Hilliard City Council is poised to decide Sept. 10 whether to approve the rezoning and developer's agreement necessary for the construction of Hill Farm, which would include 229 single-family residences on 207 acres on the north side of Scioto Darby Road, west of Elliott Road and east of Langton Road, in Brown Township near Hilliard's western boundaries.
The rezoning application to change 163 acres from rural residential to a conservation district was the subject of a public hearing and second reading Aug. 27; the other 44 acres would remain parkland.
Meanwhile, Hilliard City Schools is exploring the possibility of a new building site adjacent to Hill Farm, according to an Aug. 27 letter from Superintendent John Marschhausen to council President Albert Iosue.
In the letter, Marschhausen informed Iosue, "I feel confident stating that the Hilliard City Schools is interested in the conversation."
Marschhausen said district leaders are considering swapping land with the Hill family, the former owners of the Hill Farm property, which is adjacent to the Sid Griffith Equestrian Center, 7380 Scioto Darby Road.
The Hill family owns land that has been annexed into Hilliard that is not part of the 207-acre Hill Farm development, according to Tom Hart, an attorney representing M/I Homes, the developer of Hill Farm.
The district owns about 20 acres on Leppert Road from the former Grener property, according to Stacie Raterman, a spokeswoman for the district.
It's what remains after the district sold 103 acres north of Scioto Darby Road to Hilliard in 2014 for $4 million. The district purchased 124 acres between Cosgray and Leppert roads for $50,000 per acre from the Grener family in 2003. The land was a potential site for Bradley High School – voters then rejected two bond issues and the district opened Bradley on Walker Road in 2009 – and almost was sold to a housing developer in 2013.
Hilliard has since sold a portion of the land that became Bo Jackson's Elite Sports and is poised to use the remainder of the land for recreational purposes, including soccer fields and a Miracle Field.
But although a land swap remains an option, Marschhausen wrote, "there are other options that we, as a district, must consider."
"(The district) may be better served purchasing the property directly from the Hill family and retaining the acreage on Leppert Road as a potential future school site," he wrote.
Marschhausen said the district must be prepared for future growth.
With Hilliard "engaging Columbus about additional water and sewer taps ... it is important for the schools to be prepared with additional school sites. We are also speaking with developers about potential school sites in the western portion of the district," he said.
The sites could be used for an elementary school, according to Raterman.
However, it remains unclear how soon Hilliard might achieve the additional sanitary-sewer capacity needed for further development in western Hilliard.
Columbus provides water-and-sewer services to many central Ohio suburbs, including Hilliard. Sewer taps in those communities allow residents and businesses to connect to Columbus' sanitary-sewer system and eliminate the need for a septic tank.
Local leaders have said that if City Council approves the rezoning for Hill Farm, the 229 residences would claim the remaining sanitary-sewer taps in that area.
Without the ability to provide water-and-sewer services for future residential or commercial development in the western part of Hilliard, development there would be hindered, according to councilman Les Carrier. In addition to it being an economic-development issue, the lack of sewer taps also could prevent the city from annexing more land to the west, he said.
Councilmen Nathan Painter and Andy Teater and law director Tracy Bradford met with Columbus officials Aug. 27 to discuss modifying the contract to add taps but it appeared to provide no immediate clarity.
"Our meeting resulted in some very open and constructive dialogue with representatives from Columbus," Bradford said. "We are in the information-sharing stage of discussions and look forward to this dialogue continuing in the coming weeks and through subsequent meetings."
Teater described the session as "very open and cordial."
"Speaking as one council person, I would say that this is the very first small step to hopefully Hilliard working with Columbus and the (Big) Darby Accord to thoughtfully plan quality and environmentally-sound development that protects the Darby watershed," Teater said.
John Ivanic, assistant director of the Columbus Department of Public Utilities, said leaders met with Hilliard officials "to get a baseline understanding of the issues Hilliard faces."
"(We) will continue to discuss capacity limitations in multiple sewer lines as they relate to our current service agreement and the guidelines of the (Big) Darby Accord," Ivanic said.
Hilliard is one of the 10 local governments that created the Big Darby Accord in 2004 to preserve and protect the Big Darby Creek and its tributaries in western central Ohio, according to bigdarbyaccord.org. In 2008, Hilliard City Council approved the Big Darby Accord Watershed Master Plan, according to authorizing legislation.
The master plan limited the city to 2,000 sanitary-sewer taps in the area, Bradford said.
Despite the uncertainty, M/I Homes indicated at the nearly two-hour Aug. 27 public hearing that it intended to oversize sanitary-sewer lines capable of providing services to more than the proposed 229 residences.
Josh Barkan, land-acquisition manager for M/I Homes, said the developer is interested in purchasing available land in the area for future development.
In support of Hill Farm, Hart told council members to consider precedent.
"This council should be evaluating Hill Farm exactly how it evaluated (Heritage Preserve and Tarlton Meadows)," said Hart, referring to other residential developments in western Hilliard.
Neighbors remained opposed to Hill Farm, and several spoke at the public hearing.
"We know there will be development; we're just asking that it be reasonable," said Nancy Rhynard of Langton Road.