More than eight months after receiving a positive recommendation from the city’s planning and zoning commission, Hilliard City Council overturned that recommendation Oct. 22, thereby nixing a required rezoning for the proposed Hill Farm development.
The decision, for now, sinks the plan for M/I Homes 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 Road, in Brown Township.
“There is no rational basis to vote against it ... no legal reason to do so,” Tom Hart, an attorney for M/I Homes, told council members prior to the 6-1 vote to reject the proposal.
Hart declined to comment immediately after the decision and was conferring with others even while City Council advanced to other matters.
Hart said Oct. 23 that he could not comment until after he had permission from his client, and it was not clear what – if anything – M/I Homes would do in response to the decision.
On Oct. 3, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, LLP, a law firm acting on behalf of M/I Homes, sent a letter to city law director Tracy Bradford, asking for “all documents including, but not limited to, e-mail and text messages that reflect, refer, or relate to or from Hilliard City Council members that relate to ... the Hill Farm development.”
The request also asked for material related to Anderson Meadows, Heritage Preserve, Tarlton Meadows and Carr Farms – previously approved subdivisions.
Bradford said the city had met the request.
Hart said council’s rejection denies “due process” to the landowners and the developer.
Heritage Preserve and Tarlton Meadows were approved under the same conditions, Hart said, and a decision against Hill Farm would be “arbitrary.”
“This proposal meets the zoning code and comprehensive plan. ... Don’t make up reasons that don’t exist (to reject it),” said Hart, adding a “war of attorney fees” is not a benefit to either party.
Councilman Nathan Painter said, “It is not arbitrary or capricious. ... It’s following the law.”
Two council members made their stance clear before the roll call.
“This proposal falls short on many fronts,” said Councilman Pete Marsh, who Sept. 24 was among the minority of three members who voted against postponing the application until Oct. 22.
“I appreciate what (the developer) did to improve it, but my concerns can’t be overcome in four weeks,” Marsh said about his vote against postponing it.
Marsh expounded upon his decision Oct. 22.
Citing the purpose of the city’s zoning code, “... to conserve and preserve the value of property, to facilitate the provision of roads and other public requirements, and decrease or avoid congestion on public streets and highways,” Marsh said he found the basis for his decision.
“I fully believe that this development will place an undue burden on existing traffic,” he said.
Marsh further criticized the proposal as lacking in meeting the standard of the Hilliard Conservation District, which encourages “innovation in the planning and building of all types of development.”
“There is nothing creative or innovative about this proposal, it is not unique,” Marsh said.
“What has been proposed is indistinguishable from many other subdivisions in Hilliard, except for providing open space, (but) there are even more things M/I could do to distinguish this development, such as bridle paths as it is next to an established equestrian facility.
“That type of unique development is possible but is not the current proposal,” Marsh said.
Marsh was referring to the Sid Griffith Equestrian Center, 7380 Scioto Darby Road, whose co-owner, Leigh Ann Griffith, had asked the application be tabled for further discussion.
Griffith and residents expressed concern about the proposed development at previous City Council meetings.
Griffith told council members although she was not opposed to development, the current proposal did not do enough to protect her horses and riders from pedestrians and motorists. Like other residents, she said, she remained concerned about well contamination and traffic congestion.
Melissa Brinkerhoff of Langton Road appealed to council members to reject it and require a developer to “go back to the drawing board for a better plan.”
“We were surprised by the margin, and I think council sent a resounding message that was based on their concern for what is best for the community,”Griffith said Oct. 23. “There is only one chance to get it right.”
City Council Vice President Kelly McGivern, the lone supporter of the proposal, said she considered Hill Farm to be similar in nature to other developments that council previously had approved and the housing would generate enough property-tax revenue to fund the cost of education for the students it would house.
“I think it would be disingenuous for us to vote ‘no’ based on the current traffic in the area,” McGivern said.
Council members also voted 7-0 to reject a developer’s agreement that accompanied the rezoning proposal.
It included a three-year purchase option with Hilliard City Schools for 18 acres at $17,000 per acre from M/I Homes for an elementary school site; the developer providing $64,000 to engineer improvements at the intersection of Alton Darby and Scioto Darby roads; an agreement for the developer to surrender allocated sewer taps if construction does not begin within three years of the approval of construction; and provision of $10,000 to the Sid Griffith Equestrian Center for a fence to separate it from the proposed development.
Stacie Raterman, a spokeswoman for Hilliard City Schools, said the district had no comment on council’s decision.
The rejected proposal also had included 3 acres set aside as a possible site for Norwich Township’s fourth fire station.
Fire Chief Jeff Warren said Oct. 23 that after learning several months ago it would be at least several years before it could be operational and that there was opposition to the proposal, the department began investigating alternate sites.
“(But) our stance has not changed,” Warren said. “It will take a new station to properly serve the residents in the northwest quadrant in the not too distant future.”