After two years and 10 drafts, a Dec. 16 public hearing could move an agreement for a joint economic development district (JEDD) in northwest Fairfield County closer to fruition.

The joint hearing before the Pickerington City Council and Canal Winchester Village Council is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Pickerington City Hall, 100 Lockville Road. Officials from Violet Township and the city of Lancaster said they also plan to attend.

In June, Violet Township became the first Fairfield County community to approve an agreement committing the township to the future establishment of the Northwest Fairfield County 33 Corridor Joint Economic Development District (JEDD).

The proposed JEDD is a mile-wide business district along U.S. Route 33 from Bloom Township through Lancaster, Canal Winchester, Pickerington and Violet Township to Diley Road.

In July, the Bloom Township trustees voted against participating in the district. The Lancaster and Pickerington city councils and the Canal Winchester village council have yet to take a position on the document.

The agreement, which has been nearly three years in the making, is not without critics.

Fairfield County economic development director Bill Arnett said he plans to attend the hearing to voice his concerns.

Among other things, the JEDD includes a prohibition against annexation of land in the district by the participating cities. In exchange, it allows the cities to share in revenue created by development in the JEDD area by putting in place a 2-percent income tax.

The JEDD does not go into effect until a developer comes forward with a project. As written, the proposed agreement calls for 35 percent of the income tax collected to be used for infrastructure improvements within the district.

Proposal garners
mixed reaction
JEDD proponents have touted the agreement's intent to promote collaboration in the development of northwestern Fairfield County and its potential to raise tax revenues to pay to build infrastructure in unincorporated areas of Violet Township.

Opponents argue the specter of an additional tax could drive away potential development opportunities.

Violet Township trustee Gary Weltlich has been the driving force behind the JEDD from the start. He said he was spurred into action by the Ohio Department of Transportation's work to craft Route 33 into an "interstate look-alike between Athens and Columbus."

"I said, 'Now is the time for action,'" Weltlich said. "It was time for we in the political subdivisions to start taking action to preserve this for true commercial and industrial development. I mean office buildings and industrial parks and light manufacturing."

Doing that, Weltlich said, requires a spirit of regional cooperation where there had been divisiveness in the past.

"I'll be the first to admit I was nave," he said. "I thought it would only take a year or 15 months. But it hasn't. I think we are getting close now, but I've said that a couple other times."

Canal Winchester development director Chris Strayer said he thinks Weltlich and Violet Township are on the right track.

"It's a great step for the region as far as collaboration goes," Strayer said. "It's going to provide more land that will be shovel-ready than is there right now."

Each of the participating entities will have to pay an initial cost of $6,250 to enter into the agreement, which will be administered by Canal Winchester.
Canal Winchester council members seem to agree that the JEDD is good for the village.

"I certainly think it doesn't hurt to be for it," said Councilwoman Bobbie Mershon.

Councilman Bruce Jarvis said the village has "little to gain, but nothing to lose," while Victor Paini said the JEDD will allow village officials to have some say in the look and feel of the area as it develops.

Opponents raise
cost concerns
Lancaster City Council members seem less approving.

"I think there is less support on council than the mayor's office," said Councilman Tom Stoughton, adding that Lancaster council members are "neutral, but leaning against" approval of the JEDD.

"I'm not in favor of it for Lancaster," Councilman Ken Culver said.

Culver added that the agreement is "too nebulous" and he disliked the idea of raising taxes.

"I just think this is not a good time to tax people," he said.

Bloom Township originally was included in the agreement, but township trustees moved to opt out in July, as property owners began to oppose the JEDD.

"We went into this with our ears and eyes open," said Joe Smith, chairman of the Bloom Township trustees. "We looked at it and everybody said, 'no, we don't want anything to do with this.'"

Bill Boving, who owns approximately 80 percent of the land in what was to be the JEDD area in Bloom Township, opposed the JEDD, as did Bob Stebelton, another well-known landowner in the region.

"That's a lot of weight," Smith said.

Carol Moore, the township's fiscal officer, said she warned trustees early on that the township could not afford participation. She said the township spent more than $32,000 from its general fund in attorneys' fees during the two years it took to investigate participation in the agreement.

She said the township normally doesn't incur these kinds of fees.

Moore added the agreement would be fruitless for the township, regardless.

"I think the trustees finally realized that the income wouldn't cover the expense," she said.

Arnett: JEDDS should
be project-specific
One of Arnett's objections is that the communities are committing to form an agreement before the need for a JEDD even exists.

"When you actually boil it down to the document itself, it makes no sense," he said. "Companies don't run around Ohio looking for JEDDs to jump into. They're development tools, not business incentives."

In Ohio, Arnett said, JEDDs are still fairly uncommon. When they are created, he said, they are designed to meet the unique needs of a specific development project.

For example, creation of a JEDD in Pickaway County was driven by a project from one of the largest railway shipping companies in the nation, Norfolk Southern, to construct the intermodal station at Rickenbacker International Airport. That JEDD was created to provide tax revenues for the provision of sewer and water services to the Global Logistics Park and to stop annexation by the city of Columbus.

Arnett said another, the Etna JEDZ, was created to provide 100-percent, 15-year property tax abatements to ProLogis as the company looked to build an industrial park in Etna Township. It also allowed for cooperation in the distribution of the income tax from the park to several public entities in the area.

"I know there are people who are really attached to this document and want to see it move forward," Arnett said. "My suggestion has always been to craft a JEDD when there's a project so you can truly meet the needs of the project. What happens if the project need doesn't fit into the box?"

Weltlich argues that Arnett's suggestion that the township and other potential JEDD participants are taking a one-size-fits-all approach is not a valid argument.

"(It) is not a valid argument because this is not a JEDD," he said. "It's a JEDD model or template or whatever you want to call it. It allows the private sector to know what the rules of the game are before they play. It minimizes the unknowns and when the unknowns are quantified, it diminishes risk."

As for the argument that the additional income tax will send potential development elsewhere, Weltlich counters that so far, that hasn't been the case in areas of Fairfield County that already have an income tax.

Hansley: No minuses
to JEDD agreement
Pickerington City Manager Tim Hansley, who has decades of development experience in and around central Ohio, said he is encouraging council members to vote in favor of the joint agreement to form a JEDD.

"It's not that there are a whole lot of pluses, there just aren't any minuses," Hansley said. "There's no reason not to join in the partnership if there is a possibility of a payoff 10 or 15 or 20 years down the road."

By agreeing to participate in a JEDD when it comes along, Hansley said the city is strengthening its relationship with Violet Township.

"There is no down side for us," he said. "Development is going to happen anyway and we might as well bring something to the table in the way of support. Ultimately, when the land does develop ... there is money to be shared."

Should Pickerington, Canal Winchester and Lancaster officials decide to join the agreement, Arnett said county development officials will find a way to deal with what he sees as the potential consequences.

"At the end of the day, if it happens, you just go on," he said. "Things aren't going to grind to a halt. But I just don't see that it does anything."