As Delaware County continues to grow, the U.S. Route 23 corridor figures to take center stage in that development in the years to come. As such, interest in the corridor’s future has also grown, and during a work session Monday, Delaware City Council listened to the findings of a year-long study on the corridor, conducted by Columbus-based MKSK and initiated by One Delaware, formerly known as Delaware NOW.
Funding for the study came largely from Delaware County and the Delaware Finance Authority, which provided $50,000 and $25,000, respectively, to finance the project. The remainder of the funding was provided by private investors who have an interest in the corridor.
“The study provides a comprehensive look at the U.S. 23 corridor, both as a major transportation facility, critical to the movement of goods and services throughout Delaware County, and as a major factor in development,” City Manager Tom Homan told council ahead of the work session.
Bob Lamb, economic development director for Delaware County, opened the presentation by offering a brief summary of why the study was conducted.
“This is a project that we’ve undertaken for the past year in partnership with both the private and public sectors,” Lamb said. “It’s a unique approach to looking at the corridor and one in which we are now looking to use in other locations throughout the county, because we believe that working together with our private sector, partners with the landowners and businesses, have really helped to develop a plan that will open the door for new endeavors that can bring new commercial development to the community.”
Lamb went on to say, “With the study, we think there are about five endeavors that we believe will better position the corridor for economic success going forward, as well as improve the transportation nature of (route) 23. Because, at the end of the day, this is a critical corridor for the county and many of our communities.”
Chris Hermann, a principal with MKSK, cited the continued growth of Delaware County and its “outpaced infrastructure” as reasons why there was considerable interest in the study. However, he said one of the biggest motivators in the study is “missed opportunities” for the corridor.
“There have been some major companies, employers, and businesses that looked to locate in central Ohio,” Hermann told council. “There are groups like Columbus 2020 and Jobs Ohio that help focus and do site selections for companies doing national searches … Delaware pretty much got passed. It didn’t even get past the first cut.”
Hermann said the U.S. 23 corridor has sites that should be interesting to those national companies, and the general consensus has been a question of why the area can’t get further consideration from those companies.
In talking with various stakeholders around the county, including the townships, county staff, and the school districts, MKSK highlighted seven emerging themes. Among them were simplifying the development process and reserving U.S. 23 frontage for commercial and employment-based uses. Other takeaways included better site access to land along U.S. 23, balanced land use between residential and commercial, and not forgetting I-71 and U.S. routes 36 and 42 as important pieces to the corridor.
Analytics in the study showed that only 67% of the U.S. 23 corridor, from the southern tip of Delaware down to the county line, has been developed. Hermann said there are still 12,000 acres of land within the area that haven’t been developed. However, he went on to say more than 9,000 acres of the remaining undeveloped land is predicted to be for residential use, which he said points to the need for reconsideration of balancing land uses.
According to the study, traffic congestion, limited interstate access, limited connectivity, a mismatch in jobs and housing, and fragmented economic development efforts that don’t have the entire corridor in mind are among the many constraints the corridor is currently faced with.
To help change the perception of the corridor, the study made three observations: create a streetscape palette and brand to provide the U.S. 23 corridor with a unified identity; change the regional perception of the U.S. 23 corridor by creating a place along it; and make it a destination as much as a through route.
At the end of the presentation, Hermann highlighted five “next steps” that need to be taken in order to get the ball rolling. Those steps are creating a zoning overlay for the corridor, traffic improvements, producing economic development incentives, marketing a unified business corridor along U.S. 23, and crafting a “community communication toolkit” that will help the communities understand why the corridor’s future, or lack thereof, is important to them.
To learn more about the study and what it has proposed, access the full presentation by visiting the city council page at www.delawareohio.net and clicking the agenda link.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.