WORTHINGTON - The Worthington Planning Commission, acting to keep an area near Lake Okabena from becoming heavily industrialized, recommended zoning changes to four properties surrounding Lake Street and the railroad during a Tuesday evening meeting.


The recommendations will go to the Worthington City Council for consideration.


“This all really goes back to when it was Campbell’s Soup over there,” said Jason Brisson, the city’s manager of planning and economic development, on Thursday morning. “We have a small staff, and we don’t have a lot of time to take on projects that don’t need to get done right now. In my opinion, these are just chunks and sections that had once been industrial and no one had bothered to change them.”


Property bounded by the railroad, South Lake Street, Second Avenue and Eighth Street, currently a mix of B-2 (central business) and M-2 (general manufacturing) zones, would go to strictly B-2 under the first of the four commission recommendations.


Listed as the top consideration under each of the four was the following paragraph: “It is the legislative purpose of the City Code title to protect the land, air, water, natural resources and environment of this city, to encourage their use in a socially and economically desirable manner to achieve excellence and originality of design in a future development, and to provide a mechanism by which the city may carry out a city land use policy.” Brisson addressed that purpose as it relates to the properties, which were each the subject of individual public hearings on Tuesday.


“You could put an asphalt plant … or you name it, down there, 70 feet in front of Lake Okabena,” Brisson said. “One fear is it was going to smell like a road construction project downtown all summer long.”


Regarding property bounded by South Lake Street, Sherwood Street and the railroad, extending approximately 1,350 feet northeast from South Lake Street, the recommended zoning change is from M-2 to B-3 (general business).


“Businesses there will be able to continue, but if and when they decide they’re going to sell … the property use would have to be permitted in the B-3,” Brisson said. “We’d like to see a vision of this area that’s more closely aligned with a general commercial rather than industrial.


“Because of the proximity to the rail line and because of the historical use of that property, the city’s comprehensive plan had tagged it for industrial,” Brisson added. “What I saw happening … an asphalt plant is a prime industrial land use. I was told that the folks that have the concrete plant down there were exploring the possibility of selling it … to have it as an asphalt plant. The council thought this would have negative effects on the downtown area.”

Property bounded by the railroad, Eighth Street, Second Avenue and 10th Street is recommended for a zoning change of B-3 to B-2. B-2 and B-3 zones differ largely for their setback and indemnity requirements, Brisson noted.


“The City Code states that the purpose of the B-3 district is to provide allocation for uses that are appropriate to thoroughfare locations, are largely dependent on thoroughfare traffic and are not suitable within other business districts,” explains a “considerations” item listed on the planning commission’s packet for that specific property’s public hearing. “The City Code states that the B-2 - Central Business district is intended to preserve and enhance the Central Business District as the prime center for office and government employment, shopping and cultural activities. …”


The final property considered Tuesday is bounded by South Lake Street, Sherwood Street and the railroad, extending approximately 570 northeast from the railroad. That property would change in zone from B-3 to R-4 (medium density residential).


The recommendations by the commission, which concurred with those of city staff, help make the area more amenable to a city plan to eventually redevelop the area surrounding Ehlers Park and construct a building - which would overlook Lake Okabena - it would then lease to a restaurant operator. That plan was part of the local option sales tax proposal approved by city voters last month.

“I think the long-term goal … is that we’d like to phase out some of the industrial stuff across the railroad and look at some commercial development down the road - kind of a like a business- to-business sort of thing,” Brisson said.