Redevelopment possibilities revealed for Kerr-McGee site


Bob Barber, left, and Pierre Beard

Bob Barber, left, and Pierre Beard



Slim Smith



Tuesday and Wednesday, Greenfield Multistate Trust and Environmental Protection Agency officials invited residents to review concepts for the redevelopment of the former Kerr-McGee site in north Columbus.


In three sessions, residents could review three conceptual maps on display in the Multistate Trust's community resource center on 14th Avenue North.


One concept was devoted heavily to open public spaces, another emphasized residential/industrial use and the third focus on a "town center concept."



Bob Barber, partner with Orion Planning+Design, the company hired by the Trust to plan and market the site, was adamant to note what the public was viewing was not a matter of picking one of the three concepts on display.


"It will probably be a combination of elements from all three of these concepts," Barber said.


Perhaps the best way to think of it is to think of ordering food at a restaurant, he said. The concepts are menu items 1, 2 and 3, but it's most likely that the final results of redevelopment will be more like ordering a la cart.


"We will synthesize the feedback we're getting from the residents, then get with our client, which is the Greenfield Environmental Trust and consult with them," Barber said. "The next step will be to go ahead and generate a redevelopment plan itself. I'm reluctant to call it a plan. It's not a single plan because there's not necessarily a single solution. The plan won't be static. It will be a spectrum of what you see here today."


The Greenfield Trust is using $68 million from a federal court settlement to clean up creosote at the former Kerr-McGee site and stage the property for private redevelopment. Kerr-McGee and its successor, Tronox, used creosote to treat the railroad cross ties produced at the plant from 1928-2003. Creosote is a chemical used to preserve wood that, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, can cause skin and eye irritation, stomach pains, liver or kidney problems and possibly cancer.


Many Kerr-McGee employees in Columbus, along with residents in surrounding neighborhoods, developed health problems linked to creosote exposure.



Redevelopment possibilities


All three plans have some common features, especially at the main site where environmental concerns have created limitations that do not apply to the small area of the site known as the Pine Yard, located to the north and west of the main site.


The main site's southern-most area is located in a flood plain and will likely be used primarily as flood water retention area, which can be developed into a park setting.


The site's western-most area, where the contamination is the highest, will have more restrictions on redevelopment, which means it will most likely be open space or limited development.


All three concepts featured a community center at the northeast corner of the main site.


Possible features listed in the three concepts, include the town-center concept -- retail, offices, health clinic, with the possibility of loft apartments, residential, light industry, manufacturing and horticultural center/community garden.


Concepts for the Pine Yard, which will be the first area available for redevelopment, focused on residential and light industry usage.


Charles King, project manager for EPA's Superfund cleanup work at the site, said cleanup of the Pine Yard could be completed by the end of the year. That cleanup largely entails removing the contaminated soil and replacing it with new soil.


"We're 95 percent complete in that area," King said. "Depending on the weather, it's reasonable to expect the cleanup could be finished by the end of the year or early 2020. There are a lot of moving pieces that have to happen after that, but the best case scenario is that some kind of development could begin in the next six months or so."


King said the main site is still in the early stages of cleanup.


"We have started sampling to get information on risks," he said. "I would expect the physical work on the cleanup to begin around the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021."



Beard: 'I really like what I'm seeing'


On Wednesday, Ward 4 city councilman Pierre Beard dropped in to get a look at the redevelopment concepts, carefully studying each. The site is located in Beard's ward.


"I'm impressed with a lot of it," Beard said. "I think I'm like a lot of the people who live in the neighborhood. They've heard so much talk. Now, they want to start seeing something."


Beard said he was especially interested in the jobs the industry and town center concepts offered.


"Jobs are most definitely important in whatever happens here," he said. "In this neighborhood, you really don't have many job opportunities. So I really like what I'm seeing, especially with the industry part. For a lot of people, transportation is an issue. With this idea, there would be jobs in less than a mile walk. That would be a big help for people looking for work in this area."


Barber said he would like to see some development, even on a small scale, as soon as possible.


"At any site, if there is activity, it's a positive," he said. "It begins to change the perception about how people feel about the area."


That said, Barber urged continued patience.


"The planning process is incremental," he said. "You achieve it in bits and pieces. One thing influences another and plans can be fluid as a result. It's a rare thing to have someone swoop in and do everything. This is something that is going to proceed over a fair amount of time, most likely."



Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]



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