Olentangy Valley News

Liberty Township's 2014

New board will keep working to guide growth

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

In Liberty Township, there's no question about whether residential and commercial development will continue in 2014.

Township Administrator Dave Anderson said the questions revolve around how the township will deal with the continued growth.

"When you're a popular place to live, there's a lot of pressure to grow," he said. "We're trying to make sure the growth that comes here is good."

Anderson said a lot of that responsibility falls to a board of trustees that includes two newcomers.

Shyra Eichhorn and Tom Mitchell were elected in November from a five-candidate slate to represent the township's residents.

"The biggest thing about Liberty Township right now is we've got two new trustees starting at the same time, which is a majority of the board," Anderson said last week. "Come Jan. 1, it's a whole new world. The two ran together, so I think they should work pretty well together."

The two new candidates set goals including better communication between the government and township residents.

Eichhorn said she hopes to use social media, a revamped website and email lists to provide more information on township news, projects and finances to the public.

"What has happened in the last couple of years is a lot of misinformation has been put out into the community," she said.

Eichhorn said improved communication would help make sure facts trump gossip in the community.

The two new trustees also pushed for an updated comprehensive plan for the township while campaigning.

"A comprehensive plan has been in place, but several parts are dated," Mitchell said.

He said he wanted to get local stakeholders, including elected officials, business owners and developers, in on the process of planning the township's future.

Anderson said besides making sure developments fit in with their surroundings in the township, officials also need to consider how development affects how the township and Olentangy Local Schools are funded.

More residential developments are expected in 2014, but those can take in more in services than they pay in taxes. Commercial uses, especially agriculture, often bolster tax revenues and can require little in terms of services, Anderson said.

It's getting the balance right that can be tricky for township officials, he said, especially in a growing area.

Liberty Township is among the 50 most populous townships in Ohio, which has 1,309 townships.

Although the township does not expect to see growth at the same rate that it saw a few decades ago, the population is still going up every year.

That growth, aided by attractions such as the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and Zoombezi Bay, leads to a major headache cited by area residents: traffic.

Anderson said township officials do what they can to relieve traffic congestion in the area, but often are limited by a lack of funding, manpower and other issues.

One major project the township and other local governments will continue working toward in 2014 revolves around the zoo. The communities received a $3.5 million grant for the work in late 2012, but the final details of the project still are being hashed out.

"(State Route) 750 widening along the zoo is anticipated, and we went out and coordinated that project and spearheaded a team to get a $3.5 million grant. ... The project's not fully funded yet. That's a real risk right now, but that's something the communities are working on with the zoo and the county and the state."

Beyond funding, Anderson said two competing goals also can complicate traffic discussions in the area. Residents want traffic congestion eased, but they also often want traffic calmed.

"There's not too much you can do about traffic calming and congestion at the same time," Anderson said.

Traffic concerns are among a number of issues the township shares with the city of Powell. Mitchell and Eichhorn said after they were elected that they wanted to improve the township's relationship with the city.

Mitchell said he hopes city and township officials could collaborate more in 2014. He said officials need to work on "some win-win projects."

Anderson said city and township officials work well on grant projects that are mutually beneficial, but annexation and development, especially when big tax revenues are involved, can be a different story.

"We work on the pragmatic stuff real easy," he said. "It's when you get into win-lose annexation, who gets the money (and) how do you split that up ... it's a little more difficult."

The city of Powell expects to finalize annexation of 60.23 acres of land off Sawmill Parkway from Liberty Township in early 2014. The site will house a shopping complex anchored by a Target store.

One project that was scrapped because of collaborative difficulties in 2013 was a proposed Joint Economic Development Zone, in which the city of Bexley would have collected income taxes at its 2.5 percent rate from workers at the zoo, Olentangy schools in Liberty Township, Safari Golf Club and other employers. Powell, which has a 0.75 percent income tax, and Liberty Township, which does not collect income tax, would have reaped the revenue benefits from the zone.

The plan was dropped in late July. Liberty Township officials said the city of Powell did not advertise a public hearing on the JEDZ as legally required, though Powell officials said it was advertised properly.

Anderson said township trustees will guide any future JEDZ discussions. He added that a future agreement likely would not look the same as the one drawn up in 2013.

Mitchell said he agreed the JEDZ pact discussed in 2013 was "off the table."

"The JEDZ as it was written was not well-articulated and not well-designed," he said, adding the township has more-imminent concerns to deal with in 2014 than talks about a JEDZ.

Anderson said a lack of funding in recent years has led to cuts of up to 30 percent across the board to city staff, except in the parks department. He said the parks department has been spared because the township has a lot of park land, and it keeps growing.

One project on the township's to-do list in 2014 will be renovations at South Liberty Park.

"One of the biggest plans for the year is South Liberty Park," Anderson said. "There's an effort to put more ballfields in behind the YMCA. There's a donor ... interested in funding softball fields over there."

Comments