A public hearing concerning the M/I Homes development known as Hill Farm likely will be postponed to August, according to Hilliard City Council President Albert Iosue.

The developer wants to build 229 single-family residences on 207 acres on the north side of Scioto Darby Road, west of Elliott Road and east of Langton Drive. The land is next door to the Sid Griffith Equestrian Center at 7380 Scioto Darby Road in Brown Township.

Though legislation approving the rezoning of 163 acres from rural residential to a conservation district is scheduled for a second reading and public hearing Monday, July 9, M/I Homes has asked that the reading and hearing be postponed until after council returns from its summer recess, Iosue said.

The recess starts after July 9 and the next scheduled meeting is Aug. 27.

Despite a unanimous positive recommendation by the Hilliard Planning and Zoning Commission, council members have expressed early concerns about the development.

"Traffic and taxes are a big concern for residents and I don't see how this helps either," Councilman Andy Teater said after the commission's Feb. 8 meeting.

City Council members make the final decision concerning the rezoning application. With a two-thirds majority, they could overturn the recommendation of the commission.

Councilman Les Carrier said the Hill Farm proposal could be "in trouble" and other council members have voiced concerns about the proposed development

Iosue and Councilman Pete Marsh both have raised questions about the volume of traffic the subdivision would create; Marsh, in particular, has asked about Alton Darby Creek and Scioto Darby roads.

But Tom Hart, an attorney representing M/I Homes, said such concerns are not valid reasons for rejecting the rezoning.

It is "not lawful (or) reasonable" to reject rezoning based on concerns about off-site traffic congestion," Hart previously told city officials.

Further, he said, M/I Homes is providing the "move-up" housing the Hilliard market needs, donating 3 acres to the city for Norwich Township's fourth fire station, providing 70 acres of green space to the city and assuming the upfront risk of building a $1.2 million section of Audubon Avenue within the new neighborhood.

Several neighbors of the proposed development also have spoken in opposition to it earlier this year at the planning-and-zoning commission, and several others have voiced opinions at City Council meetings about its density and the generation of traffic.

As proposed, Hill Farm slightly exceeds the 1-unit-per-acre density recommended for the conservation-district zoning.

However, John Talentino, Hilliard's city planner, said "density bonuses" can be applied to developments that exceed minimum standards, such as those for green space, and the Hill Farm development qualifies.

The 44 acres that are not being rezoned would remain in Brown Township as parkland, Talentino said, and are outside the boundaries of the water-and-sewer district for which Columbus contractually provides services.

Carrier said he also is concerned about the city allocating its last available sewer taps in the area to residential rather than commercial use. A sewer tap is a connection to Columbus' sanitary-sewer system and eliminates the need for a septic tank.

The proposed Hill Farm residences would claim the remaining sewer taps Hilliard has left in the Big Darby Accord area, the conservation district on the western edge of Hilliard, said Butch Seidle, Hilliard's public-services director.

"If it passes, all 2,000 equivalent single-family units provided for in the Big Darby Accord (area) will be obligated," he said.

The 2,000-tap limit is specified in the Big Darby Accord planning study, Seidle said. Hilliard is one of jurisdictions that agreed to the terms of the accord, along with Brown, Norwich, Pleasant, Prairie and Washington townships, the cities of Dublin and Grove City, the village of Harrisburg and Franklin County.

The Big Darby Accord stemmed from a moratorium on development that Columbus had placed on the Big Darby watershed in western Franklin County, Seidle said.

Columbus controls sewer taps in this area based on a study of available capacity, Seidle said, and it is the only local government that can increase the number of sewer taps.

"We have met with them several times on this matter and they are not of a mind to change or add to this number," Seidle said.

John Ivanic, assistant director of the Columbus Department of Public Utilities, said the number of taps in the Big Darby watershed was agreed upon and "reflects the sewer capacity in the area."

If the number of sewer taps were to change, the Big Darby Accord would need to be reopened and the need for additional sewer capacity would have to be addressed, he said.

However, Columbus leaders "will not entertain a reopening or renegotiation of the (Big) Darby Accord at this time, Ivanic said.

Carrier said it also remains unclear whether unused sewer taps can be held by developers in perpetuity – some that have been approved remain unused – and he wants a better understanding of the issue before deciding the Hill Farm proposal.

In addition to the legislation approving the required rezoning, another piece of legislation establishes a developer's agreement that spells out how M/I Homes would be reimbursed for road construction through impact fees and the creation of a community-development authority.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

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