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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

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Ridges Advisory Committee convenes, hears land use updates and suggestions


Members of The Ridges Advisory Committee received updates from Ridges Master Plan committee co-chairs Shawna Bolin and Joe Shields during a meeting held May 3 at Baker University Center.

The committee, which is composed of members representing Ohio University, the City of Athens and Athens County, is tasked with periodically providing feedback on the comprehensive land use plans for The Ridges and the University’s progress toward its implementation. The committee reports its recommendations to Ohio University’s president.

Updates on recent progress and revitalization at The Ridges
Bolin provided an overview of The Ridges Framework Plan as well as the progress and revitalization efforts that have taken place at The Ridges since the committee last assembled.

“This progress would not have been possible without the valuable input from the Athens and University community and the support of the Athens Mayor’s Office, City Council and University Leadership,” Bolin said.

Such progress included:

OHIO’s Comprehensive Master Plan: Approved by OHIO’s Board of Trustees in March 2016, the plan included all areas of the University – including The Ridges. It incorporated elements of The Ridges Framework plan and refined The Ridges Green into a new identity that strongly associates the area with the rest of campus. The Plan also explores opportunities at The Ridges for academic synergies, executive education, conference spaces and other mixed uses.

Kirkbride buildings stabilization: The project, the first identified and implemented from The Ridges Framework Plan, provided roof/gutter replacements and building stabilization work to address damaged areas and restore sandstone.

The Ridges Observatory: The second project identified by The Ridges Framework plan constructed a campus observatory to support astronomy education and community outreach. The facility houses a historic 10-inch refractor telescope that was previously located on the roof of the Research and Technology Center (RTEC) building. A dedication event is scheduled for Saturday, May 6, 2017.

Lin Hall HVAC system: The project supplemented repairs to existing heating and cooling units with new equipment, including automated temperature and humidity controls to protect artwork stored within the building. A portion of the structure, which had been utilized in the past as a milk parlor, was also renovated to provide additional artwork storage space. Repairs to the building’s roof, gutters and exterior stonework were completed as well.

Kirkbride Walking Tours: This effort, which provides exterior tours of The Ridges area, was spearheaded in partnership with the Athens County Historical Society. The University is currently exploring the possibility of expanding the walking tours to include the interiors of selected buildings. Such an expansion would be contingent upon a review of legal, safety and financial implications.

Public-Private Partnership explorations: In January 2017, the University hosted an informational meeting structured to assist potential developers to understand the development opportunities outlined in the Ridges Framework Plan. It also provided the University a chance to gain an understanding of potential developer interest. Appropriate next steps will be reviewed in collaboration with The Ridges Advisory Committee and other stakeholders.

The Ridges: Proposed Tier 1 land use modifications
Bolin and Shields, after reviewing a community request to explore opportunities to limit housing development on The Ridges’ Tier 1 land and to consider utilizing the space as a natural preserve, shared the suggestion with the Advisory Committee for feedback and further review.

Bolin noted that both she and Shields have met with the concerned groups and wanted to gain the Advisory Committee’s thoughts and suggestions before enacting changes to the existing Framework Plan.

Approximately 10 percent of the entire Tier 1 area had been previously identified within The Ridges Framework Plan as suitable for potential development.

The committee was supportive of modifying proposed uses to exclude development in most of the Tier 1 area, while raising questions about allowed activities within a possible preserve that will need further discussion.

“I understand the need for housing in the community; however, I also understand the issue with the proposed location,” said Pam Callahan, a member of The Ridges Advisory Committee and the Athens community.

The Ridges: Tier 2 land opportunities
Bolin and Shields also shared land use planning and development opportunities within The Ridges Tier 2 land location.

Bolin noted that a portion of the Tier 2 land could be ideal for commercial use, given its proximity to existing apartment structures, and that this particular area is relatively flat – excess dirt was deposited on the area during construction of the Summit at Coates Run apartment complex in 2008 for the purpose of future development opportunities.

In addition to its flat area, the Tier 2 location contains a large, open space along a potential City utilities corridor that could be suited for an eco-village and a possible alternative for the sustainable housing area that had been proposed on The Ridges’ Tier 1 location.

The committee also spoke with Athens City Schools District Superintendent Tom Gibbs regarding a Tier 2 portion of The Ridges property that Athens City School District officials have identified as a “potential property of interest,” provided that the school district would opt to move forward on its proposed concept of a single Pre-Kindergarten-Fifth Grade campus within the City of Athens.

Gibbs said that his discussion with the Ridges Advisory Committee was one of many potential land opportunities that he has been asked to explore by the Athens City School District’s Facilities Steering Committee. He also stressed that community discussion and engagement will remain vital as the district continues to plan and evaluate all of the opportunities that have been suggested thus far by the District’s Steering Committee.

“The Athens City School District is unique in Ohio given its close proximity with a major university,” Gibbs said. “An elementary campus location, if supported by the local community, would be optimally located on this identified property.”

Gibbs said that “next steps” for the District will include garnering community input regarding the feasibility of an elementary campus located both within the City of Athens and on the identified Tier 2 site at The Ridges.

It is important to note that, should the Board of Education find sufficient community support to proceed with an elementary campus on The Ridges property, both the State Department of Administrative Services and the Ohio University Board of Trustees would need to review and approve any final agreement before such a development could move forward.

Next steps
University leadership plans to review the Advisory Committee’s feedback from the May 3 meeting and will schedule another meeting with this group in the coming weeks.

Details of the meeting will be announced in Compass; it will be open to the public.