Liberty Township trustees slate public hearing on 190-acre overlay north of Hyatts Road

Jim Fischer
ThisWeek

A controversial zoning overlay is scheduled for consideration by the Liberty Township trustees, absent support from the township’s Zoning Commission.

Following a third continuation of a public hearing that started in October, the commission on Jan. 27 voted 4-1 to deny recommendation of the proposal, which would create a roughly 190-acre overlay north of Hyatts Road, primarily between Sawmill Parkway and Liberty Road.

This revised planned-overlay-district map, which was considered during the Dec. 16 meeting of the LIberty Township Zoning Commission and rejected by the commission Jan. 27. It then went before the township trustees for a public hearing Feb. 16, was continued to March 15 and ultimately approved 2-1 by trustees March 15.

Trustees will hold a public hearing on the proposal at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 16. The meeting will be livestreamed on the Liberty Township Trustees Delaware County YouTube channel. Trustees set 5:30 p.m. Feb.18 as time to continue the hearing if needed.

The planned overlay district would create subareas within the overlay, each zoned for particular uses: commercial, office/medical, technology and multifamily residential, for example.

Attorney Steve Cuckler, representing the developers and landowners, said the proposal would set the stage for a diversified tax base in the township while also taking a “holistic” approach to development in the area, particularly as it relates to land along Sawmill Parkway in the northern part of the township.

Most residents commenting during the zoning commission’s hearing process opposed the plan, calling the overlay out of character with the township’s comprehensive plan, which currently shows the area zoned FR-1 farm residential.

Other concerns voiced by residents include density within the multifamily areas and anticipated curb cuts along Sawmill Parkway to accommodate new development.

Commission member Phil Fry said he was “trying to be open-minded” about the proposal but has “a hard time seeing anything in the application that tried to comply with our comprehensive plan or zoning resolution.”

Cuckler said the comprehensive plan, which last was revised in 2017 and approved in 2018, included language that it needed to be regularly updated and that the township should encourage multifamily and mixed-use development.

Commission member Todd Pomorski said he thought some dialogue with trustees was necessary before making such a sweeping change to the current zoning.

“This land’s going to get developed. It’s a question of how do we see it being developed,” said commission member Joe Karr, who cast the lone vote in favor of recommending the overlay district. “A lot has changed since” the adoption of the current comprehensive plan.

Trustee Bryan Newell said the absence of a recommendation from the zoning commission is not binding on the trustees.

“Trustees were always going to make the final decision on this matter,” he said in a Jan. 29 special trustees meeting. “This is not a case where we’re going to have to override (the commission) if we choose to approve or agree with (the commission) if we don’t. (The commission is) simply making a recommendation based on their assessment of land use.”

Trustee Mike Gemperline called the commission’s recommendation to deny the proposal “the right decision,” noting “the overwhelming majority of residents that have spoken out against this POD.”

Gemperline said he believes Newell and trustee Syra Eichhorn intend to approve the proposal and intimated that contributions made to Newell’s 2019 successful campaign for trustee might have been connected with the intent of securing approval for the overlay district.

“I resent that implication,” Newell said. “I did not find out about this POD until after I was newly elected. Those contributions had nothing to do with this, and I have not made my intentions clear.”

Cuckler told ThisWeek he looks forward to presenting to the trustees some of the changes that have been made to the proposal since it originally was presented, including additional limits on approved uses within the various subareas.

He said meetings continue to be held with local residents and that developers “remain excited” about the proposal.

“I appreciate the zoning commission members looking at this and recognizing the POD as presently structured was not acceptable for Liberty Township,” Liberty Road resident Scott Miller, who spoke during past hearings on the POD, told ThisWeek.

He said residents in the northern part of the township understand some development in the area is unavoidable, but he hopes a dialogue could be established that allows more residents' input into the process.

"My concern all along is working out a compromise,” he said, “something responsible instead of just having something dumped on us. 

“Isn’t there more than (tax) revenue?” he asked. “Aren’t there land uses that are beneficial for other reasons? I’d like to see what we can do to make this plan work for everybody.”

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