Hilliard council sets July 13 public hearing on rezoning of Grener land for data-center use

KEVIN CORVO
kcorvo@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

Hilliard City Council could decide July 13 whether to allow a data center as a permitted use on a 104-acre tract off Cosgray Road that has a deed restriction for parks-and-recreation uses.

The land, known locally as the Grener tract because of the family that once lived there, is in three parcels on the east side of Cosgray, west of Leppert Road and south of Hayden Run Road.

An ordinance was introduced June 22 to rezone the land from a support-facilities district to a planned-unit development that would allow a data center. The second reading and public hearing is scheduled July 13.

The 104 acres includes 84 owned by the city and 20 owned by the Hilliard City Schools.

The city’s 84 acres once were owned by the school district and were part of almost 104 acres the city purchased from the school district in 2014 for $4 million. In 2003, the district had purchased 124 acres north of Scioto Darby Road between Cosgray and Leppert roads, for $50,000 per acre from the Grener family as a potential site for Hilliard Bradley High School.

The other approximately 20 acres the city purchased in 2014, including about 7 acres for Bo Jackson’s Elite Sports, 4696 Cosgray Road, are not part of the rezoning request, David Ball, director of communications for Hilliard, previously told ThisWeek.

In November 2014, the city’s Grener land was rezoned to a support-facilities district, and it has a deed restriction that prohibits the use of the property for anything other than parks and recreational purposes, according to a city staff report.

The deed restriction would need to be lifted in conjunction with the PUD concept plan to allow data-center uses, according to city planner John Talentino.

City Manager Michelle Crandall said Hilliard does not have the financing available to advance development of the land for recreational purposes in the near future.

She said a data center would be a “good secondary use” for the land.

“The next best use is a data center, (and) we want to be ready if (an opportunity) comes before us,” Crandall said.

Hilliard resident Christina Muñoz said she has a twofold concern about the proposal.

“It was supposed to be greenspace for our community,” she said.

Beyond that, Munoz said, she is skeptical about the tax breaks and other incentives the city has offered in the past to attract businesses.

“It’s a race to the bottom sometimes. … What are the financial benefits, if any, to the residents?” she said.

Council member Omar Tarazi asked why the administration is asking for the rezoning now.

“The value is time,” Talentino said.

Talentino said a city with land already zoned for a data center eliminates a 6-month rezoning process and would give the city an advantage over other sites that might rezoning.

Council member Kelly McGivern said she supported the view.

“If we wait until there is a buyer, we are already behind in the game,” she said. “We need ‘shovel-ready’ projects. I applaud the administration for coming forward to say that if there is no money to develop soccer fields, this is the next best use.”

Council member Cynthia Vermillion said she did not want to proceed with the rezoning unless the city has an alternate site plan for the recreational uses intended for the Grener site.

Council member Les Carrier also said an alternate site plan for parks and recreational uses was needed.

“We have some thoughts on where we could put (new) parks,” Crandall said.

She said those could be discussed at City Council’s planning retreat July 10 and 11.

Carrier said it is important that the city understand “the whole picture before advancing the plan.”

“We are not committing to a data center,” said council President Andy Teater.

Teater said the proposed rezoning only allows for a data center if a company approaches the city and an agreement is reached for it.

The rezoning would be the first of several steps required for a data center to come to fruition, Crandall said.

“A sale of the land and design approval would follow,” she said.

Although the school district would lift the deed restriction for a data center, it would not do so for any residential development, Crandall said.

“A lot of companies look at central Ohio for data centers,” she said.

The Hilliard Planning and Zoning Commission on June 11 voted 5-1 to recommend approval of the initiative to City Council.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo