The Athens News Archives
Retirement planners say Ridges protest is jumping the gun
By Jim Phillips
Athens NEWS Senior Writer

Local activist Chad Kister is organizing an effort to fight development of a retirement community on Ohio University land.

An organizer of the retirement project, however, suggested that Kister's protest is premature at best.

"He's so off base," said Margaret Topping of Athens, one of a group of local residents who are trying to create the retirement community. Topping noted that while OU has suggested it might provide property for the project on inexpensive terms, the group is nowhere near having a definite site.

Since The Athens NEWS reported on the plans in June, she said, "Basically, nothing has changed since then. We do not have title or leasehold on any land. We do not have a site picked out."

OU spokesperson Jack Jeffreys confirmed that OU is open to the idea of leasing land at a nominal sum for the proposed retirement development. OU President Robert Glidden has reportedly informed the group by letter that OU would charge rent of $1 a year if the project goes on university property.

The sites that have been mentioned as possibilities are sections of land along Dairy Lane on OU's Ridges property and land along the Hocking River west of the medical complex that includes O'Bleness Memorial Hospital.

In a letter to the editor submitted to The NEWS, Kister interpreted all this to mean that OU "has considered offering the Ridges to developers for $1," which he labels in the letter "ecological and economical insanity."

Kister said Saturday that he considers it "quite absurd" to allow development on The Ridges, especially for such a cheap price. He noted that the OU Ecology and Energy Conservation Committee, which in the mid-1990s developed a land use plan for the 700-acre-plus Ridges property, recommended allowing no new development on the site outside the areas that already have buildings. OU took over the former Athens Mental Health Center and its surrounding lands from the Ohio Department of Mental Health in the late 1980s, as those operations were being phased out and moved to a new location in the flats along the Hocking River.

"The OU Ecology Committee has already been through this in great detail," Kister argued. He added that he wouldn't object to further use of existing buildings, but that the retirement center project will require new construction along Dairy Lane, which he thinks should retain any green space it now has.

The OU committee that adopted the land use plan was split, with a minority of members supporting use of The Ridges for development. The final vote was 8-4. And OU's administration always has made clear that they consider the plan advisory and not a set of mandatory guidelines.

Kister, however, said he believes OU should stick to the plan. "I think it's very important that they follow the guidelines of the ecology committee," he said.

Topping said there is strong support for a residential retirement community in Athens. "People are calling me all the time, because they need it or want it here," she said.

For the past decade and more, a group of Athens residents, aided by OU, has been working toward development of a retirement community. At one time, they considered the site currently occupied by the University Courtyard student apartment project, across the Hocking River from OU's Peden Stadium, and later they considered a large piece of land on the other side of Athens, which is now the site of the planned University Estates housing and commercial development.

OU has cooperated in the process as a strategy for keeping retiring faculty and staff in Athens. They otherwise might go elsewhere because of the lack of retirement housing in the local area.

During the 1990s, OU purchased a handful of residential properties along Dairy Lane. Jeffreys of the university said that because the properties were contiguous to OU land, "it makes sense to purchase those properties, for purposes such as access to Dairy Lane and utility access."

OU held a public hearing in 2000 to seek input on future use of the Ridges to help with an update of the university's "master plan" dating from 1996. Most of that discussion focused on renovation to existing Ridges buildings on its central 22 acres. At the time John Kotowski, OU director of facilities planning, said OU had "no definite plans" for development on the remaining 750 acres.

Kister, who has been speaking out about The Ridges since before the land use plan was developed, has now dusted off his "Campaign to Protect The Ridges," and has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday (see letter to the editor).