- Doug Smith
Protecting public dialogue and transparency
This week, Council proposed an emergency moratorium on the UMCH property, preventing further action by the property owner (Lifestyle Communities). This action was only way to protect the community’s right to discuss and engage in meaningful dialogue about UMCH.
In the Fall of 2020, Council discussed placing a similar moratorium on the UMCH property so the public could further engage about specific uses of the land. Council discussed it at a public meeting and decided to draft a moratorium for the following meeting. The LC immediately submitted an application with the city, blocking Council from discussing the moratorium, and blocking community discussion about UMCH.
Why propose a moratorium now?
It is important to know that whenever an application is submitted with the city, Council is blocked from changing or discussing the applicant’s property in any meaningful way.
When LC submitted an application in Fall 2020, it took 14 months to go through the city process and ultimately the application was denied. They blocked Council dialogue for 14 months.
If the past is any indication, then we can safely suppose LC will want to block Council from discussing the UMCH property. We know they don’t want any true public engagement. In the most recent application process, LC did reach out to some resident groups, but did not implement any meaningful resident feedback. They even ignored the feedback from the most LC-friendly resident group.
Protecting community discussion
To protect the public’s right to robust dialogue, Council had to act decisively this week. The alternative was to let the same thing happen as Fall 2020, blocking discussion for another 14 months or longer.
Unfortunately, some members of Council seemingly would rather run the real risk of having LC block discussion, stripping away the public’s ability (and Council’s) to engage about the UMCH property. Since an emergency moratorium requires six votes (of seven), it did not pass.
The good news is the majority of Council knows the importance of public discourse and understands the clever maneuvers LC could likely employ to block dialogue on the UMCH issue.
Then what happened?
In light of the 2020 visioning process and societal changes since 2014, Council needed to take action to provide clarity to LC.
Council proposed and approved - effective immediately - an update to the Comprehensive Plan with new guiding principles to provide direction about any future application on the UMCH property. This allows the community to continue ongoing input and feedback about the site, and gives the property owner the direction to truly engage with the public.
In LC’s recent proposal, they cited the 2014 Comprehensive Plan update as the basis for their high-density market-rate apartments. The 2014 text apparently did not provide enough clarity to the applicant. The new text will provide clarity if they choose to submit a new proposal in Spring 2022. Please review the new text below.
United Methodist Children’s Home Focus Area
This section of the Worthington Comprehensive Plan was updated in 2022 for the United Methodist Children’s Home Focus Area. This section, following a short Background introduction, is stated in terms of guiding principles and general components for future development of the site. This text reflects, following the 2014 update, a current understanding of public opinion, market conditions, and evolving societal and environmental values.
The United Methodist Children’s Home Focus Area, given the size and location of this undeveloped land, represents a unique opportunity for the City and residents of Worthington to enhance social vibrancy and economic prosperity in a sustainable manner. The site is located north of Old Worthington, and south of the High North and Worthington Gateway projects, along the High Street Corridor. This land, located between these historic and economic focal points, and directly across the street from City Hall, may serve as a centerpoint for City planning.
The goal of this update, as with the other content of this Plan, is to provide guidance regarding the range of desired land uses and development options, respectful of property valuation within current zoning, and to assist the City with its review and evaluation of any proposal. This Plan will guide and facilitate any future development process for this site in a manner that conforms with the well-being of the general public as well as the rightful interests of the property owners.
It is important that the development of the property be considered and executed holistically, as an integrated whole.
Because of its size and central location, this undeveloped land represents a singular opportunity for the City of Worthington to develop the property in a manner that is extraordinary and that serves the long-term interests of the community. As an historic community, it is natural and appropriate for the City and its residents to think in this way.
It is essential that any development of the site be harmonious and compatible with the fabric of surrounding neighborhoods and the natural environment. This pertains to traffic patterns, environmental impact, scale and density of any residential housing, impact on schools, and the architectural and aesthetic provisions inherent for any property, as are these parcels, located within the Architectural Review District. Stated positively, outcomes should increase community well-being and vibrancy, opportunities for social activities for persons of all ages, bicycle and pedestrian connectivity, commercial opportunities, and housing, appropriate in scale and type, that support these goals.
We seek an outcome on this land that is distinctive, exceptional, and expressive of Worthington’s own values and community ethos.
Compatible with current S-1 zoning, a large contiguous greenspace, central to the property and inclusive of the Tucker Creek acreage, is a highly desirable component of any outcome.
Commercial development, aimed at revenue generation for the City and select service-oriented retail that is compatible with the development, is highly desirable along High St., roughly in conformity with the existing C-2 and C-3 zoned areas.
Residential housing, though requiring rezoning, is desirable, if:
1. It is creatively executed, and,
2. whether embedded within the commercial areas or free-standing, is harmonious in overall mass and scale, form, and impact upon surrounding neighborhoods.