to a group of regional developers that they will be proposing another development plan at UMCH. In early June, LC presented at a meeting with private-sector stakeholders to share their next steps. LC shared the meeting minutes with council and here are some of the meeting points. Attached is the document for you to review.

One point in particular that stands out to me is in the question section.

When asked what LC will change about the community involvement plan this time around, LC replied, “First time, we asked the community what they wanted. This time, we will file our plan, do a study, and let the facts speak for themselves.”

Additionally, LC has purchased two adjacent homes on Larrimer Ave indicating that a proposal from LC is likely in the not too distant future (attached).

Of related significance, a citizens’ group, Project Community Park Worthington, formed in the summer of 2018 to advocate for a different vision for the property. They launched a website last month and have begun distributing door-hangers throughout Worthington. The literature encourages residents to become informed, talk with friends and neighbors, and to consider signing an online petition.

According to the group, the purpose of the petition is to “demonstrate broad public support for this resident-centered vision, providing our city leaders with the support and motivation needed to act boldly on behalf of all Worthingtonians.”

They are hosting a series of house parties to engage fully and educate residents about their concept.

In their literature and public presentations, they emphasize that they, too, support commercial development on High Street and senior cottages on the north side of the property. But rather than apartments, they are advocating for a significant public greenspace in the heart of the property.

The group takes a “no new taxes” stance on the project, stating that the commercial development along High Street will more than pay for acquisition of the public greenspace.

Their stated mission is to “advocate for bequeathing to future generations a valuable public asset at the UMCH property - a signature, multi-use community greenspace - for the benefit and enjoyment of all.

The proposed concept outlines commercial development along High Street, senior living on the north side of the property, civic/educational space adjacent to an open green space, and a possibly an event venue.

I personally am researching project park and trying to connect with LC to better understand their plans. Stay tuned for updates.

Attachment of LC meeting minutes.

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