The Community Speaks: Pick./Violet Development Series Pt. 1

A couple enjoys a late day bike ride at Pickerington Ponds Metro Park. Residents want the city to build more bike paths.

July 22, 2021

The city of Pickerington and the Pickerington Local School District (PLSD) recently completed public opinion studies, and Violet Township is currently conducting one too. Each government intends to use their study results to guide future decisions.

The City of Pickerington’s Comprehensive Development Plan:

Most of the nearly 1,000 people who participated in the Pickerington study said they were happy with the community, but they did not want any more new houses. Instead, they would like more trails, natural areas and parks.

They also felt a need for sit-down restaurants and boutiques, especially if located in a vibrant, walkable Olde Pickerington Village.

They wanted less traffic congestion and more recreation facilities.

Taking all this feedback into consideration, the city created a set of guidelines for future development called, “Comprehensive Plan 2021” which the council approved on June 15.

The Plan included several ideas for livening up Olde Pickerington Village such as restoring historic buildings, adding decorative crosswalks, converting alleys into “pedestrian promenades” and providing a bike path connecting the library, parks and nearby neighborhoods.

The Mayflower Creamery building has a new life as the home of Romeo’s Pizza & Combustion Brewery. Residents want more of the historic Olde Pickerington Village renovated into restaurants and boutiques.

To lessen congestion, the Plan suggests that the city continue monitoring traffic signals during peak hours and possibly limit curb cuts.

“When properties along a main road, State Route 256 for example, develop or redevelop it is important to design how that development accesses the main road,” said Dave Gulden, Pickerington economic development director. “When multiple properties share access to the main road (instead of each having their own access) it cuts down on intersections, traffic lights, and turning movements that can negatively affect traffic.  Access management is crucial to keeping traffic flowing efficiently.”

The Comprehensive Plan does not include parks, playing fields or conservation land.

“This plan is a high-level vision that doesn’t get into specifics like the city’s parks and recreation program,” Gulden said.  “Coyote Run was included because of its large scale and truly unique features in the region, and the idea of connecting Pickerington Ponds metro park to Coyote Run capitalizes on the city’s natural areas.” 

Coyote Run is a private nature preserve located south of Pickerington Central High School and stretching from Hill Road to Allen Road.

Pickerington Schools and Taxes:

When the city asked residents why they moved to Pickerington, the top answer was “the schools”.  With nationally recognized marching bands, champion sports teams and a strong academic record, the district definitely draws families. (Great rates eight out of the twelve PLSD schools as “above average”.)

New housing developments will bring an additional 1,000 students into the PLSD within the next five years.

However, in Ohio, most of the burden for funding education falls upon the school districts themselves.  As a result, as more people move to Pickerington for the schools, the harder it becomes for the schools to maintain their high-performance levels. 

For the district, the state covers about half of the operating costs and there is a 1% PLSD income tax.  However, for the remainder of the day-to-day expenses including teachers, buses, electricity, books, computers, etc., the schools must rely on property taxes. When buildings become overcrowded, the district must also ask voters to approve bond issues that will again raise the property taxes.

Knowing this, the PLSD administration was not surprised when their own survey found that the number one complaint residents had against the district was property taxes.

The survey also revealed that public opinion of the district is currently low.

“I’m just going to be blunt – this community is not being kind to us right now,” said school board member Cathy Olshefski.

After a rocky year riddled with COVID complications and racial tension, residents grew unhappy. Two bond issues, which would have built a third junior high, more high school classrooms and sports facilities, were both voted down despite three Pickerington schools having already exceeded capacity.

Ridgeview Junior High is one of three schools within the PLSD which has exceeded capacity.

“The challenges we face are real,” Superintendent Chris Briggs said.  “We are still projected to have a thousand new students in the next five years and that’s not going away.  Part of the frustration we have is that people are still choosing our community because of the schools.”

As new houses are added to the district, the total amount that the schools collect remains the same although the amount each individual property owner pays is less.

In addition to the 1% school district income tax, city of Pickerington residents pay a 1% income tax. (Residents can receive up to 0.5% credit for taxes paid to other jurisdictions.)

“Pickerington is a community made up of mostly residential and retail land uses,” Gulden said. “To diversify land uses is to also diversify the tax base – if more commercial and industrial land uses come to the city, then income and property taxes from those uses can grow.”

The Comprehensive Plan calls for the expansion of the “Refugee Road Medical Corridor” which is the area near OhioHealth’s Pickerington Campus. 

OhioHealth Pickerington Medical Campus is the anchor for the city’s “Refugee Road Medical Corridor”.

“This corridor runs along Refugee Road from the western city limits to Woodstock Avenue, but it also generally refers to the concentration of medical uses that extend up Hill Road (State Route 256),” Gulden said.

Violet Township Comprehensive Plan:

Violet Township is currently in the “data analysis and feedback-gathering stage” of its own comprehensive plan, “Vision for Violet”.

Vision for Violet will “serve as a roadmap to guide future decision-making,” said Violet Township development director Robin Duffee. “A comprehensive plan typically addresses a wide range of topics such as land use, housing, transportation, parks and recreation, economic development, and conservation.”

To clarify, every resident of Ohio lives in a township.  A township is a division of a county.  For those people in the northeast portion of Fairfield County, the township where they live is Violet. 

If you live in Fairfield County and the city of Pickerington, you also live in the incorporated portion of Violet Township.  If you do not pay city taxes, then you live in the unincorporated portion of the township. When somebody says “they live in the township” they mean they live in the unincorporated portion of the township.

“While Pickerington does have planning jurisdiction over its own area, we expect Vision for Violet to generate complementary strategies to what the city of Pickerington has planned,” Duffee said. “Whether you live in the city or the township, we all want a healthy, vibrant community where we can all live, work, and play.”

The township invites community members to participate in three information-gathering activities on their Vision for Violet “Get Involved” website.  One is an interactive map where you place dots of different colors to indicate which locations in the township are great and which need improved.  The other activities are surveys – a written survey where you type your opinions and a visual preference survey where you choose your favorite picture.

“How do you envision the future of planned development?” one question asks. The five image choices are all homes, businesses, or combinations of the two.

“Attracting new businesses is important to diversify and increase the tax base of the township,” Duffee said, “as well as to provide residents with jobs that allow them to live and work right here in Violet Township.”

“A key concept of smart growth strategies is to concentrate development in certain areas, thereby preserving greater amounts of natural spaces elsewhere, rather than allow sprawl to gobble up greenspace piece by piece,” Duffee said. “The visual preference survey tries to gauge what type of development township residents would like to see in those certain areas that are most likely to develop.

“The written survey also has more open-ended questions where residents can provide more in-depth input. We certainly recognize that one of the township’s strengths is its unique natural features, and I would expect the final plan to reflect that residents feel the same way.”

Sycamore Park in Pickerington

What to expect within the next year:

“Comprehensive plans are long-term visions, so incremental projects are the name of the game,” Gulden said.   

Improvements may take years to complete, if elected officials decide to even pursue the projects at all. A comprehensive plan is more of a list of guidelines than a code.

“The plan does not commit city council to specific actions – instead general goals and flexibility are built into the plan as a way to provide an advisory document positioning the city for realistic achievements,” Gulden said.

Having said that, infrastructure projects, including enhancing the Olde Village parking lot and equipping it with electric vehicle charging stations have already happened.  In 2022, sidewalks will be added to Columbus Street.

As for the PLSD, the school board decided to not place another bond issue on the ballot until public opinion swings back into the district’s favor.  The district must also rethink its marketing strategy – half of the community said they were not even aware that there was a bond issue to build a new junior high.

Until a bond issue passes and new classrooms are built, the PLSD will rely on alternative measures including redistricting and hybrid learning. See “No Bond Issue – Schools Overcrowded”.

MS Consultants will be doing planning pop-ups for Vision for Violet on Thursday, July 29 from 4:00 to 7:00 at the Pickerington Farmers Market (89 North Center Street, Pickerington), and at the Pickerington Public Library Summer Reading Finale on Saturday, August 14 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Wigwam Event Center (10190 Blacklick-Eastern Road, Pickerington).

The MS team will be taking in-person feedback and providing information about the plan at those events. Additionally, residents can visit the plan website to take the surveys online and find information about those events and updates on the planning process.

Please watch for further installments of Pickerington Online’s Violet/Pickerington Development series in the upcoming weeks.  Next, we will learn more about Violet Residents for Responsible Development and their effort to place zoning law changes on the November ballot.