Will the exodus to the hinterlands run out of gas?
Planners reassess how central Ohio will grow
Wednesday, April 16, 2008 3:17 AM
By Mark Ferenchik
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
This has been the central Ohio growth story for years: more people moving farther away from Columbus as developers turn verdant farm fields into housing subdivisions.
Farther and farther out the subdivisions sprout.
But no one’s had to pay four bucks a gallon for gasoline on their way to work. Yet.
Soaring gasoline prices could influence the way this part of the world grows over the next 20 years, a new report suggests.
“When you start getting to $4 a gallon for gas, you start changing the dynamics,” said Chester Jourdan Jr., the executive director for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.
More than 2 million people are expected to call central Ohio home in 20 years, as the 12-county region adds 440,000 people. The question is how to handle that growth in a region that has dealt with growing pains haphazardly in the past.
MORPC plans to unveil its first State of the Region report at 11 a.m. today at a luncheon at the Hyatt Regency. Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee will be the featured speaker.
It won’t offer solutions but will provide another snapshot of the region, another benchmark, as leaders try to cooperatively forge a path for the future.
The task won’t be easy. Delaware, Fairfield, Fayette, Franklin, Knox, Licking, Madison, Marion, Morrow, Pickaway, Ross and Union counties have 385 local governments, each with its own issues and ideas.
Despite high gas prices, Jourdan expects that up to 60 percent of the growth in the region will be in unincorporated areas, much of it in outlying counties.
And though growth has slowed, he expects that once the economy picks up, so will development pressures in outlying counties.
But gas prices could continue to sour demand for housing in those areas, said MORPC regional development coordinator Matt LaMantia.
“When you’re dealing with $4, $5, $6 a gallon, depending on what the market will bear, there could be a different development pattern,” said LaMantia, who thinks that future development has to be integrated with public transportation.
Jim Hilz, the executive director of the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio, said high gas prices will have an effect. But as job centers — shops, offices and industries — move farther from Columbus, many near freeway interchanges, employees will want to move closer to them, fueling growth in those areas, he said.
“At the end of the day, people want to live close to where they work,” he said.
What the current economic lull does is give officials time to reflect and plan, Jourdan said.
“We have a huge opportunity to be defining our tomorrow in ways we’ve not had over the past 30 years,” he said.
Some of the report’s key points:
• Between 2000 and 2006, the 12-county region added nearly 120,000 people. Most, 80,000, was the result of births outnumbering deaths.
• Nearly 40 square miles has been subdivided into 62,000 residential lots since 2000, and 180 fewer square miles are used for farming since then.
• Immigration will drive a sizable percentage of population growth in the region. Immigrants accounted for 26 percent of the area’s growth between 2000 and 2006. The number of children learning English in school has nearly doubled since 2001, to about 11,000. Most of that growth has been in suburban districts.
“Those folks are going to be the backbone of our workforce, be in leadership,” said Michael Cope, the outgoing board chairman for the commission and a Norwich Township trustee. “It’s important to embrace them, to give them the tools everybody needs.”
The full MORPC report is available today at http://www.morpc.org/regional_dev/region/region.asp.
Will $4 a gallon gasoline stop sprawl? I don’t doubt that it could make people re-think where they live and work, but plenty of people work in Dublin, at Polaris, or near Rickenbacker, so there’s still many acres of land in Union, Delaware, and Pickaway counties where people could live near work and in sprawl. I do think it will get people to buy more fuel efficient vehicles, make fewer trips, and consider car-pooling or riding transit when possible. Eventually I expect cars to become fuel efficient enough that people will go back to their old habits.
Chester Jourdan seems to agree with me, saying that “60 percent of the growth in the region will be in unincorporated areas.” That’s disappointing, and the State of the Region report doesn’t offer any solutions, but you might as well at least check out the interesting graphs in the summary of the report. MORPC also gave away some awards and appointed board members, including County Engineer Dean Ringle as the Chairman.