To Inform, Provoke, Dispel, and Inspire—Ideas and actions for life in Worthington, Ohio
Ideas, Actions, People, and Commentary in the City of Worthington

UMCH, What’s Next? (Part I): Backdrop—Lifestyles buys, $5.2 million discounted contract price

It’s been over eight years that the citizens of Worthington have labored to achieve a positive, community-centered outcome at UMCH.  That’s 3,000+ days of meetings, charrettes, city plans, proposals, letters, surveys, memos, petitions, more meetings, more letters, another proposal, and, throughout, the official word that “no we can’t” and the come-and-go conduct of Lifestyles.

Seeking a voice, WARD formed.  Wanting respect, Keep Worthington Beautiful (Issue 38) passed.  Offering a vision, Project Community Park emerged.  And yet, still, nothing.  Irresolution prevails.

To what can we compare this endurance test, this sustained effort by the public to be truly heard?  To see responsive action?  A 10K?  No, too easy.  A marathon?  Perhaps.  But even a basic marathon, usually run in four hours or less, doesn’t get at the spiritual fortitude required for an eight year public policy dispute, the outcome of which will profoundly affect the character of the community we love and call home.  So (with only the slightest suggestion of humor), how about comparing this ongoing citizens’ effort to something truly arduous, like the Jungle Ultra marathon, or the Spartathalon, or, simply, the H.U.R.T. 100 (https://www.outsideonline.com/1856916/9-toughest-ultramarathons)?  Yes, these trials do seem closer to the mark, for those in the trenches, here in Worthington.

One of the essentials of long-distance running  is knowing how to pace one’s self, to conserve one’s energy, so that it’s there when you need it most.  It’s important to stay centered in one’s core, the heart beat of one’s purpose, the source of one’s strength.  This helps to avoid distractions, to not get tripped up, to avoid dissipation through foolish exertion.  To focus on what is important, and to ignore what is chatter.  To look ahead, breathing steadily.

By analogy, what is actually important at UMCH right now?  The recent demolitions?  No.  This is chatter.  The buildings, weather-beaten and asbestos-laden, needed to come down, whatever the eventual outcome on the land.  Likely, the demos are an attempt by LC to project confidence, to create an illusion that their apartment-heavy project is inevitable.  Which it’s not.  Current zoning (Special-1) on the bulk of the property doesn’t allow for any apartments.  None.  And the burden of proof, that the public interest is being served, rests with those seeking to change long-established zoning.  How Lifestyles plans to square this circle, following their most recent 700+ unit proposal, following their earlier 500+ unit proposal, remains to be seen.  Perhaps they think 300 is the magic number?  Or 200?  We’ll see.

On the other hand, the recent acquisition of the property by Lifestyles, and the price paid for the property, are of real import.  On January 20, 2021, Lifestyle Communities (through a subsidiary, Worthington Campus LLC), purchased the 37+ acres of land from the United Methodist Children’s Home.  This is a positive development for us (the residents and the city) because it simplifies the lines of communication, establishes accountability, and clarifies decision-making by all parties.  It brings resolution closer.

Further, it now appears likely that LC paid just $5.2 million to UMCH, less than half of the previous valuation (≈ $12.9 million) cited on the County Auditor’s website (for tax purposes).  This reduced price was bad for UMCH (for unknown reasons the church’s social service agency had bound itself in a long-term contract with LC, thus constraining its options), but this lower valuation is good news for Worthington residents in the event that the land is one day offered for sale to the city.

This $5.2 million figure, the “purchase contract” price, has become public knowledge through an audio recording of a public meeting of the Franklin County Auditor’s Board of Revisions.*  The meeting (10/19/20) took place when UMCH and Lifestyles appealed to the Board for a reduced valuation of the UMCH property (from $12.9 million) in order to reduce their existing and anticipated taxes.  At the heart of their appeal was the fact that there was a purchase contract in place (apparently dating from 2017) for $6.0 million (with an $800,000 rezoning contingency).  The details of how the $5.2 million purchase contract price was arrived at are discussed** in this recording of the Auditor’s Board of Revisions meeting (case #19-832, re parcel # 100-006774-00, 10/19/20): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1uNY1dCbYtMDzJaN-N5R3G2Qwn6e2tqmq/view?usp=drivesdk

Highlights from the recording, identified by timeline location, include:

  • 2:41-4:05 — Discussion of how LC is in contract to purchase UMCH for $200,000 per “developable acre” ($6.0 million total), and that it is anticipated that the closing will take place “yet this year, in December [2020], probably.”
  • 11:47-13:56 — Discussion of how LC obtained an $800,000 price discount (from $6.0 to $5.2 million) from UMCH by waiving the rezoning contingency, because “they [UMCH] just didn’t have the appetite for what was probably going to be a prolonged rezoning battle.” 
  • 22:53-23:36; Third party appraiser discusses their valuation of the property based on comparables.

So, in closing, as the public continues on this long journey, an ultra-marathon of sorts, I think we can take heart in the fact that we now have 1) a single entity (LC) with which to engage, and 2) a clearer, more favorable sense of the financial side of things in the event that the property becomes available for purchase by the city.  To all the tired yet happy warriors, look!—the finish line is there, in the distance.

Coming soon—UMCH, What’s Next? (Part II): What the residents are saying

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* “The Franklin County Board of Revision (BOR) hears complaints on the market value of your property and can adjust the value based on presented evidence.”

https://www.franklincountyauditor.com/real-estate/board-of-revision

** The parties taking part in this BOR meeting are identified at the beginning of the recording and, as best I can discern through the audio recording, the participants are (my apologies if I got the spelling or affiliation wrong for any of these persons):

Mark Gillis, w/ County Treasurer office

Kimball Strader (sp?), w/ County Auditor

Amy Riley (sp?), w/ County Commissioners

Bo Brownlee, on behalf of LC

Melissa Spirit, w/ the Robert Weiler Co., appraiser

Matthew Zeiger, on behalf of UMCH (property owner)

Michelle Wolfe, representing Worthington City Schools (?)

The primary voices in the citations above are, as best I can discern, Matthew Zeiger, Bo Brownlee, and Melissa Spirit.

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David Robinson

David Robinson lives in Worthington with his wife, Lorraine, and their three children who attend Otterbein University and Colonial Hills Elementary. David is President and co-owner of Marcy Adhesives, Inc., a local manufacturing company. David has served on Worthington City Council since January, 2018, and is deeply committed to 1) advancing resident-centered policies, 2) supporting responsible development that enhances our unique historic character, 3) endorsing environmentally sustainable practices for both residents and city operations, 4) promoting the safety and well-being of all residents, and 5) preserving the family-friendly nature of our neighborhoods.