Sunbury residents and neighbors Wednesday, June 18, packed council chambers at Town Hall to speak out against a controversial proposed annexation.
Village Council was expected to vote June 18 on an annexation petition for 128 acres in Berkshire Township owned by Geraldine Eder Dye, Domigan Walker LLC and Kirk's Creek Investment LLC. The property is east of South Galena Road, west of Domigan Road and northwest of Cheshire Road.
Council did not declare the ordinance an emergency, which would have allowed a vote, but instead held a first reading. Councilman Dave Miller motioned for council to defer any decision until at least the next meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. July 9 at Town Hall, 9 E. Granville St.
Miller said council members received more information about the annexation the morning of the meeting, adding he wanted time to read over the additional material.
But Miller said when the time comes, he plans to vote for annexation of the property.
"I think it's going to benefit the area, but has to be done properly and has to be done correctly, and not at the expense of the residents but at the expense of the developers," he said.
The property could become NorthGate Centre, which could include an outlet mall, hotels and athletic fields. But that development is months or years away.
Many residents are frustrated with the proposal.
More than 20 people spoke to council, bringing up concerns related to safety, traffic congestion, environmental impact with loss of land and impact on schools that the annexation and pending development could bring. Residents also said they were concerned that the village's family, small-town culture and rural integrity would be jeopardized by large commercial expansion.
Sunbury resident Patrick Janson said he was worried about traffic congestion and semitrailers passing through the village. He also mentioned Sunbury's innate character.
"It's the rural integrity of the town; it's why we live here," Janson said. "We're not Westerville or Columbus or Gahanna, and I love those places. But we're Sunbury. I think we need to be sensible."
Several residents who live along Cheshire Road adamantly opposed the annexation.
Resident Judy Brown, who has lived in Sunbury for more than two decades on Cheshire Road, simply told council "no."
"No, no, no, a thousand times no. I have a racetrack in my front yard called Cheshire Road and I don't need one in my backyard in the meaningless beanfield," Brown said, referencing the social-media movement against large-scale development in Berkshire Township.
"I just ask you do the right thing, don't rush into it, be responsible as you almost always are, and just think about it very carefully," she said.
Several residents also said they didn't like the annexation simply because of lack of information. Some said they would prefer to vote on it.
"In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to oppose this as I know it now, because I simply don't know anything about it," said Florence Baquet, a resident of Sunbury for 11 years. "I'm a registered voter and I would very much like to have a referendum for this issue, and I need to know more about it."
Dan Shaw, a resident since 1967 and former councilman, said he wants developers to work with leaders of the village and neighboring townships in every step.
"It doesn't make any difference if I am for or against it; it's here and we're going to do it and it's going to be done right," Shaw said. "I ask (developers) to work with the Sunbury council and Berkshire trustees -- and if you promise something, carry it out."
Other residents compared the development to previous projects in other parts of central Ohio, such as Northland Mall, which shut down in 2002 after years of decline. Residents said they worry the upcoming development could experience a similar fate.
Even if residents or council members don't like it, growth in the Sunbury area is inevitable.
In November, Berkshire Township voters narrowly agreed to allow rezoning for a new Simon-Tanger outlet mall, which will be located off the Interstate 71 exit on routes 36/37.
"The outlet mall is coming. There was a referendum petition, and Berkshire Township said that zoning stands," said David Brehm, Sunbury village solicitor. "Berkshire Township said 'we want an outlet mall, we want it to be here.' That's the first domino. That domino is pushed and has been pushed. Growth is coming."
Though the outlet mall is in Berkshire Township, developers and landowners are interested in land and property between the outlet mall and Sunbury, and want the land to become part of the village. This could mean that Sunbury may achieve city status within the next few years as its population rises above 5,000.
Council has a chance to at least guide the growth, village leaders said. Council President Len Weatherby said he thinks council has done a good job controlling the growth so far and wants to continue that as future projects are proposed.
"We all want to protect the charm and the reason we moved to this village," Weatherby said. "I assure you as a member of council, we have examined and will continue to examine and hold every developer's feet to the fire to make sure they are going to do what we want them to do, and not what they want to do."