Looking for a rural home to raise his family, Benton Benalcazar bought 43 acres in Genoa Township 16 years ago for $1 million.
After his children, now 25 and 23, moved out, he had planned for a nice return on his investment.
The payoff was to come by converting the land just west of Hoover Reservoir into a residential subdivision. But after repeated objections from the township, he's now taking a dramatic turn: proposing instead a poultry, swine and cattle farm.
New homes would add about $100 million in taxable property, Benalcazar calculated. About 75 percent of residents said they favor homes if located north of Big Walnut Road and on lots of at least a quarter-acre, according to a 2015 community survey by Fallon Research and Communications conducted for the township. His housing proposal matched both the lot size and location.
But township officials have told him their priority is to preserve the rural landscape and avoid the trappings of growth, including overcrowded schools and roads.
"We've tried for close to a dozen years to get rezoning. Every time we made an overture, our ideas were summarily rejected," said Benalcazar, 58, who was raised in Upper Arlington.
Township Trustee Karl Gebhardt said Benalcazar has never submitted official plans.
"To say that he has been denied what he wants to do, I take exception to," Gebhardt said.
Benalcazar said he would need to submit a costly application to rezone the property, with no guarantees of approval.
"I'm not going to apply for a rezoning. I can't afford to throw $110,000 out the window. If I felt there would be some unbiased evaluation, I would do it. I'm done trying to do that."
The property is now zoned rural-residential, which allows for the equivalent of 2-acre lots per dwelling. Benalcazar, a commercial real estate broker, wants at least four homes per acre.
The standoff has him now shifting to animals, specifically pigs, cattle and young hens, or pullets. His new plan calls for a caged pullet operation, a swine finishing barn and beef cattle farm.
His lawyer sent a letter recently to township officials, calling out their "irrational deference to a vocal minority."
"As you are aware, these agricultural uses, and the buildings and equipment associated with them, are exempt from township zoning," wrote attorney Joseph Miller. "Given the property's prime location in southern Delaware County, the Benalcazars anticipate rapid growth, and plan to build three additional pullet buildings, enough to house about 1.25 million chicks."
Miller pointed out that the operation, including up to 2,500 hogs and 1,000 head of cattle, requires no oversight from the Ohio Department of Agriculture, per state law.
"We just don't want to totally blindside anyone," said Benalcazar. "We wanted to give people notification," noting however that the letter "does express a level of frustration. I just feel handcuffed.
"It's going to be a surprise to a lot of people," he acknowledged. "This is prime residential ground. I think a lot of neighbors thought it's eventually going to be residential."
Barn construction could begin in November, he said.
While livestock conjures images of noise and odors, Benalcazar said the nuisance will be limited.
As a contract farmer, he would provide the structures and labor. The operators would handle the day-to-day work, raising the chicks, piglets and cattle until they reach a certain size, where they will be shipped away to lay eggs or be rendered for consumption.
"There will be no egg-laying on our property," he said. "There will be no slaughterhouse on our property."
Still, Columbus, which controls the reservoir, has reservations, noting any discharge would be subject to Ohio EPA monitoring, said Laura Young-Mohr, Columbus utilities spokeswoman.
Benalcazar said the township, in one of the fastest-growing regions of the state, needs to be open to responsible growth.
"Unfortunately, our township has listened to a very small minority that are opposed to any kind of development. I think that's unfortunate."
Gebhardt said he doesn't think most residents are opposed to development -- "They just don't want it to go unabated," he said.
As for the farm proposal, he added: "I am going to assume that there are going to be people not pleased with what they are going to do."