Officials want to revitalize uptown Westerville, but business owners worry about parking

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WESTERVILLE, OH (WCMH) — Uptown Westerville could see some major road construction in the next two years.

At issue is enhancing the distinct historic uptown area, making it more pedestrian and business friendly, while at the same time possibly losing some precious on-street parking.

With present designs there are an A, B, and C plan. City officials said these plans are just ideas at this point in how to revamp a four-block area uptown.

Plan A would repave State Street, rebuild underground utilities and widen the sidewalk on each side by two feet, allowing 73 parking spaces.

Plan B would do the same construction and sidewalks, but with bump-outs and 62 parking spaces.

Plan C would do the same construction, but widen the sidewalks by seven feet on each side, narrowing the roadway and take away all on-street parking for two blocks.

City officials say widening the sidewalks to seven feet could add space for outdoor seating, retail space and a wider pedestrian walkway, but depending on what city council decides in the next two years, 30 on-street parking spaces could go away.

“Parking has always been an issue for us here,” said Jim Downing, owner of Buckeye BrewCraft. His business is in the area where parking could disappear. He said quite often clients need to carry heavy merchandise out of his store.

“Something like these 50 to 55 lb. bags, you are not going to want to haul them down the street to your car, you need to get it out to the street and into a car,” Downing said.

Across State Street another merchant said she likes the middle-of-the-road concept, plan B.

“I think it is important that a lot of these businesses are family-owned and operated, so it is good for the whole community in general,” said Amish Originals Furniture Company Co-owner Beth Allen.

The concept to widen the sidewalks seven feet and take away parking spaces has fired up a heated discussion. And the city officials said they encourage the feedback, either in public meetings or surveys.

“This was just a suggestion, what if we took away all on street parking for these two blocks out of the four and we have really wide sidewalks, what would that do? It was just a question so we put in on paper to get feedback,” said Kimberly Sharp, Deputy Director of Planning for the City of Westerville.

Downing said he is doing their own survey asking customers whether they walked or drove here and where they parked.

Debbie Bennati is the president of the Westerville Uptown Merchant’s Association. She said merchants are concerned about several issues.

Number one is safety.

“The street driving surface will be 4 feet narrower. That is the size of the road between Park and Walnut,” Bennati said. “A fire truck and emergency squad have to make a turn several times a day from Main onto State.” It is often a difficult situation now with cars having to back up and meander out of the way,” she said.

But Sharp said the Fire Marshal and Chief have been in on all of the city planning and are onboard with the plans. She also said the city has added nearly two hundred extra park and walk spaces in lots off of State Street.

Bennati said another concern was the bump outs (curb extensions).

“One of the plans includes bump outs on the corners which we believe will not be safe for pedestrians in that situation.”

But Sharp contends bump outs make it safer for pedestrians and drivers.

“The impact on the businesses will be devastating. Uptown has really bloomed in the last 2 years. We had numerous restaurants under construction and buildings were being renovated for a two to three year period,” Bennati said.

“A survey of our customers in the last few days shows that over 80 percent of our customers do not even live in Westerville. They come from nearby suburbs, towns and even out of state,” she said.

Sharp said there is still plenty of opportunities for community input before council makes a decision and construction is not expected till 2018 or 2019.

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