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Friday, Dec 19, 2014

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Ridges Advisory Committee hears land use suggestions


Members of The Ridges Advisory Committee received updates from The Ridges Master Plan Land Use and Existing Buildings Subcommittee chairs at the most recent July meeting, which convened in Baker University Center on Tuesday.

The meeting was the third of its kind since The Ridges Advisory Committee – a group of both Ohio University and Athens community members -- was charged by University President Roderick J. McDavis to provide feedback and advice to The Ridges Master Plan Committee. The master plan committee is responsible for drafting The Ridges Master Plan Update 2014 document, which will provide recommendations for future uses of the former Athens Lunatic Asylum, now known as The Ridges. Members from Schooley Caldwell Associates and MKSK firms were also present at the meeting and provided a status report of their work to Advisory Committee members.

Existing Buildings

Ben Stuart, chair of the Existing Buildings subcommittee, reported to the Advisory Committee that his team had created a document providing guidance on projects necessary to stabilize several buildings at The Ridges during the master plan document planning process. Stuart said the portions of The Ridges specifically mentioned are Buildings 2, 3, 4 and 5 (which make up part of the main Kirkbride structure , but the document also allows for repairs and work to "other buildings as deemed critical."

The plan, explained Stuart, includes short-term and long-term suggestions for roofing, decking, repairs to gutters and downspouts, patch work and stabilization efforts to keep animals out and protect the buildings from weather and the environment.

Stuart said his committee members are hopeful to have the document finalized soon so that any construction may take place before winter.

Land Uses

A number of discussions, tours and "tromps" around the property have given the Land Uses subcommittee a "better sense of The Ridges," Subcommittee Chair Donna Goss said during her presentation to the Advisory Committee.

Goss heads up the team of University and Athens community members tasked with evaluating current and possible future uses of the approximately 700 acres of land located at The Ridges. Their charge does not include assessing the existing buildings, she pointed out.

The team reviewed the planning principles and goals identified in plans from 2001 and the University’s 2006 Master Plan and felt some points are still applicable, said Goss. The subcommittee has discussed mixed use development of the land, breaking the available acreage into sectors to support different activities and focuses. Goss said members of her team felt it was important to preserve the original Kirkbride intent, which is to provide a serene, pastoral environment. Protecting the Land Lab located at The Ridges is also imperative, Goss said, as some research projects there have been under study for 50 years.

Examples of possible land uses suggested by the group include:

  • Commercial development (a 13-acre parcel located near The Summit at Coates Run apartment complex is graded and ready for development)
  • Mixed-use development, such as ground-lease opportunities or an eco-village
  • Additional learning lab uses for research of alternative energy

Goss pointed out residential development would provide activity 24 hours a day at The Ridges, whereas currently the spaces are primarily inhabited during normal business hours and left unused overnight or on the weekends. Goss also mentioned the importance of campus connectivity during her presentation, using the hillside near the roundabout at Route 682 and Richland Avenue as an example.

"If you had a pathway that was clear and connected, it would invite people to come and experience The Ridges," she said.

Advisory Committee member Pam Callahan said community access to the lands at The Ridges was a key element she would like the Land Use subcommittee to consider. The available recreation opportunities at The Ridges are sometimes the first introduction OHIO students have to outdoor activities such as hiking, she pointed out. Goss agreed that The Ridges should be a community resource, while also supporting the mission of the University.

Athens City Planner Paul Logue, who serves on the Advisory Committee, as well as serving as a member of the Land Uses subcommittee, commented to Goss that considering the existing cemeteries at The Ridges is important as her committee’s work moves forward. "Those cemeteries are very pleasant and peaceful, and I know I’ve seen instances where unchecked development can negatively impact cemeteries," Logue said.

Logue also advised that as conversations about development continue, the amount of available parking at The Ridges should be considered. Ridges Master Plan Committee Co-Chair Shawna Bolin said the University’s parking and transportation department had recently visited the property to assess the parking situation in an effort to plan for improvements.

The next Advisory Committee meeting is slated to take place October 1st. Details of the meeting will be announced in Compass. The meeting will be open to the public.

The nearly 700 acres at The Ridges support a number of activities and facilities for University and community use. These include:

Land Lab

Food waste compost facility

Yard waste compost facility

Cell tower

Air quality monitoring station

Ecohouse

ROTC training course

Outdoor Challenge course

Hiking trails

City of Athens water tower

A high pressure natural gas transmission pipeline that traverses the property

A Schooley Caldwell Associates e-mail account has been created specifically to field feedback and input from the public about The Ridges Master Plan project. Anyone with ideas, concerns or suggestions may e-mail the firm at TheRidges@sca-ae.com.