Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Mason wins OK to annex 102 acres


Deerfield Twp. had fought for land

BY KEVIN ALDRIDGE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Despite strong opposition from Deerfield Township trustees, Warren County commissioners Tuesday approved an annexation involving a chunk of township land that is becoming a part of Mason.

        The township has aggressively fought for weeks to keep the 102 acres on the east side of Mason-Montgomery Road, which is where Mason City School District wants to build a school.

        The three commissioners voted unanimously for the annexation, which was supported by the three owners of the land.

        “There was just overwhelming evidence that this board should approve this annexation as the property owners requested,” said Commissioner C. Michael Kilburn.

        “We are very pleased with the decision,” said Shelly Benesh, Mason City Schools spokeswoman. “At least now we know that the utilities are there and we can move forward with our plans.”

        The commissioners' ruling did little to improve rela tions between Mason and Deerfield, which have been immersed in a bitter tug-of-war over tax-rich township land for more than a decade. Disputes over Mason's pursuit of annexations led to the dissolution of the Mason-Deerfield Joint Fire District last year.

        Since 1988, Mason has annexed more land than any other municipality in Warren County. Mason has attempted 47 annexations totaling more than 4,000 acres, according to Warren County records.

        Trustee Bill Morand blasted commissioners during the meeting for their decision.

        “Townships aren't getting the support from commissioners that they should to fend off these annexations,” Mr. Morand said. “It's up to you to stop these annexations.”

        “We cannot stop annexations,” Commissioner Pat South responded. “We don't have the power to arbitrarily deny annexations. We have to follow the law.”

        In Ohio, annexations may be approved if several conditions are met:

        • The property must be contiguous to the city or village annexing the land.

        • The tract may not be unreasonably large.

        • the area must benefit by going into the city or village.

        • A majority of the property owners must support the move.

        Mrs. South said this particular annexation met all the criteria under state law and could not be denied.

        Trustees argued the land, which encompasses about 8 percent of Deerfield's northwest quadrant, was unreasonably large. They said its removal would be detrimental to the township's multimillion-dollar plans to bring parks and utilities to the area.

        Commissioners disagreed the land was unreasonably large, stating that in recent years, more than 37 percent of the annexations granted by the county have been greater than 100 acres.

        “It doesn't surprise me they ruled against us,” said Trustee Larry Backus. “I really didn't expect us to win this case anyway.

        “We win these types of issues with the property owners when we can convince them they are not benefiting by leaving the township. We usually don't win them in the courts or with the county commissioners.”

        Mr. Backus said state law regarding annexations gives commissioners little room to maneuver and remains the No. 1 problem facing townships.

        “The law currently says it is OK for cities to ravage townships,” Mr. Backus said. “It is almost impossible for townships to build a commu nity under the law.”

        “This turmoil exists throughout Ohio,” Mr. Morand added. “This is not just Deerfield Township and Warren County.

        “The only way it can be changed is through annexation reform or the judicial process. And change in the judicial process starts right here at the county level, with commissioners taking a stance.”

        Trustees are undecided whether they will appeal the commissioners' decision.

        “We are going to get some advice from our attorney and find out what our chances are of winning this thing on appeal,” said Mr. Morand. “If there is an opportunity to fight this thing and win, I'll do it.”

       



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