Grove City officials learned over the last couple years that their vision for the future ran afoul of their own zoning code.

So the code is changing.

The city hoped to rewrite its code a decade ago, but the recession put the brakes on development and a damper on the budget. The slowdown allowed Grove City – and Central Ohio – to take a breath and prepare for new growth in a very deliberate way.

It was in some ways a fortunate interruption because in the same period, MORPC launched insight2050 to examine regional growth trends and patterns. Key findings showed that the seven-county population is likely to reach a region of three million people by 2050, and that an aging population and the coming-of-age of Millennials signaled declining demand for large, single-family homes. Meanwhile, more people would be seeking apartments, condos, and other small homes in tight-knit, walkable neighborhoods.

Grove City Mayor Ike Stage embraced the findings and looked to the future. He assigned the city’s development manager, Kim Shields, to oversee GroveCity2050 and engage residents of all neighborhoods in an ambitious citywide plan.

The plan built on the town-center redevelopment that had been emerging in stages for years. It opened the door to more multi-family housing, including Broadway Station, a 120-unit, three-story complex behind City Hall. A prominent branch of Southwest Public Libraries nearby added luster to the Broadway corridor. To the east, a commercial strip and the Star Cinema site were identified as ideal for denser, mixed-use development.

And just northwest of the city core, the closing of the Beulah Park racetrack made 212 prime-location acres available for redevelopment – plans call for about 700 housing units, half of them apartments.

“By the time MORPC did insight2050, we already were seeing different types of development,” Shields said, citing increased demand for apartments. She said that, with extensive community outreach, the plan earned broad support. “But unless your policy reflects the plan, it really doesn’t go anywhere.”

That’s what happened at the Star Cinema site. The proposed Stringtown Village Apartments – the kind of new development everybody envisioned – was in a C-2 commercial district. It required half a dozen significant variances under the existing zoning code.

“A planned-unit development (PUD) was the best tool we had,” Shields said. “But in the text for PUD, there were still a lot of deviations. It did not meet density, parking, height, and other restrictions. It’s finally under construction now and we’re really excited.”

City officials knew they needed to get back to the drawing board on code revision. That decision was underscored when they looked at buildings in the city’s historic core, where 80 percent of lots had at least one non-conforming feature.

Though the code is being carefully designed to reflect what’s in the popular plan, Shields said some people who had grown comfortable with the old code are a bit nervous at seeing the new language in black and white.

But those words, she said, “are the nuts and bolts behind the pretty picture painted by the GroveCity2050 plan. We want to make sure we’re in line to accommodate the changes in markets, but want to stay true to our community character.”