When MORPC’s insight2050 team got Technical Assistance applications back from the selection committee in September, the breakdown looked simple: Two Central Ohio cities wanted help developing complete streets policies, and two other communities wanted help with plans for walkable, mixed-use developments within their boundaries.
The reality is more complex – and more reflective of the communities within the region.
The insight2050 Technical Assistance Program, funded through MORPC’s Federal Surface Transportation Program (STP), provides MORPC staff assistance to local government members within the transportation planning area of Delaware and Franklin counties, Bloom and Violet townships in Fairfield County, New Albany, Pataskala and Etna Townships in Licking County, and Jerome Township in Union County.
Through the TA Program, staff will assist member communities with specific planning services related to the findings of insight2050 and goals of the Metropolitan Transportation Plan.
The four projects awarded MORPC assistance in September show how relevant insight2050 is to communities in the region, and how they face similar challenges in preparing for change. But the projects also illustrate the variety among Central Ohio communities and the different ways they can adapt.
Worthington seeks guidance on retrofitting existing streets to accommodate bicycles, pedestrians, buses, cars and trucks as appropriate, while Delaware wants a policy for safely accommodating all users in newly developing areas as well as in its existing historic neighborhoods.
Westerville is re-envisioning a 35-year-old business park – bounded by I-270, Alum Creek, and commercial strips – as a modern, live-work office center that could include housing, restaurants, other commercial uses, and more connections with nearby streets. A proposed mixed-use development in Violet Township would incorporate a town center at a busy rural crossroads with adjacent subdivisions, schools, and neighboring farmland.
In their own ways, each community is preparing for a larger, changing population that seeks neighborhoods that are built for pedestrians, bicycles, and transit, as well as cars. Each already has, or expects to need more of, neighborhoods with a mix of houses, apartments, shops, and businesses.
Delaware has a bustling, historic downtown, as well as some small neighborhood commercial districts. It also has busy thoroughfares and newly developing neighborhoods far from the city core. Its complete streets policy will set guidelines for new streets designed for many modes, but also will identify ways to incorporate other uses into existing older, and often narrow, city streets.
Worthington’s downtown is similarly lively. Unlike Delaware, however, the community is surrounded by the larger city of Columbus and is seeing redevelopment of many older areas. Worthington’s policy will focus on accommodating users along its existing road network. The city’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Board, established two years ago, will bring its insight and suggestions to the process.
“It will give us a toolbox for decision making,” said Rob Chandler, Assistant to the Director of Service and Engineering, who is the city’s liaison with MORPC on the effort. He added that having such a policy could improve chances to receive grants for bicycle and pedestrian projects.
In Violet Township, development director Holly Mattei said the goal is to create a plan that recognizes the shift in the types of development that people now want – and shows how that fits in with existing development.
But one challenge in realizing the long-time community goal of a town center is Refugee Road. The town center is envisioned at the intersection of Refugee and Pickerington roads, and that stretch of Refugee is the busiest segment of unincorporated road in Fairfield County, and is the subject of a wide-ranging study by the county engineer’s office.
Westerville’s technical assistance project has a very different model, but a nearly identical impetus: a plan that adapts to changing tastes and needs in suburban business parks, yet melds with existing commercial corridors nearby.
“What are the jobs of today and tomorrow?” wondered Kim Sharp, deputy director of planning and development. The Brooksedge business park was developed nearly 40 years ago, when business needs were different. It was successful, but now has some vacancies in a changing era. Sharp said it needs to compete with new, modern business parks on greenfield sites, and that Westerville hopes planned-unit zoning can make way for non-traditional service-oriented uses – and even residential space – in addition to the existing office, warehouse and loading-dock space.