Union County is considering whether or not its watershed areas are just environmental factors, or if they should be used for regional planning purposes.

Union County is considering whether or not its watershed areas are just environmental factors, or if they should be used for regional planning purposes.

Representatives of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) made their pitch to county officials on Aug. 23 for the commission's Watershed Balanced Growth Plan. The plan is a voluntary program that would help local municipalities and townships to plan for the future of their watersheds.

Two of the four watersheds defined by MORPC fall partly within Union County the Upper Scioto and Big Darby watersheds. Jerry Tinianow, MORPC's director of the Center for Energy and Environment, told county commissioners that joining the growth plan is voluntary and incentive-based.

"A lot of communities already have (comprehensive or growth) plans; this isn't meant to supersede those, but to build off of them," Tinianow said.

The purpose of the plan is to promote sustainable development throughout the watershed by coordinating land use, transportation, utility infrastructure and environmental conservation efforts.
Communities participating in each plan would receive priority consideration when applying for state-funded financial and technical assistance programs and to qualify for more favorable financial terms when seeking funding for projects associated with PCAs (Priority Conservation Areas) or PDAs (Priority Development Areas), according to MORPC's presentation.

"The balanced growth planning process was successfully piloted in four northern Ohio watersheds," said Joe Kitchen, MORPC associate planner. "The development of a balanced growth plan is already under way for the Olentangy River watershed. Twenty-seven communities and over 30 stakeholders in the Olentangy watershed have agreed to work together to build a better region by developing a balanced growth plan."

Tinianow said that 75-percent of the population of an area must agree to join a watershed for it to be adopted. Those areas deciding not to participate would simply not appear on MORPC's watershed maps, he said.

Commissioner Gary Lee said during the presentation that the county will need to consider its options.

"The intent of this meeting was to be an Intro 101, to raise some questions, and if we see any interest to perhaps follow up," Lee said. "We're going to need to expand our group, but we're just trying to get a little bit of an education today so we can think about moving forward."

Tinianow said that once more communities begin to agree to the plans, it will take MORPC about a year to define the exact maps for each watershed. He continued to stress the program as voluntary.
"It's all carrots and no sticks," he said. "A group can also drop out of the plan later on if they really don't like the system."

Marysville Mayor Chris Schmenk said during the meeting that she would like a follow up on the basic "nuts and bolts" of the plan before moving ahead.

More information on the program can be found online at http://balancedgrowth.ohio.gov.

ThisWeek Staff Writers Jennifer Noblit and Gail Martineau contributed to this story.