Prairie residents discuss Town center

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An open-door policy was in effect at Prairies Township’s Town Hall on Aug. 8. Representatives from the Big Darby Accord and the Town Center Plan were on hand to address questions and concerns from residents during the two hour focus group session.

The Town Center, which is a portion of the Big Darby Implementation Plan, is planned for the area south of the Darby Creek Drive and West Broad Street intersection. It will continue north into Brown Township.

Jim Hartzler, a consultant brought on board by Prairie Township officials, offered a half-hour presentation regarding the current plans for the Town Center initiative, while also touching on the proposed future of the four-jurisdiction project.

Aside from bringing the public up to speed with the development of the new center, Big Darby Accord workers also sought out township residents interested in assisting with the brainstorming of the new complex.

“We are interested in people who have a personal axe to grind,” Hartzler said at one point. Seven members of the general public will be selected by an Accord committee over the course of the next few months in order to offer input from the Center’s surrounding communities.

“If you have concerns about the Town Center we want to hear them,” Hartzler remarked. “We would like to have your ideas crafted into the final plan.”

A stack of blue sheets requesting resident insight lay at the entrance to the meeting, and while some of the nearly forty residents in attendance chose to voice their opinions openly at the sitting, others chose to instead list and silently hand over their concerns.

The sheet asks outright whether the resident or landowner supports the Town Center Plan, and also asks for suggestions on its final design.

“People were pretty vocal,” Prairie Trustee Doug Stormont related. “But everything is rolling along now and going well.”

The Darby Accord itself requires that the public, collectively known as the “stakeholders,” offer input and assist in recruiting a consulting team who will eventually design the Town Center master plan.

The master plan, which intends to create “a highly desirable mixed-use area that includes a full range of residential, retail, office and public use spaces” including parks and open areas around the neighborhood, is currently being jointly pursued and is expected to take about a year to complete. Once the framework has been laid out, construction and development of the new project can begin in the fall of 2008.

Jurisdictions signed on to the initiative include the townships of Prairie, Brown, Washington, Pleasant, Franklin County, and the city of Columbus.

Four jurisdictions are still holding out on the plans, including Hilliard, Grove City, Norwich Township and the Village of Harrisburg. Many cite expansion concerns as the core reason behind the other jurisdictions’ reluctance to join the effort.

The audience, which was comprised of residents representing Prairie Township as well as other jurisdictions, expressed hesitance about the economic longevity of the Town Center Plan.

Fears of a City Center-esque development in their hometowns caused a number of attendees to address issues like unforeseen traffic patterns and the level of expertise behind the planning.

Nine other focus group meetings have been held over the past week alone.

“It’s going to be a long haul and a lot of hard work for the year,” Prairie Township Administrator Tracy Hatmaker commented. “But bringing in public opinion early will certainly pay off in the end.”

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