Olentangy Valley News

Fire-levy redux, development made headlines

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While many areas of the state were still reeling from the long-lasting effects of the recession and looking for any sign of development, residents and officials in Powell and surrounding townships found themselves in the enviable position of picking projects that met their approval in 2013.

Many of the discussions revolved around appropriateness. How much new housing did Powell and Liberty Township need? Would a big-box store fit in with the surroundings in Liberty Township? And would an adults-only hotel fly in Orange Township?

Residents also debated what tax levels were appropriate in the area, with fire levies passing in Liberty and Orange townships a few months after similar proposals failed. Meanwhile, Powell, Liberty Township and Bexley officials debated the fairness of a new way to collect income tax.

Olentangy Local Schools officials got in on the act, too, discussing the appropriate amount of funding it should be getting from the state.

Here's a look back at the top stories of 2013 in Powell, Liberty and Orange townships, and the Olentangy Local School District.

 

Fire funding

Fire departments in Liberty and Orange townships avoided the possibility of a shutdown when voters passed levies to support the departments Feb. 5.

Orange Township voters overwhelmingly passed a three-year, 7.5-mill levy in February after rejecting a 7.8-mill levy in November 2012. A three-year, 5-mill levy had expired in 2012.

The levy will generate about $7.6 million per year.

Whether township voters would even get to decide the matter was in question at the end of 2012.

The Delaware County Board of Elections knocked the issue off the ballot initially, after officials said the hand-delivered ballot filing arrived at the board's office two minutes past deadline. In January, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of township officials, who argued that complete e-mail filings arrived at the office before the deadline.

The court did not confirm that e-mail filings were acceptable substitutes for paper documents, but did rule the board of elections had abused its discretion by rejecting the paper filing for being two minutes late.

Township trustees said the fire department would have closed if February's levy had failed or was left off the ballot.

Liberty Township's five-year, 5.6-mill levy also passed easily after a five-year, 6.6-mill levy was rejected by a margin of fewer than 100 votes in November 2012.

The levy will generate more than $7 million per year.

Following failure of the levy in 2012, and even after passing a levy in February, Liberty Township looked for places to reduce costs in an effort to return to offering core services. The administrative staff was reduced from seven to two, with only the chief and a fire-prevention officer remaining.

The other administrative positions were consolidated, and the assistant chief and captains now go on fire and medical runs as shift managers.

If February's emergency levy had not passed, the department likely would have laid off all of its employees and the township's fire stations would have closed, officials said.

 

Development debates

Powell and Liberty Township residents saw plenty of discussion and debate over development projects in 2013.

Nine years after Liberty Township prevented a Walmart from moving onto 49 acres off Sawmill Parkway, a plan to add a shopping center with Target as the anchor store neared fruition.

The township spent seven years in a legal battle over the Walmart development before settling out of court. The entire process cost the township millions of dollars.

Powell City Council agreed to a preannexation agreement for the Shoppes at Wedgewood development in September in which it would provide police and other services to the development.

The final annexation agreement is expected to be approved by council in early 2014.

City Manager Steve Lutz said at the time of the preannexation agreement that the big-box store was "going in one way or the other," and it would be futile to fight against an annexation deal, which had potential tax benefits for the area.

Later in September, developers with Spectrum Acquisition Powell and Hendy Enterprises brought plans for an assisted-living facility with 140 units across from the Shoppes at Wedgewood and the existing Mount Carmel Health center. That project still is going through the city's planning process.

Powell annexed land earlier in the year in Concord and Liberty townships at the site of the Reserve, the first single-family housing development to come before council since before the recession. The homes sit on 69 acres south of Home Road, west of Steitz Road.

Other proposals included the Center at Powell Crossing, which developers said would include 64 apartments, office space and a restaurant. Developers want to build the project, which is still going through the city's planning and zoning process, at West Olentangy Street, next to the railroad tracks.

In late April, council voted down a plan to annex 43.88 acres from Liberty Township that would have housed a 480-unit apartment complex at the corner of Seldom Seen Road and Sawmill Parkway.

 

Taxing conversation

Plans by officials in Powell, Bexley and Liberty Township to create a Joint Economic Development Zone that would have collected more than $1 million in income taxes each year were put on hold in 2013.

The agreement would have allowed the city of Bexley to collect income tax at its 2.5-percent rate from employees of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Zoombezi Bay, Safari Golf Course, Del-Co Water, Delaware County Sanitary and other entities located within the zone.

As the collecting agent, Bexley would have earned 3 percent of the tax revenue. Powell currently has a 0.75-percent income tax, while Liberty Township does not collect income tax.

Workers in the proposed JEDZ said it unfairly targeted nonprofit and government workers.

It seemed voters would decide whether to create the JEDZ in November, but officials from Powell and Liberty Township canceled a scheduled public hearing on the matter in late July, putting the agreement on hold indefinitely.

Liberty Township officials said the hearing was not advertised properly by the city of Powell, leading to the cancellation. Powell officials said their lawyers disagreed with the township's contention and said proper notice was given to the public.

 

Amendment argument

Powell voters passed six amendments to the city's charter on the May 5 ballot, but rejected a seventh that would have expanded City Council's ability to meet in private.

The proposed amendment would have given council the ability to enter a closed-door executive session any time five of seven members agreed it was necessary.

Foes of the proposal, including Councilwoman Sara Marie Brenner, said it was in violation of the spirit and, possibly, the letter of Ohio's open-meetings law. Proponents said it would help the city make economic development deals.

Voters passed amendments that gave council the power to declare a council seat vacant if a member has missed four consecutive meetings, and also extended Zoning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals terms from three to four years.

Other successful amendments established a review of the charter every decade; simplified rules for awarding public contracts; and reworded the city's referendum process.

 

Hotel hubbub

A proposal to build an adults-only hotel in Orange Township drew fire from residents before fizzling in the spring.

John Kranjec, the owner of a similar hotel in Perrysburg, wanted to construct a new hotel west of U.S. Route 23 on Gooding Boulevard that catered to couples seeking romantic encounters.

Some residents said they were concerned the hotel would be near businesses where children would be gathered, including day-care facilities.

The plan was on its way through the township's zoning process when the owner of the site, Orange Development Co., ended its agreement with Kranjec in early May.

Kranjec filed suit against Orange Development Co. in late May, claiming the firm breached the sales agreement for the property.

A trial date has not yet been scheduled for the case, according to Delaware County court records.

 

Fresh faces

Residents elected new members to represent them on Powell City Council and the Liberty Township board of trustees in November.

Powell voters denied Brenner a second term, electing Frank Bertone instead. The three other incumbents on the ballot -- Brian Lorenz, Tom Counts and Jim Hrivnak -- were re-elected.

Bertone, who works in retirement planning at Nationwide, said he would bring a new voice to the council.

Tom Mitchell and Shyra Eichhorn were elected to the Liberty Township board of trustees, beating out three other candidates for the two open seats.

Incumbents Mary Carducci and Curt Sybert chose not to run for re-election.

Eichhorn, a marketing consultant, said she wanted to increase community awareness and improve relations between the township and the city of Powell. Mitchell, a faculty member at Ohio State University, said he also hoped to improve relations with Powell officials and steer the township's development in a positive direction.

Board incumbents Rob Quigley and Debbie Taranto were re-elected in Orange Township in November. Likewise, incumbents Dave King and Julie Wagner-Feasel were re-elected to the Olentangy school board.

 

Funding fairness

Olentangy Local Schools officials pinned their hopes on school-funding reform at the state level in 2013.

Although a budget proposal by Ohio Gov. John Kasich that would have given the district $19 million more in state funding over the next two school years ultimately was scrapped by the state legislature, district officials still said they planned to stay off the ballot until 2016.

According to the district's five-year forecast, released in May, Olentangy will remain solvent through the 2015-16 school year.

Treasurer Todd Johnson said it might even be possible to operate until 2017 without additional levy funding, but that would require budget cuts and a larger levy request on the 2017 ballot.

Superintendent Wade Lucas said he would continue to reach out to the area's Statehouse delegation in an attempt to keep the debate about school funding alive. He said the current system forces taxpayers in Olentangy to subsidize many of the state's other school districts at an unfair rate.

Kasich's proposal would have increased per-pupil funding throughout the state. Olentangy has been the fastest-growing district in Ohio for the past nine years, and it's the seventh-largest district in the state.

 

Parkway plans

Despite some controversy, the city of Powell's long-planned Murphy Parkway extension project finally got the green light in April.

Council voted unanimously to extend the road east to South Liberty Street to provide another detour around the city's downtown.

Some residents complained the extension would lead to increased traffic in the neighborhoods around the project. Council responded by inserting language into the ordinance approving the project that mandated traffic-calming measures, such as speed bumps and turn restrictions, as part of the roadwork.

Some of the funding for the project will come from the capital improvement levy passed by city voters in 2010. The levy will replace a parks and recreation levy that expires at the end of the year.

 

Talking turf

Olentangy Local Schools said goodbye to grass at its football fields in 2013.

Artificial turf fields were unveiled at Orange and Liberty high schools in the summer, while installation began at Olentangy High School in November.

Athletic boosters led the effort to collect funding for the projects at all three high schools, arguing the surface would be easier to maintain and safer because the hardness of the field does not change, unlike traditional grass fields.

Opponents of the installation said studies have not conclusively shown that turf is safer, and added that the fields would need to undergo a costly resurfacing about every 10 years.

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