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The right plan for Kingsdale?

Continental has done excellent work in other communities as evidenced by this photo from their web site. Unfortunately, the proposal they made for Kingsdale does not include the pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined streets with on-street parking, widened sidewalks, or areas for street-side cafes shown here.

by Sue Grant

[UAPA collaborated with Sue Grant to create and publish this story. Sue is a landscape architect, OSU grad and UA resident and has been doing her homework on Kingsdale.]

On January 5, 2009 the new plan for the Kingsdale Regency property was presented at the Board of Zoning and Planning meeting. There were only a handful of community members in the audience. It has been a year since the last plan was unveiled. And the plan before that? Who remembers? Talk about this property has gone on and on for so long that we are all getting tired of hearing about it. We are also getting tired of looking at it, too. And we are tired of the diminishing services that it is providing.

A pivotal point for Kingsdale

More importantly, we are now at a point at which we have never been before – a pivotal one in which we could make the difference between having just ‘something’ happen, and making something really spectacular happen. But it will take more than just a handful of people to make that a reality, more than just a handful to make it so that this is the last time we have to hear about what it is ‘going’ to be, more than just a handful to ensure that instead, in the coming years, we hear about its success.

A talented developer offers less at Kingsdale than for other communities

Make your voice heard at the Kingsdale BZAP meeting

Some very big decisions will be made soon that will impact UA and Kingsdale for many years to come. The UA Board of Zoning & Planning (BZAP) wants to hear from all citizens about Continental's Kingsdale proposal:

Special Board of Zoning & Planning for Kingsdale, Monday, February 2, 2009, 7:00 p.m., Council Chamber. This meeting will be open for public comment.

A very talented developer has come to the table to play the game of turning this crucial piece of land into something – the question is what. Although its roots are local in the Columbus area and they do work here, Continental Real Estate Companies’ expertise has been far reaching in its impact on numerous small and large communities across the country.

Continental Real Estate Companies is no normal developer. They are good and they are creative. This is evidenced on their website. The character of some of their projects is people-oriented, with tree-lined streets, wide sidewalks with sidewalk cafes, and town squares. Frank Kass, of Continental, was even voted a #1 business owner in Pittsburgh with his innovative Waterfront development in Pittsburgh years ago, at a time when others said this unique project could not be done. Upper Arlington is indeed fortunate to have them interested in Kingsdale.

So why, then, is the current proposal for Kingsdale just another version of what currently exists there: another retail strip mall? It is because, as Frank Kass put it in his presentation of the plan on January 5, this plan is all about Giant Eagle and its parking; it is the big gorilla in the room. He even admitted that it isn’t about walking or strolling. The ‘pedestrian experience’ will be walking from your car in a parking lot, to the store, then back to the your car.

Continental has also done basic strip malls in other communities as seen here in 'The Streets of Chester' in New Jersey. A local resident says of this development: "The Streets of Chester? There isn't a street in it! Just a sea of parking and a regular sidewalk at the storefront. I hate it. There is nothing 'Chester'-like- about it.".

Continental Real Estate Companies does this type of development, too, as is evidenced on the photo on the left.

Furthermore, the plan is not about creating a ‘core’ for our UA apple. Rather it is a short-sighted fix to satisfy a grocery store and one that does a poor job of balancing short- and long-term needs for our community. Giant Eagle is a valuable asset and there is probably not a resident in Upper Arlington who has not shopped there. And granted, the 40-year lease they hold is fairly powerful. Still, they are very profitable in their current location – and so could just stay put. But they want to move and they want to grow into 105,000sf store with a very large parking lot - a size that is both imposing on the site and also out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood. Even though we are grateful to have a grocery store in our town, should we be letting them call the shots on this very important piece of land in our community?

Isn’t there a middle ground that could be found between the Master Plan’s goals and objectives for the Kingsdale property – and the development that is being proposed? Granted, we don’t always get what we want when we want it, but this plan has no hint of a long-range vision.

The right plan for a land-locked community?

A close look at the proposed plan reveals that it has two halves: the new Giant Eagle half on the east side of the property, along Northwest Boulevard, and a retail strip mall on the west half of the property, along Tremont, with a couple of possible office buildings along Zollinger. As one BZAP member put it – the plan is of buildings “on a sea of gray.” The development that has been proposed on both of these halves could be plopped down in any community – looking no different than many strip malls in Hilliard or on Sawmill - the same type of development that we have watched, at Kingsdale and Lane Avenue, rise and fall like a roller coaster over the years and so will again. Is this the fate of the center of our small, land-locked community? Is this what we want to hand down to future generations?

There are many differing opinions on what ‘should’ be done at Kingsdale. Some people in UA are passionate about their views. Most just want something done. Those that are passionate just keep coming out from their corners to battle it out. The rest would probably have an opinion if they had the time or energy to be informed about the real details. But one thing is for sure – none of us are going to get anything that we are satisfied with if we don’t work together. So, what is needed? Could there be a compromise between the Master Plan and the strip mall that is being offered? What kind of leverage do we have, as a community, to have that happen?

An alternate proposal – a compromise

As residents, we could request a compromise. A compromise that allows Giant Eagle to move and enlarge and our community to still get its ‘core’ on the other half of the site. Although this space is tight, the framework for a town core could be created that would consider the long-term vision of the entire Kingsdale triangle, just as the Master Plan recommends. If the Macy’s property ever becomes available, it could expand this ‘core’ area.

The developer that has come to the table is capable of playing this game. But they have to be willing and the ‘numbers’ have to work – and the only way to do that is with a commitment from our community. If we can convince the developer to do this – then we have to let them, the experts, tell us what they need from us. In other successful projects the community has been a partner and support. For the financial part of that, we could heed the sage advice on the Upper Arlington Community Improvement Corporation website, which explains one way to do this: called Tax Increment Financing (TIF), it is one of several solutions that doesn’t raise taxes. The other part of the commitment is setting the expectation that it is possible to have a higher-caliber solution at Kingsdale in lieu of a typical strip mall – and then having the passion to support the developer to do it.

In order to accept ‘the gorilla,’ our community should except no less than a town center on the remainder of the land. A town center that reflects the charm and character of our community, just as the zoning and Master Plan support having:

  • a pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined grid of streets forming ‘city blocks’,
  • on-street parking, and additional parking ‘hidden’ in parking garages,
  • widened sidewalks,
  • areas for street-side cafes,
  • a ‘town green’
  • buildings that look like separate shops and stores, just like in a real downtown, and reflect the look of ‘Old Arlington’ – tailoring this project to Upper Arlington’s history and heritage

Albeit this grid of streets would be few to begin with while the remainder of the site remains big-box retail, but what ever is built on Kingsdale now should have in mind the long-term. Office space should be integrated into the retail buildings by making some of them multi-story nearer the center or west side of the site, where taller buildings are already situated.

Establishing this grid pattern of streets would allow the fabric, or structure, of the site to remain if, in the future, the uses of the buildings change, including possibly the removal and replacement of retail buildings that have gone ‘dark’ with taller, multi-use buildings, more in line with what the final build out of the Master Plan calls for, and what the market will bear. This would allow for the intensity of land use to increase over time.

Using green design practices

Because the zoning and Master Plan call for surface lots to be minimized, parking garage locations could be planned for, if not built, although it would seem impossible to have a successful, higher-density plan without them.

Here's another development example from Continental's web site, showing how green space can improve a retail and office center. Developments like this would be more consistent with the City's Master Plan, and Continental has shown it is capable partnering with communities to design and build them.

In addition, a ‘town green’ should be incorporated into the design, and be large enough to create a real sense of place for the community to gather for events, or to be used by residents, shoppers, or office workers for strolling or people watching. The perimeter uses of the ‘green’ should be the tree-lined streets and retail.

Also, because there is a great benefit to Giant Eagle in allowing this move – in turn, they can give the ‘greenest’ parking lot and landscaping currently possible – using the best up-to-date practices of ‘green’ design in its parking lot and in the landscaping surrounding its building – and eliminating the landscaping variances it has asked for. Also, Giant Eagle should loosen the hold they have on the type of development that can happen on this land and allow a larger number of restaurants and other retail shops that would reflect what the market would bear to make this development a success and possibly attract other investors, something that could only serve to bring Giant Eagle more business as well.

Long term site stability and thinking beyond our own generation

Realizing that this is a tall order for this piece of land, it is not only possible but also important to consider, as it reflects the ideas that this community has worked hard to communicate over many years.

A third example of Continental's development work showing street-level parking, fountains and places for gathering and people-watching. None of this is part of Continental's proposal for Kingsdale.

If this would benefit only the community and not the developer, it wouldn’t be worth considering, in which case it might be better to wait until an economic climate that would support it. But, the developer must know that they, as well, could benefit beyond what their recent proposal presents. The goals and objectives outlined in the Master Plan and reflected in the zoning for this important piece of land would have benefits beyond our own generation, both for long-term stability and financial reasons, not to mention the quality-of-life benefit to the entire community.

The whole argument to do this type of development can be taken from the pages of Upper Arlington’s CIC website. It states,

“Vibrant cities that continually attract new residents and businesses do so because they are always adapting and improving.”

Realizing that this planning process is complex beyond measure – the individual members on BZAP and Council, our city’s staff, UACIC, Continental Real Estate Companies, and Giant Eagle – are all very capable and up to it. The product that our community and this innovative developer could create, together, could not only be a benefit to all – but also inspiring.

The community has to show up to help make it possible, however.

Come to the BZAP meeting this Monday at 7pm and share specific suggestions. Do you want a town square? Why is that important to you? Do you want a downtown feel? Why is that important to you? Our community leaders need you to speak up and say what you want.....

Special Board of Zoning & Planning for Kingsdale, Monday, February 2, 2009, 7:00 p.m., Council Chamber. This meeting will be open for public comment.

Sue is a landscape architect, OSU grad and long-time UA resident and has been doing her homework on Kingsdale. Her thorough shoe leather research and visioning work lead her to create this compromise proposal for Kingsdale. Sue also wrote an excellent Letter to the Editor published this week in UA News.

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