UPDATED: Hilliard council gives OK to set Grener land up for data center

KEVIN CORVO
kcorvo@thisweeknews.com
Hilliard City Council voted unanimously July 13 to allow a 104-acre site known as the Grener tract, between Cosgray and Leppert roads, just south of Bo Jackson's Elite Sports, to be zoned for a potential data-center location.

A data center eventually could be constructed on part or all of a 104-acre tract on the north side of Scioto Darby Road, between Cosgray and Leppert roads.

“I’m in favor of letting the city explore” a data center for the site, Hilliard City Council member Omar Tarazi said before council unanimously approved the rezoning July 13.

Although no end user has been identified, Hilliard development director David Meadows said it is important that the parcel be zoned to allow for a data center should a user be identified.

“Speed to the market is critical,” Meadows said.

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 rezoning the parcels from a support-facilities district to a planned-unit-development district that allows a data center was introduced June 22 and approved July 13.

The July 13 meeting was broadcast on the city of Hilliard’s Facebook page as City Council continues to meet remotely because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

About a dozen residents weighed in on Facebook in opposition to the rezoning and responded again after council approved the rezoning.

“Not one of them listened to the public,” wrote Christina Muñoz of Morganwood Square.

Steve Magee of Dee Drive wrote the parcel “is not an appropriate use of the land” and later added, “No consideration of what the people of the city want. Horrible.”

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

The city’s part of the property once was owned by the school district and was part of almost 104 acres the city had purchased from the school district in 2014 for $4 million. In 2003, the district purchased 124 acres there 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, the city’s communications director, 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.

Meadows concurred, telling council members it would require about $27 million to develop the parcel as the proposed Grener Sports Complex, envisioned as a mixed-use tournament facility.

“We don’t have the capital to make that happen,” he said.

Further, if the parcel were sold and used as a data center, it no longer would be tax-exempt, as it currently is while owned by the city and the school district, Meadows said.

As a data center, the city would not need to invest in the infrastructure to improve roads in the area that otherwise would be required to accommodate a sports complex, Meadows said.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s data center on Britton Parkway, just south of Hayden Run Road, has demonstrated the benefit of data centers in bringing additional employees and higher-than-average salaries to a community, Meadows said.

The action taken July 13 only rezones the land to allow for a data center. An end-user still would be required to reach a real-estate agreement with the city and the school district and would submit a final development plan to the city’s planning and zoning commission, Meadows said.

The deed restriction covers the city-owned portion of the land, council president Andy Teater said.

“The deed restriction was part of the negotiations when the schools sold the property to the city,” he said. “It was important to the school board that the property would not be residential.”

A related ordinance was introduced July 13 that allocates 75% of the sale of the Grener tract to parkland acquisition and development.

The ordinance was advanced without any discussion to a second reading and public hearing at council’s next meeting Aug. 24.

But Teater said July 15 that there is a consensus of council that any proceeds from the sale of the Grener tract should be used to support parks and recreation.

“Council made that very clear to the administration,” Teater said.

The administration recommended that 75% be set aside.

“I would say that the 75% is a minimum,” Teater said.

While it appears the city will not develop a Grener Sports Complex, the city is looking at alternatives, including working with the Buddy Ball League to build an ADA-accessible baseball diamond at Father Rodric J. DiPietro Park, 3481 Davidson Road, adjacent to St. Brendan the Navigator Catholic Church.

Grants from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources toward the project applied for use at the proposed Grener Sports Complex will transfer to other sites, said Ed Merritt, director of the recreation and parks department.

“Staff is looking at options to reduce the cost of the ADA ball field. Some options include new locations (such as DiPietro Park and Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park) and building an all-abilities playing field that does not meet all the requirements of a ‘Miracle League,’ ” said Anna Subler, communications administrator for Hilliard.

A current proposal for an ADA-accessible baseball diamond and the construction of restrooms at DiPietro Park is $364,494, Merritt said.

If the city was to sell the Grener tract, proceeds could be used for a project such as an ADA-accessible field, but state grants are anticipated to cover most of the cost for this particular project, Teater said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo