Ohio University hosted the second of two town hall meetings Friday to discuss the Ridges Development Strategy and how feedback from the attendees of the first town hall has been implemented into the plans for the Ridges.
OU has partnered with the Buckeye Hills Regional Council, or BHRC, and Community Building Partners, or CBP, to execute the Ridges Development Strategy. The goal is to keep the Ridges under university use, but also include a variety of housing spaces and utilize the 700 acres of land for revenue purposes.
Dominick Brook, the director of real estate at OU, and Shawna Wolfe, the associate vice president of university planning, opened the town hall with a slideshow recap of the feedback they had already received from the OU and Athens community regarding the refurbishment of the Ridges at the first town hall.
The feedback included desires to preserve the framework of all original buildings, add affordable senior citizen housing, update pedestrian and bike trails and fix the flooding in the park area. One of the most important aspects of the refurbishments according to the feedback is that the historical feel of the Ridges is preserved.
“We really took a comprehensive look at how to look at all of the buildings with the primary goal of the historic preservation of the facilities that at many times in the history of the journey of this place people have talked about tearing down,” Wolfe said.
With the community feedback in mind, OU, BHRC and CBP have planned to split the Ridges into two villages, A and B, and also include up to 600 acres of land to be used for conservation.
Village A has three sections: the existing Ridges Green Buildings, Section 1 and Section 2. The development of Village A will include the reuse of the Ridges Green Buildings for senior housing, retail spaces and restaurant spaces. Sections 1 and 2 of Village A, which are located near the city gateway and the dairy lane corridor, respectively, will eventually be developed into multifamily homes and townhomes.
Village B encompasses the land located near the Dairy Barn land and the Ridges’ current apartment complexes. Plans for the development of Village B will include new townhomes.
“You can see how we’ve taken the feedback so far,” Wolfe said. “It takes a community to really do this and I feel like we are on the verge of something really great.”
Joseph Recchie, CEO of one of the two co-developers and in coordination with CBP, answered questions and concerns after the slideshow.
One community member asked where the funding for the housing additions would come from.
“For example, buildings two, three and four…that’s the senior housing,” said Recchie. “We do that with a combination of tax-exempt bonds, federal tax credits for affordable housing and historic tax credits.”
Another question posed by those in attendance was whether the restaurant addition that was mentioned in the plan could be a fast-food restaurant. Many attendees quickly disapproved of the possibility.
Reccie assured the attendees that it would be unlikely for a fast-food chain to move into the current Ridges buildings or its future developments.
Sherri Oliver, the executive director of Community Health Programs and the Area Health Education Center at OU, was in attendance at the town hall and said she had concerns about the meeting times, given that they were during working hours.
“I think it's really critical, especially when you’re trying to do community engagement,” said Oliver. “I do know that there's an option for public comment on the website, but I do think there’s value in being able to give them back in person.”
Recchie said that there will be more meetings for community members to attend in the future.
Brook said OU student involvement and feedback about the Ridges Development Strategy, apart from OU student organizations, has been scarce. He said in the future more student involvement would be ideal.
The approval of a New Community Authority, which will assist in the construction and financing of the plan, by the Athens County Commissioners, OU Board of Trustees and the Ohio Controlling Board is the next step for the approval of the Ridges Development Strategy. Approval from all three is expected to be granted by October 2023.