New S.R. 256 traffic patterns cause debate

Pickerington will soon post signs to prohibit drivers from turning right on red between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the intersection of State Road 256 and Tussing Road.

The Safety committee approved the new traffic signs without knowing that the Service committee planned to add a curb to S.R. 256 that would force drivers exiting from eastbound I-70 to remain in the right lanes.

Councilman Brian Wisniewski said that he felt that the Safety committee acted too rashly by ordering the signs without having a traffic study. By eliminating right-turn-on-red during rush hour, traffic may stack onto the interstate. The new curb would exasperate the problem.

Councilman Michael Sabatino said that had he known of the proposed curb, he still would have voted for the new signs.
"As the Safety committee, we made the right decision," Sabatino said.

Often there is a back up due to vehicles blocking the intersection when trying to turn left onto Tussing, Sabatino said.

Councilman Keith Smith, who also serves on the safety committee, said the problem with the Tussing intersection had been discussed with the Ohio Department of Transportation two years ago.

ODOT suggested tweaking the signal timing and if that did not work making the intersection no-turn-on-red.

Tweaking the signal did not work, Smith said.

What the intersection really needed was a turn lane, and the city should consider creating a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district to fund its creation, Wisniewski said.

TIFs were the theme at the council meeting Oct. 7. After a special work session to learn more about them, the council passed the first reading to amend one that already exists.

In a TIF, infrastructure improvements such as roads and water lines are created or improved to make way for a new development.

The property tax is frozen at the appraised value of the land before the improvements. As the value of the land increases, the additional money that otherwise would have been collected from the higher property taxes instead repays the debt from the infrastructure improvements.

In many cases the school district still receives its full share of the property taxes, but other government services like the fire department do not receive any of the additional funds.

A TIF was formed to extend Stonecreek Drive westward and add a traffic light.

The landowner, Equity, Inc., paid $2 million for the infrastructure improvements, according to the ordinance.

Pickerington agreed to allow Equity to attract retail businesses including Max & Erma’s and the Lifestyle’s Family Fitness Center; however, the city required Equity to construct 8,000 square feet of new office space.

Offices would generate a higher amount of income tax, city manager Tim Hansley said.

As part of the agreement, Equity would construct the offices in three phases. Each phase has a deadline. If Equity missed a deadline, then the city would withhold a portion of the TIF money. The first deadline was scheduled for January 2009.

Equity already renovated existing office space on the property, yet many of the tenants left. 

Given the lost leases in the existing building, Equity doubted tenants would be attracted to a new facility. Faced with the choice of not receiving their TIF money or investing in a new building without tenants, Equity chose to miss the deadline and not receive their TIF money, company representative Alison Lies said.

"Essentially they do not get paid for improvements they made to the property," Hansley said. "As soon as they meet a deadline the payments start."

Believing that the economy will improve and offices will be built in the future, the council agreed to give Equity a break and amend the agreement. Under the new amendment, the first deadline would be waived.

Pickerington would not collect income tax from an office building without tenants, Hansley said.

"If they build it and it sets empty, it has accomplished nothing," Wisniewski said.

Councilman Jeff Fix cast the lone dissenting vote, stating that the poor economy effects many businesses and the city, but everyone is still expected to "pay the piper."  Furthermore, Equity only assumes they would be unable to find a tenant, he said.

"Once (the office facility) is built it will be more likely to be leased than when it is empty ground," Fix said.

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