Liberty Township: Overlay approval clears way for mixed-use development north of Hyatts

Jim Fischer
ThisWeek

Liberty Township trustees approved a contentious zoning overlay during a March 15 public hearing.

Trustees voted 2-1 to approve Planned Overlay District 18, creating a roughly 190-acre zoning overlay for mixed-use development north of Hyatts Road, primarily between Sawmill Parkway and Liberty Road.

This updated map shows Planned Overlay District 18 in Liberty Township, as approved by township trustees March 15.

Trustees Shyra Eichhorn and Bryan Newell voted in favor of the POD, rejecting the recommendation of the township's zoning commission, which voted 4-1 against recommendation Jan. 27.

Trustee Mike Gemperline voted against the zoning measure.

The March 15 hearing was continued from a six-plus-hour hearing Feb. 16, one that pitted developers against many residents who have opposed the overlay on the basis that large-scale commercial and light-industrial development, plus the density of proposed apartment complexes, would run counter to the area’s rural nature, a condition supported by the current township comprehensive plan, which was approved in early 2018.

Developers, represented by attorney Steve Cuckler and planner/designer Todd Faris, countered that this kind of mixed-use development, when done in a comprehensive and consistent manner, benefits township residents and offers new revenue streams to local government and schools through a diversification of the tax base.

Trustees spent much of the March 15 meeting seeking and gaining compromises from developers in the form of clarifications and limitations on overlay details, including approved land use within certain subareas of the overlay, density of multifamily areas, buffering and allowable construction materials and township oversight of future developments within the overlay. In all, 36 new amendments were added to the proposal, which already had been changed from its original form after the zoning commission vote and meetings between area residents and the developers.

“It was a lot of work. I spent a lot of time one on one with residents between the meetings, trying to hear as many of their concerns as possible, and then going through page by page (during the meeting) with the developer to improve on the application,” Eichhorn told ThisWeek.

“It’s a fair compromise,” Cuckler told ThisWeek. “There have been substantial changes made since we made the original application, reducing the number of apartments, increased green space. … In the end, it’s still a win-win for the schools and the township, especially in terms of having shovel-ready sites for commercial development.”

It wasn’t enough compromise, though, said township resident John Hartman.

“There were some objectionable things that were modified, but what’s the old saying? ‘Lipstick on a pig,’” Hartman told ThisWeek. “I still had some hope because of what happened with (the zoning commission), that the trustees might vote against it, so it’s disappointing.”

Resident Bill Henderly said Eichhorn, in particular, was addressing specific concerns shared with her by residents but that his hope would have been a defeat of the overlay in its entirety.

“We knew it was an uphill battle,” Henderly said.

Both Hartman and Henderly acknowledged some informal discussion among residents about gathering signatures to place the overlay before voters in a referendum, but that course of action potentially could get costly if the petition effort ends up in the courts.

“I know there are a lot of people that want to pass petitions and force a referendum, but there are just a whole bunch of hurdles,” Hartman said.

Eichhorn acknowledged that, for many residents, concessions and compromises fall short of what they had hoped for.

“Many of them told me that just because they were meeting with me didn’t mean they were on board with the POD,” she said. “I get that, but I am convinced that if we didn’t develop this, it would be annexed by a city and developed and any tax revenue (would be) outside the township.

“We can’t stay on our current tax trajectory. We need the commercial to help offset people’s tax bills,” she said. “And the POD offers a cohesive, high-quality look and approach so development in that area is not just hodgepodge.”

Attorney Steve Cuckler, representing the various landowners involved, added his support to the decision.

“The Curmode and Bauder families are very pleased with the trustee approval," he told ThisWeek. "They have been farming this ground since the late 1800s, and this example of smart responsible development is a win-win for Olentangy Schools and Liberty Township taxpayers,” he said.

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