Frequently Asked Questions
1.) What is Project Community Park Worthington? Who formed it and why?
In the summer of 2018, a group of residents was enjoying a backyard bonfire and discussing city issues, specifically the United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH) site at 1033 High St. It quickly became apparent that the neighbors shared a common vision for the site: preservation of the greenspace versus high density development. Or, put differently, the creation of a signature community park that would serve as a new hub of community life, versus the traffic, crowding, and costs that would define any developer-driven project. The fact that this is a once-in-history opportunity gave urgency to the matter.
So the neighbors formed a small working group to do research and to hold conversations with other residents to discuss the idea and gather feedback. City Councilmember David Robinson—a proponent of resident-centered policies—was enlisted to serve as the primary presenter at these living-room, backyard events.
Based on enthusiastic support over the past year (“Why wouldn’t we do this?!”), the working group formed Project Community Park Worthington (PCPW). The citizens’ group has launched a petition campaign to demonstrate to city leaders the breadth and depth of support for its vision, and to motivate City Council to act boldly on behalf of all Worthingtonians.
- Kacey Brankamp
- Andy Hutter
- Scott Taylor
PCPW Petition Working Group:
- Paul Bates
- Roger Beck
- Phil Bush
- Heather Doherty
- Noel Kigaraba
- Val Knapp
- Beth Mitchell
- Ian Mykel
- Nate Palmer
- Ellen Scherer
- Suzanne Seals
- Michael Sharvin
2.) What is the UMCH site?
The United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH) site is a roughly 44-acre property (including the Methodist West Ohio Conference Center and Bickford [Sunrise]), located in the heart of Worthington at 1033 High St. (directly across the street from City Hall). It is one of just two large, mostly undeveloped properties remaining in our city (the other being the Harding Hospital [Boundless] facility). The property was obtained by MCHAO (the predecessor of UMCH) for $1 in 1913 for the purpose of establishing an orphanage, and is currently owned by UMCH Family Services. The facility began operating in 1914, and ceased operations in 2010.
3.) What is the current status of the property? Who controls it?
UMCH owns the property, the city zones the property. The bulk of the property (approx. 31 acres) is currently zoned Special-1 (which allows for public and semi-public uses, such as parks, schools, religious institutions, and medical facilities). The High St. frontage (approx. 10 acres) is zoned commercial. Since closing down the facility in 2010, UMCH has been seeking to sell the property. To date, our city has not responded affirmatively to inquiries from UMCH regarding public acquisition. Instead, during the last eight years, UMCH has sought to sell the property to a sequence of developers, each of them making proposals for fundamental land-use changes that would require rezoning the property (Continental Realty proposed a big-box Giant Eagle in 2012; Lifestyle Communities (LC) proposed a high-density, new urbanism project in 2015; and Yaromir Steiner, with LC, discussed another mixed-use, new urbanism project in 2018). City Council approval is required for any rezoning, and any rezoning ordinance is subject (following the 2015 Keep Worthington Beautiful charter amendment campaign) to a 60 day waiting period before going in to effect, allowing public review and possible referendum. According to both UMCH and Lifestyle Communities, LC currently has a 10 year option to purchase the site (it is estimated that they are 3-4 years in to the contract period).
4.) Why is Project Community Park raising this issue now? Why are we engaging the public with a proposal for the site?
This is a once-in-history opportunity for our community. Once the land is sold and its use determined, the changes will be effectively permanent. If apartments and buildings and parking lots are built, and the trees are cut, the land leveled, and the flora and fauna chased away, there will be no going back. Given the size and centrality of the property, the outcome we choose will have a profound and lasting impact on the fabric and daily life of our city.
It is likely that Lifestyle Communities will be coming forward in the coming months with another proposal. This is a moment of decision. And it is our conviction that an informed and engaged public is the best and only way to ensure sound public policy. Without resident involvement, we believe it is likely that our city will remain largely reactive to a developer-driven process, with high-density development as a result. But with an engaged citizenry, it is possible to be proactive in achieving a resident-centered outcome, a legacy project benefitting the entire community.
5.) What is our vision for the land? What will it offer the community?
Our vision is a dynamic public space, accessible to all, that will create a new social gathering place for our community, all within a beautiful natural setting. We envision something extraordinary, a legacy project that reflects our distinctive, authentic and historic community. We envision a multi-use community greenspace at the core of the property, commercial development along High St.—forming the eastern boundary of the central park—and modest-scaled residential development, harmonious with adjoining neighborhoods, along Larrimer Ave.—forming the northern border of the greenspace. The associated revenue streams (ongoing income tax from commercial use, and sales of parcels for residential) will help fund acquisition and development of the approximately thirty contiguous acres of greenspace covering the rest of the property (Tucker Creek forms the southern boundary). In addition to income tax revenue and proceeds from sales of select parcels, state/federal grants and private fundraising would support development of the public space.
The design and uses for the land, following acquisition, will of course be decided through robust public conversation and debate. But here are our thoughts for now: we envision a rich variety of amenities to greatly enhance the life of our community, including a four-season event facility, for weddings, parties, meetings, and classes (perhaps using an historic barn as the superstructure, like the Amelia Mirolo Barn in Upper Arlington, or the Wells Barn at the Franklin Park Conservatory); a natural amphitheater for music, theater, and lectures; space for an athletic field, where cones could be placed for practices and pickup games; a special venue, perhaps near the sports field, for food trucks; abundant walking paths; community garden plots; and a protected habitat sanctuary along Tucker Creek, enabling outdoor education opportunities (with the event facility serving as classroom). These are our initial ideas—what are yours?
6.) Can the city afford to buy and develop the parcel?
Yes (and without new taxes on residents) through a combination of cash-on-hand, commercial income tax revenue, sale of residential lots, state & federal grants, and private fundraising. For example, cash balance of General Fund at 4.30.19 was $15.3 million (unencumbered balance $12.7 mill [46% prior year revenue]); revenue projections for UMCH High St. commercial development, according to our city’s cost-to-serve analysis, range from $500,000-750,000/yr, even with development incentives included.
It is important to keep in mind that the acquisition and creation of public spaces is a regular, even central function of city governments that takes place routinely across our nation. By doing so, cities not only increase the quality of life for all inhabitants, but they also increase the attractiveness of the city for businesses and their employees. Worthington, in particular, will benefit from a public space that strengthens and safeguards its core identity and character. To lose that, speaking in financial terms, would be to lose our most valuable asset. So the question is not whether Worthington can afford it (we can), but whether there is the political will and wisdom to do so.
7.) Could a community park impact our home values? If so, in what way?
Ask your realtor. We have. It is commonly understood that the addition of a regionally significant, multi-use greenspace, of the size that the UMCH property could offer, would likely increase the attractiveness of Worthington to new residents and therefore exert upward pressure on home values (consider that around the world the most valuable property is near parks). Conversely, high-density development and the problems it brings—traffic congestion, crowded schools, burden on city services—would likely exert downward pressure.
8.) Don’t we already have enough parks in Worthington?
Unfortunately, no. Nearly half (46%) of our city’s greenspace is comprised by the Olentangy bike trail. While this regional thoroughfare and parkland is a wonderful natural asset for the city, it is not very accessible for most Worthington residents. Proximity and accessibility are essential if greenspace is to be truly beneficial. That is why we are advocating for the creation of a signature public greenspace in the heart of our city, within walking and biking distance to most Worthington residents.
If the acres from the Olentangy bike trail and Perry soccer fields (located in the far northwest corner of our city) are removed from calculations, our city is well below average in terms of park acres per resident. When it comes to public greenspace, we believe Worthington should strive to be excellent, not merely average.
9.) Wouldn’t more residential units for empty nesters, millennials, etc. be desirable?
Yes. And we think the best way for Worthington to achieve this is with multiple, appropriately-sized enclaves throughout the city, rather than a large, concentrated development that is out of proportion with the rest of Worthington. Check out our city map in the PCPW Presentation (about 2/3 the way through the presentation) to get an idea of where we think possible sites exist. Further, while housing can be built in multiple locations in Worthington, the only place that a centrally located public park could be created is at the UMCH property.
10.) The PCPW presentation states that residential development has a net negative impact on city finances versus commercial development which earns money for a city. What is the rationale behind those statements?
The city of Worthington of course incurs expenses for the excellent services (fire, police, roads, etc.) it provides to all of its residential areas, and these costs exceed the small amount of property tax the city receives (≈ 4% of total). Conversely, the city receives ≈ 75% of its revenue through income taxes (2.5% rate) realized through commercial operations, far outpacing the cost to serve.
11.) How to get involved?
Thanks for your interest! You can sign our petition on this website. Forward the website link to others, encouraging them to become informed and to sign the petition. You can also submit a comment on the website so that we can follow up and discuss other ways of supporting our efforts. Sharing your enthusiasm for this proposal with your neighbors and friends is always helpful, anytime, anywhere. Lastly, contacting your city council members to let them know about your support will ultimately be what is needed.