Amazon, Facebook and Google have been making their home in New Albany International Business Park, and the city of New Albany has been moving east along Route 161 into western Licking County. As more land is slated for development, life is changing at the crossroads of suburban progress and rural life.
JERSEY TOWNSHIP — Scott Corrigan said he remembers the days when Morse Road was a quiet, country road. Nine cars drove from homes in western Licking County’s Jersey Township to jobs in Columbus, and nine cars drove back in the evening.
When his parents moved the family from Whitehall to Licking County in the early 1960s, Corrigan said, the area was a quintessential rural farming community. He remembers a childhood of Saturday night square dances and searching for arrowheads in the acres of cornfields behind his house.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and evening newsletters
Corrigan’s roots run deep in Jersey Township. So when it came time for his own family to settle down — including wife Tracy and their four kids — Corrigan bought his parents’ house in the mid-1980s.
Together, the couple transformed the 900-square-foot ranch into a two-story house with a garage. They recorded the whole renovation on VHS tapes, jokingly calling it “This Old House.”
“I was always proud to tell people that I was from Jersey,” said Corrigan, 61. “I never thought we’d leave.”
Facebook changed that.
In August 2017, Facebook announced that it would build a 970,000-square-foot data center in nearby New Albany. The $750 million project would be built on 345 acres of land annexed from the township just inside the Licking County line along Beech Road and south of Route 161.
The data center was within eyeshot of the Corrigans’ backyard, about a mile away. The cornfields were replaced with heavy machinery and mounds of dirt. Light from the site emitted a constant glow that Corrigan said was bright enough to read a newspaper at night.
“I had determined a long time ago that I was going to stay here regardless. But I didn’t realize — maybe I was naive — the scope of this development,” he said.
In July 2018, the Corrigans were approached by a man from the New Albany Company, a real estate development company founded by L Brand founder Leslie H. Wexner and Jack Kessler, “to spearhead the metamorphosis of New Albany,” according to its website.
The man asked them if they were interested in selling their property.
Corrigan said no one forced his hand, but inside he felt he had no choice but to get out while he could.
By January, the sale was complete. Scott and Tracy bought her mother’s house in nearby Etna Township and left their beloved Jersey.
“There’s no stopping what’s going on, and there’s no delaying it. I don’t think I could possibly stay and be witness to that,” Scott Corrigan said. “I think that would be more painful to me than what I’m doing now, which is excruciatingly painful.”
Today, Jersey Township has about 2,900 residents, a fraction of neighboring New Albany’s nearly 10,800, according to the Census Bureau.
Like many central Ohio suburbs, New Albany had humble beginnings. The then-village was founded in 1839 in Franklin County, and growth was slow for decades. New Albany reported 414 residents in the 1980 census.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that New Albany’s population grew rapidly, thanks in part to The Limited, Wexner’s expanding clothing empire.
Now a city, New Albany’s 4,500-acre International Business Park is home to companies including Express, Google and AEP. There are more than 4,600 jobs in the Licking County portion of the business park, and it has created thousands more construction jobs, said Scott McAfee, a spokesman for New Albany’s economic development department. There’s been nearly $3 billion in private investment, and income and property-tax revenue combined has raised $4.5 million for local school districts.
Since 2014, New Albany has annexed 2,880 acres of land into the city, with 2,300 acres coming from Jersey Township, McAfee said. In 2019, 844 more acres from Jersey Township have been annexed.
The city is reaching its limit in moving farther east into Licking County, said Jennifer Chrysler, New Albany’s director of community development.
That’s in part because the city is bound by its existing water and sewer lines. Chrysler said New Albany has reached its limit south of Route 161 and is close to doing so north of the highway.
The Western Licking County Accord also prevents developers from having a free-for-all in the county, Chrysler said. The WLCA is a formalized planning agreement among Jersey Township, New Albany and the village of Johnstown.
The accord was adopted in 2018 to help the jurisdictions plan for future development. It also includes maps of proposed future land uses to guide public investment and public and private development decisions, Chrysler said.
“If people decide that they want to sell their property for development purposes, these are the guidelines we’re going to follow,” Chrysler said.
Preserving Licking County’s rural heritage is a high priority for residents, according to the accord. A survey produced by the accord found that 86% of western Licking County residents want to preserve their community’s rural, small-town character.
That was a selling factor for Mike Armentrout and his family when they built their house in Jersey Township.
Armentrout, a real estate appraiser, bought land in a plotted subdivision near Johnstown in 1999. They built their house on a wooded lot along Blacklick Creek in 2004 and raised five kids there.
Armentrout said Jersey Township provided the best of both worlds.
“You can have your country feel and be close to the amenities that the city provides,” he said.
Earlier this year, the Armentrouts received a letter from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Their property and the properties of three neighbors on the creek back up to two farms, and one of the farms was sold to the New Albany Company. Armentrout said they’ve been worried since.
“My biggest fear when we bought this place was that they would put houses on the other side; I never in a million years thought there would be gigantic warehouses,” Jen Armentrout said.
Mike Armentrout said he’s not against economic development and has praised what New Albany has accomplished. But he still has concerns about the future.
“In my opinion as a real estate person, once they entered into Licking County, their mode totally changed,” he said. “It’s not community planning anymore, it’s creating revenue streams. I’m OK for that until you start encumbering other people.”
Chrysler said she recognizes the decision to sell property to developers can create conflict among neighbors. She said the city does not approach homeowners with a plan in mind for future developments, and that the accord is in place to help landowners navigate decision-making. Developers also have met one on one with homeowners to discuss their concerns and make changes to some proposals, Chrysler said.
Neither Armentrout nor Corrigan blames farmers for selling their land; they understand their predicament. But Armentrout said New Albany’s presence in Licking County has created some tension.
“The general tenor of people out here is, ‘You’re coming in and you’re destroying our country life for your industrial revenue that you want to create,’” Armentrout said. “Putting up four-rail fence and planting some trees doesn’t make it a community.”
Armentrout said he and his wife have discussed their worst-case scenario and whether they should move. The question remains, though, about where it would be safe to build to avoid future development.
What they are certain of is their best-case scenario: The New Albany Company buying them out.
Armentrout said he and his neighbors sent a letter to the New Albany Company a few months ago detailing their concerns and preferred options for the land immediately behind them. He said the New Albany Company firmly rejected their proposal to buy the four properties.
This Old House
On a balmy August morning, Corrigan pulled out his camcorder and propped up his tripod in the bed of his truck. He pressed “record.”
“Welcome to the final episode of ‘This Old House,’” he said.
It was demolition day.
An excavator rolled up and began to swing at the two-story home. Its first hit was at the back right corner — Scott and Tracy’s bathroom. When the stone chimney came down, Tracy started to weep.
A construction worker came up to Tracy as she watched. “There it goes!” he said.
It took about a half-hour for the whole house to come down. When the excavator drove away, Scott and Tracy walked along the remnants of their home. They picked up some scraps to save, and then hopped back in their truck and drove away.
Fifty-five years of memories were erased in a matter of minutes. Scott said he expects the rest of Jersey Township will be erased within a decade, too.
He’ll still be a landowner in Jersey, though.
Scott already bought his gravesite at Jersey Presbyterian Cemetery. That way he’ll always have a stake in the township.