How ‘urban villages’ like Liberty Center are changing how people shop, eat, walk and gather

Springboro, other area projects seek central place where people will come to shop, eat, walk and gather.

Springboro’s 62-acre city center is the latest place in the area to become a new “urban village.”

Beginning on Feb. 2, the area is to be redeveloped using standards established in meetings over the last four months and intended to make it once again a central place where people will come to shop, eat, walk and gather for special events.

The urban village concept also underlies plans to redevelop the former location of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, as well as the Dayton Mall area and other projects around the region. It helped guide the layout of Austin Landing near the Montgomery-Warren county line, The Greene along the Greene-Montgomery County border, Union Village in Warren County and Liberty Center in Butler County.

In Springboro, the new zoning regulations are intended to guide redevelopment of the city center over the next five to 15 years while protecting the integrity of the city’s adjoining historic district.

“We feel this is setting the stage for redevelopment over a very lengthy period of time,” Springboro City Manager Chris Pozzuto said on Jan. 2 before the city council voted 6-1 to adopt the new zoning code, effective on Feb. 2.

RELATED: Springboro unveils 62-acre urban village plan

In urban villages, housing density can be greater, with residences sometimes sharing a building with offices or retail uses. People are expected to leave their cars behind and walk more, using paths linking the village and villagers.

In some cases, they are seen as antidotes to sprawl developments drawing people and business away from urban centers.

Designers of the Union Village planned community outside Lebanon point to this 200-year-old city’s downtown for examples of what they plan to create in farm fields across from the Otterbein retirement campus.

Springboro’s urban village is centered by the Wright Station development, anchored by the new Springboro Performing Arts Center.

Wright Station is the successor to the old Springboro IGA Plaza, a city center shopping area replaced by more modern shopping centers, including Austin Landing and Settlers Walk, a mixed-use development between the Springboro city center and Austin Landing on Ohio 741, Main Street in Springboro.

Springboro City Councilwoman Janie Ridd, a former planning commissioner, cast the only vote against the new code. Ridd questioned the sections permitting some buildings up to three stories and other structures as tall as 75 feet. She also questioned permitting auto repair and service stations in the urban village zone and worried about how future city leaders would interpret them.

“We know what we have in mind. I don’t know what they have in mind,” Ridd said.

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While complimenting the overall plan, like Ridd, resident James Boys urged the council to reconsider language permitting multi-story buildings or towering structures near his home on Edgebrooke Drive where he has grown used to watching the sun rise.

Boys expressed confidence in the current city government looking out for him and his neighbors.

“A new council comes in, I have no way to protect myself,” Boys said.

Other council members and staff expressed confidence in the new rules and downplayed concerns.

Mayor John Agenbroad said the planning commission was the “safety valve” preventing the new code from letting in developments not in keeping with Springboro’s character.

“We’ve got to start somewhere. It’s a work in progress,” Agenbroad said.

The urban village concept, sometimes referred to as new urbanism, was developed in Europe and moved to the U.S. in the 1990s.

Buildings are pushed up closer to the street. Homeowners get to their garages through back alleys. Small parks with benches along sidewalks, paths and roads are designed to slow vehicle traffic and encourage walking and bicycle riding.

The plan for future development of the Dayton Mall area, completed in 2015 for $275,000, calls for more “walkability” and mixed-uses buildings, a 16-acre village center and between Lyons Road and the mall.

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The area has a new name, Miami Crossing, and some changes have been made in hopes of getting shoppers and restaurant visitors to walk, rather than drive.

New urban village districts dot the area. In Butler County, people shop, live and eat at Liberty Center. Likewise, at The Greene, off Interstate 675 in Greene County.

Springboro rewrote the code for its urban village district to guide land-use development and continue the "urban feel" at Wright Station, Pozzuto said. The new rules take effect 30 days after the vote.

“Following the effective date of the ordinance, we will be incorporating the changes into the codified ordinances and the zoning map,” Dan Boron, planner for Springboro, said in an email last week.

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