Real Estate: Reimagining suburban living in Dublin and Delaware County

Dave Ghose
Rendering of Evans Farm

A new vision of suburban living is beginning to emerge in Central Ohio. Two intriguing new projects—Bridge Park in Dublin and Evans Farm, an 1,100-acre development in Delaware County—are replacing the traditional car-centric suburban way of life with something more urban, walkable and architecturally diverse.

Brent Crawford, principal of Bridge Park developer Crawford Hoying, realized the appeal of this kind of housing during a 2013 meeting with about 30 Central Ohio empty nesters. After learning about the preliminary plans for Bridge Park, about 15 of those empty nesters were ready to throw down deposits for condos, even though the project was in its infancy at that point. “That was an ‘aha' moment,” Crawford says. “Those were people in Muirfield, Tartan Fields, Wedgewood that have great homes, but they don't want that lifestyle anymore.”

No suburb of Columbus has benefited more from the suburbanization of Central Ohio over the past five decades than Dublin, growing from around 600 residents in 1970 to more than 44,000 today. But more recent demographic and cultural trends are challenging the community: aging baby boomers selling their homes in great numbers and young professionals—an important group to talent-hungry Dublin employers like Wendy's and Cardinal Health—who prefer urban living.

To address those concerns, Dublin—long the exemplar of the car-centric Columbus suburb—created the Bridge Street District, 1,000 acres roughly bordered by I-270, Route 161 and Sawmill Road. This triangle-shaped zone—about 6 percent of the city's land, including Dublin's charming but small historic village center—was designated for walkable urban development. The city also committed about $100 million for various improvements in the area, including a new roundabout, a $22.8 million pedestrian bridge over the Scioto River and moving Riverside Drive to create a park along the eastern riverfront. “We had to do what we needed to do to be competitive in the long term,” says Terry Foegler, Dublin's director of strategic initiatives.

Piggybacking on those plans, Crawford Hoying acquired 25 acres on both sides of the Scioto River to build Bridge Park. The $300 million project calls for offices, a grocery store, an eight-story Marriott hotel and conference center, about 900 residential units (both apartments and condos) and several restaurants, such as Pins, Cap City Diner, Ram Brewery, The Avenue Steak Tavern and 3 Palms Pizzeria. Tenants began moving into apartments earlier this year, while condo buyers have snapped up all but three of the initial batch of 41 properties (which start at $500,000). That success inspired Crawford Hoying to increase the number of for-sale options in the next phase of the 2.5-million-square-foot development.

Evans Farm, meanwhile, is perhaps even more ambitious. The massive project—about three quarters the size of Bexley in area—is no mere housing subdivision. In reality, developers Dan Griffin and Tony Eyerman are building their own village, complete with parks, athletic fields, fishing ponds, an elementary school, a downtown, a YMCA, even an agricultural center. What's more, the development—a former farm in Orange and Berlin townships—is the first residential project in sprawling Delaware County to adopt so fully the principles of New Urbanism, a movement that embraces walkable, mixed-use communities.

A variety of housing options are available—including efficiency apartments above stores and restaurants—and lot sizes are smaller than you typically see in the suburbs, creating a more intimate, friendly environment that (ideally) encourages neighbors to get to know each other. The project is still in its early stages; home construction isn't expected to begin until the fall. But so far, signs are encouraging. Prospective residents have reserved 122 of the 142 lots made available initially. “I knew there was demand for something different, something that was not just another subdivision with beige or the typical southern Delaware County look,” says Eyerman, who's been involved in Delaware County development for 25 years. “Which isn't bad. It's just that people want something different. And they are looking for community and neighborhoods.”

Griffin says New Urbanism actually isn't new. It's how people used to live before suburban sprawl took hold—and still do in communities like Granville and Uptown Westerville. Crawford, the Bridge Park developer, echoes the comment when he talks about his project. “We're simply going back to what worked originally,” he says.