In spite of protests, lumberyard project takes step forward

ThisWeek News – March 17, 2009

They had come not to praise elected officials but to attempt to bury the proposed lumberyard redevelopment project, protest renovating the old Huntington Bank Building, fret about possible apartments on annexed land and complain after the fact regarding a property swap with a Town Center employer.

A surprising number of residents turned out for Monday’s City Council meeting, normally placid affairs where seldom is heard the first discouraging word.

The formal session began with a report from Marty Saperstein of Saperstein Associates Inc., a Columbus opinion research firm, on the “Grove City Community Attitudes Survey” that’s been conducted every other year since 1992. It showed, among other things, that 81 percent the 505 people who participated in a telephone survey that lasted an average of 19 minutes believe the city is moving in the right direction.

The meeting closed with, evidently, representatives of that other 19 percent telling council members and the mayor they feel that the wrong direction has been or is being taken.

In spite of pointed questions and strong concerns from many of the public speakers, council members unanimously approved a preliminary development plan for the lumberyard site, located directly behind City Hall.

This was merely a procedural matter, development director Chuck Boso indicated, paving the way for planned-unit development zoning for the entire property instead of the current mix of industrial, commercial and central business district classifications.

The plan calls for a parking garage and public plaza to be owned by the city and two buildings along Park Street that would be owned by a private developer.

“It does not approve any particular uses in these structures,” Boso assured council members.

The actual zoning change is scheduled to come before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, March 24, at 1:30 p.m. in City Hall.

Also, Mayor Richard L. “Ike” Stage sought and got a unanimous “straw vote” from council members on a 290-space parking garage on the lumberyard site and approval to continue negotiations with the Southwest Public Libraries board of directors in relocating the Grove City branch to 40,000 square feet of space in one of two buildings to be constructed on the land by the Stonehenge Co., working in partnership with the city.

Adding 60 spaces to the originally proposed 230 in the city-owned parking structure will cost an additional $500,000, pushing the total to $4.5 million.

Council President Ted A. Berry, in particular, couched his “yes” vote in the straw poll as very tentative, saying he would want to know proposed uses for the Park Street buildings before getting behind the 60 added spaces in the garage and that he would strongly oppose spending any city funds to help the library with operational costs.

Kathy Bright, chairwoman of the planning committee for the library board, arose to point out that, in the wake of seven levy failures in the last 20 years, 95 percent of library funding comes from state money.

That provides the board with “no flexibility” in terms of coming up with additional operational dollars for a new facility.

At-Large Councilman Michael Uhrin then quoted from an e-mail he received from Southwest Public Libraries Director Mark M. Shaw just prior to the start of the meeting. In it, Shaw raised the concern that any funding SPL receives from Grove City would, in fairness, have to also be spent on the Westland branch in Columbus.

The library board broke off talks with city officials on moving to the lumberyard site in December, but during the past six weeks former Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission director Bill Habig has been serving as a mediator between the board and the city. Habig reported on the three meetings that have taken place in that time, including an offer from the mayor to possibly use the city’s inside millage to help the library move to a new space worth $8-million.

During the public participation portions of the meeting, resident Chuck Engelman questioned why, with other cities hurting financially, Grove City is able to “dole” out $8-million to get the library to move, as well as building the parking garage and public plaza.

Also, Columbus State Community College President Val Moeller said she was looking forward to “partnering” with the city and Stonehenge to offer classes in the new lumberyard buildings, as well as possible financial support from the community college for a new library; Robert McGraw, husband of Ward 4 Councilwoman Maria C. Klemack-McGraw, and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners reported on comparisons he had conducted of other central Ohio libraries that showed the Grove City branch constrained by its facilities. Andrew Furr voiced his objections to the recently completed deal that kept Sound Communications Inc. in the Town Center by swapping its existing building with the Bimco Building on Park Street, saying the funds expended could have better been used to bring new enterprises to the city.

Metro Parks Executive Director John O’Meara said a new Metro Park in Grove City would definitely be part of his board’s commitment if voters approve a 0.75-mill levy on May 5.

Warren Gard questioned the use of tax dollars to renovate the former bank building at 3378 Park St. to accommodate new tenants, including the Grove City Area Visitors and Convention Bureau, Southwest Franklin County Historical Society, Grove City Town Center Inc., Grove City Area Community Improvement Corp. and possibly the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce.

In other actions, council members bid farewell to Service Director Darryl Hughes, who will leave to take the same post with Upper Arlington; approved spending $1.78 million, much of it in the form of a grant from the Ohio Department of Public Works Commission for the Grove City Road reconstruction project; and approved annexing 5.1 acres of land at 5001 Haughn Road that is owned by Ward 3 Councilman Larry Corbin.

Corbin excused himself from participating in the vote, just prior to which nearby resident David Hellard sought assurances that multi-family zoning would never be sought for the property, which is coming into the city under the single-family classification. Law Director Stephen J. Smith Jr. said such a restriction could not be imposed, but any zoning change would go through the normal process that affords residents the opportunity to raise objections.