Officials from several governmental entities debated the pros and cons of a proposed joint economic development district (JEDD) along the U.S. 33 corridor at a public hearing in Pickerington Dec. 16.

Officials from several governmental entities debated the pros and cons of a proposed joint economic development district (JEDD) along the U.S. 33 corridor at a public hearing in Pickerington Dec. 16.

While Violet Township, Canal Winchester and Pickerington officials spoke in support of the JEDD, other Fairfield County representatives said the plan would do little to attract business and could actually be a deterrent.

Those in favor touted the JEDD as a sign of cooperation among previously competitive entities to secure new sources of income in the U.S. 33 corridor.

"I think we are all going to benefit from working together," said Pickerington City Councilwoman Cristie Hammond.

Gary Weltlich, Violet Township trustee, began the hearing by outlining his vision for the JEDD. He said the "obvious goal" for the bedroom communities of Canal Winchester and Pickerington "should be to balance our tax base."

"We must all work together as David to take on the Goliath of global business," Weltlich said. "The JEDD is a statement of cooperation and understanding to not only survive, but work together. This document puts our money where our mouth is."

In June, Violet Township became the first Fairfield County community to approve an agreement committing the township to the future establishment of the Northwest Fairfield County 33 Corridor Joint Economic Development District.

Pickerington City Council members gave their unanimous approval to the agreement at a council meeting held after the public hearing.

Canal Winchester and Lancaster have yet to vote on it. One of the original partners in the plan, Bloom Township, pulled out last year.

The proposed JEDD area is a mile-wide swath along U.S. 33 from the western border of Fairfield County out to Lancaster.

The proposal would require landowners in the area who don't want to participate in the JEDD to opt out of the agreement in writing.

"I support the JEDD, but I don't feel comfortable with opt-out," Pickerington resident Norman Hopkins said.

Al Schrader, an attorney representing Violet Township, was the primary author of the agreement. He said the opt-out portion of the JEDD was designed to increase property rights for landowners in the proposed district beyond state statutes.

Willing landowners would have to sign a petition to activate a portion of the JEDD. Schrader said minority landowners can choose not to include their land in the petition; the JEDD will not be contiguous in all areas.

"I think it will look like Swiss cheese," Schrader added. "A JEDD puts you light years ahead of the annexation wars."

Tony Vogel, Fairfield County utilities director, said the proposed 2-percent income tax for the JEDD area will deter economic growth and send possible developers to other parts of the county.

"Big businesses aren't going to come, and quite frankly, they're already shutting doors anyway," he said.

Fairfield County economic development director Bill Arnett, a staunch opponent of the JEDD, has called the proposed agreement a "one-size-fits-all JEDD" or "JEDD-in-waiting," because there are no projects driving the creation of the legislation.

"Clearly, by working together, we can accomplish a lot more than if we're are separate," he said. "What I hear from proponents is that if the JEDD agreement does not meet the needs of a project, then a new one would be created.

"If that is the case, then simply do nothing now and wait for a project and craft a JEDD accordingly," Arnett said. "That's how JEDDs are created in Ohio."

Proponents of the JEDD plan have said that having the agreement ready in advance will allow any business interested in locating there in the future to better understand "the rules of the game." Arnett said that isn't the case.

As an example, he cited U.S. Corrugated's decision to locate in Lancaster.

"I doubt (Mayor) Smith handed U.S. Corrugated a 60-page document and said, 'here are the rules of the game,'" he said.

The proposed 2-percent income tax would also be a deterrent, he said. In other cases, such as Canal Pointe, Arnett said Canal Winchester officials have encouraged growth with 15-year, 100-percent tax abatement deals. Officials would need to do the same to bring growth to the JEDD agreement's area, thus negating the added source of income to the cooperating municipalities.

"This document doesn't really do anything for us in the respect of increasing prospects of industrial development in the corridor," Arnett said.

Schrader said the 2-percent income tax is not the main issue. In fact, he said, the income generated by it would increase development in the area by creating the ability to enhance infrastructure.

"You don't get into any trouble and you don't anger your constituents if you do nothing," he said. "Doing something, quite frankly, is better than doing nothing."

ebrooks@thisweeknews.com