Council to consider possible Manchester overlay district

Columbus Council will hold a first reading/public hearing Tuesday on a proposed overlay district for the eastern end of the Manchester Expressway corridor, from the J.R. Allen Parkway to the county line.

First reading of the proposed ordinance has been delayed twice so councilors could gather more information and input from constituents. Councilor Gary Allen, whose district includes that section of the county, said he has heard overwhelming support for the proposal and little in the way of opposition.

“I continue to receive e-mails asking for support, but I think I’ve only received one or two in opposition,” Allen said. “So there’s clearly a majority of folks who would like to see it implemented.”

Allen said other overlay districts, such as the one in place along the stretch of J.R. Allen where it crosses Manchester, have been effective.

“It’s helped keep the development constituent-friendly,” Allen said. “Of course you also have the aesthetics.”

The ordinance would restrict development in the area, which includes a corridor along the highway and 1,000 feet to either side. It would dictate landscaping, tree density, building materials, parking lot locations and signage, among other things. It includes a flat ban on billboards along Manchester Expressway in that stretch.

It would require buffers, including a 40-foot buffer for any development along the expressway itself, and mandate that all new utilities be underground. Location of cell phone towers would also be restricted.

The ordinance states that its purpose is, “to effectively enhance the city’s image as a desirable place to live.” It has been recommended for passage by both the city Planning Department and the Planning Advisory Committee.

During the PAC meeting in March at which the proposal was discussed and ultimately approved, two brothers spoke from opposite positions.

Marty Flournoy, a developer, said the district would place too many restrictions on small businesses, which might not be able to afford to comply with some of the requirements, and they need billboards to let potential customers know where they are.

“We would all love to go down the highway and have it look like a pristine national park, but the fact it, small businesses rely on billboards,” he said.

Tom Flournoy, his brother and another developer, said he supports the proposal.

“It complements what we’ve done with Gateways all over Columbus,” Tom Flournoy said. “An overlay is all about visibility that tourists, residents and visitors see when they drive in. It’s not about zoning use, it’s about visibility. That’s the true benefit of these overlays.”

Council meets Tuesday at 5:30 in council chambers at the City Service Center.