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Published: Thursday, 2/9/2006

Council to review Westgate rezoning

BY TOM TROY AND CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Toledo City Council will consider new zoning rules to give the Westgate area more of an "urban village" feel, but it won't take up Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's call for a six-month moratorium on development there, council President Rob Ludeman said yesterday.

"I think the word moratorium sends a bad message to the community," Mr. Ludeman said.

A proposed resolution the council president circulated to his council colleagues last night instructs the plan commission to create an "urban village redevelopment overlay" in the Secor Road-Central Avenue area, which is home to a commercial district adjacent to a residential neighborhood.

An urban village would require rear-parking only, large store windows facing public sidewalks, a public street grid, and narrow drive lanes.

By contrast, typical shopping centers involve large parking lots in front of stores, drive-throughs around restaurants and banks, and wide setbacks from streets. Shoppers typically don't walk from store to store as if on an old-fashioned main street.

Mr. Ludeman said the Toledo Plan Commission would hold hearings and then recommend to council a detailed plan with the new zoning rules for the area.

He said the boundaries haven't been determined, but the area, known as an overlay district, would not include the Westgate Village Shopping Center, where controversy surrounds plans to build a Costco store and redevelop the shopping center.

The primary target for the overlay appears to be the northwest quadrant of the busy Secor-Central area.

Mr. Finkbeiner proposed the moratorium and the new zoning Monday after an unsuccessful effort to persuade the owners of the shopping center to turn the planned $30 million Costco development into an urban village.

Westgate owner Liz Holland, who also owns some of the parcels across Central that would be under the new rules, said the idea of an urban village is good.

But she said various plans to remodel buildings, such as providing Sears with a new building, might be stymied by the new rules.

Those include creating grids of streets to give the area a neighborhood feel.

Ms. Holland also mentioned the empty Food Town store and vacant Showcase Cinemas.

Under stricter urban-village rules, those buildings might have trouble reopening as a grocery store or a movie complex, she said.

"What concerns me from a more global aspect is part of our goal in bringing in Costco was to provide a catalyst for the redevelopment of the whole Westgate area," Ms. Holland said. "It would prevent someone from going in and doing some significant renovations and reusing the Food Town building. They'd have to build streets, but the structure already sits there. How do you reuse the Food Town building or does it simply not get reused?

"It's a question of what the community is willing to live with in the foreseeable term in exchange for the possibility of something better down the road," she said.

She said imposing stricter rules in pursuit of a better village atmosphere is a risk.

Getting the owners of the parcels across from the Westgate Village Shopping Center to cooperate might be difficult under stricter rules, she said, leaving the possibility that development would freeze there.

The Costco plan, which sparked a long-running battle over the future of the Westgate area, goes before the plan commission for a vote today.

Mr. Finkbeiner, backed by the group Westgate Neighbors, has demanded fewer drive-through lanes, wider sidewalks, and a more prominent public space, among other things, as part of the 22-acre Costco site design.

District 5 Councilman Ellen Grachek said she opposes the moratorium and wants to make sure all the property owners, as well as the neighbors, are heard from in creating new zoning rules.

"I have a lot of concerns about the urban village concept," Ms. Grachek said. "The overlay district calls for 'new urbanist' principles. It is possible to have good development that isn't 'new urbanist?'‚óŹ"

The Costco development includes a city incentive package that provides for property tax abatement, a $300,000 payment from the city to the Washington Local School District, up to $500,000 from the city for infrastructure improvements, and a $750,000 Clean Ohio Fund grant.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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