Final touches made in Southwest area plan

After being implemented, analyzed, modified, showcased, redesigned and subject to yearlong public opinion, the final draft of the Southwest Area Plan was unveiled on Nov. 18.

"For those who have been involved with this since the beginning, seeing documentation is almost like Christmas," said resident Aurelie Petrarca.

In the 70 plus page draft drawn up by the city of Columbus development department and the Franklin County Department of Economic Development and Planning, they detailed what the residents want to see, and do not want to see, in their communities for the future.

There are four topics within the plan that have been hot discussion items and they include land use, parks and open spaces, transportation and urban design.

Land use

The main priority of the land use section is to improve the look of area corridors, including Brown Road, Frank Road, Harrisburg Pike and Mound Street.

The draft guidelines for the Brown Road corridor states that it should maintain its predominately residential and limited commercial character; discourage auto-oriented uses, such as auto-repair, drive through commercial and vehicular sales; and encourage retail and office uses around the intersection of Brown Road and Frank Road.

The draft recommends Frank Road maintain their existing industrial land, but require landscaped buffers and better design standards upon redevelopment of industrial properties.

The rezoning to a non-residential district at special locations along the Harrisburg Pike corridor is discouraged, but the public opinion recommends future developers concentrate the most intensive commercial uses around Central Point and Southwest Square.

The recommendations for Mound Street are there should be community commercial uses for the area.  Community commercial allows low to medium intensity retail, office, or other commercial uses that serve primarily local area patrons and do not include general commercial characteristics (i.e. neighborhood shopping centers and offices with professional and business services).

"There would be nothing the size of Easton or Polaris put up there," said city of Columbus planner Adrienne Joly.

Parks and open spaces

Input suggested by residents showed they want to see a mixed use of the cleared area that made up the Franklin County Children’s Services site. The mixed use concept would allow for office development on a portion of the property that is out of the floodplain, a community facility to be located on the west side of the stream with sports fields and courts nearby, but the predominate area be a passive park.

Southwest Area Commission Chairman Ralph Horn said he would like to see a revenue-generated development plan to pay for construction and operation of a community facility in that designated area.

Transportation

Much of area is without sidewalks, which residents clearly stated needed to be fixed. Brown Road, Dyer Road, Gantz Road, Harmon Avenue, Harrisburg Pike, Hart Road, and Stimmel Road do not have sidewalks on either side of the streets, which poses a hazard to walkers as each road is heavily used. This problem has even caused the city of Columbus safewalks program to recommend sidewalks be constructed on those roads.

According to the guidelines for future development, future road improvements should include five foot or wider sidewalks that are set back from the pavement, complete with street trees, lighting and signs, landscaping and bike racks.

The guidelines also discourage curb cuts along Harrisburg Pike.

There is also a section of the draft that allows for bike paths to be developed, as Columbus has completed their Bicentennial Bikeways Plan and the interconnection between cities cannot be completed without the Southwest area.

Urban design

At previous public meetings, residents have complained about the look of the area. They felt there should not be commercial incorporated into residential developments, like those seen along Frank Road.

"We need to get rid of the blight on Frank Road," said Don Parsons. "There are wrecked houses and wrecked businesses all along Frank Road and it needs to be redeveloped."

The recommendations given in the draft say they should consider regional commercial overlay on Mound Street and Frank Road, and the community commercial overlay on Harrisburg Pike.

"Zoning overlay is a tool that identifies special provisions to an underlying zoning district," said Joly. "It can be applied in areas where design and neighborhood character are of special concern."

Also under the urban design recommendations are the development of gateway features along Frank Road near Brown Road and Harrisburg Pike; and the recommendation of a 200-foot buffer to be located between industrial uses and existing or planned residential uses.

The next step in the area plan is the adoption phase, which may take up to two months.

According to Joly, they will take the final plan to the Dec. 17 commission meeting and ask for their endorsement. After that, the area plan will go to the  Columbus Development Commission on Jan. 22, and then be taken to the Columbus City Council for two reading.

If the plan received a favorable opinion, it will go to Franklin Township, Jackson Township and the Franklin County Planning Commission for further review.

"The ultimate approval is with the Franklin County Commissioners," Joly said.

If the commissioners approve the plan in February, it will be adopted.

"The value of an area plan is only as good as the effort put in by the community and they should all be commended for that," said James Schimmer, director of the Franklin County Economic Development and Planning Department.

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