Monday, March 26, 2001

Use of green space opposed

Hamilton County prepares to develop western site

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The $113 million deal to bring a Gap Inc. distribution center — and 1,000 jobs — to Harrison Township is dead, but the fight over what to do with the 160-acre site is very much alive.

        Hamilton County officials want to plow ahead with widening roads, and laying sewer and water lines so the site will be ready for whatever development comes next.

        But Concerned Citizens of Western Hamilton County, a group of citizens who have fought against plans to develop remaining green space there, want politicians and developers to back off.

        Group members wrote county commissioners to request a moratorium on all public improvements to the former Gap site.

        “Let's view the delay as an opportunity, not a disappointment,” reads the letter, which was signed by repre sentatives from each municipality in western Hamilton County.

        It doesn't appear that will happen.

        Plans are already on the books that will lay sewer and water lines, and to extend nearby Dry Fork Road, a $3 million project that will make Interstate 74 more accessible to the development.

        Commissioners are likely to act on the road improvement April 4.

        “There's a war going on out here,” said Green Township resident Clare Johnson.

        The Gap dispute is one skirmish in that war, but one that illustrates the continuing dispute over how the vast green spaces in the western part of the county should be handled.

        David Main, president of the Hamilton County Development Co., said the Harrison Township land will be developed. It's just a question of when and by whom.

        His agency, which negoti ates corporate tax breaks for the county, has already been contacted by about a half dozen companies interested in developing that parcel.

        “We're really getting back to the original intent of the site — a multi-user industrial site,” Mr. Main said. “We'll have 5- to 20-acre tracts. But for that to happen, we need to get water and sewer in there and we have to improve access.”

        Some residents say that logic is flawed. If the county isn't sure of the development coming in, how can they lay the right infrastructure?

        Tim Sisson, a Delhi Township resident, said public input wasn't considered before the Gap deal was put together. Now that the Gap has backed out, the county should reconsider whether to lay the infrastructure.

        “Let's look at how we want to use that area and plan for moderate development,” Mr. Sisson said. “The people out there don't want extreme development.

        “But that's certainly part of the county's grand scheme.”

        Ron Miller, the county's plan ning and zoning department executive director, said a moratorium would be ill-advised. The decision on what happens on that land rests with local elected leaders, not the county, he said.

        Residents have one sympathetic ear on the commission.

        Todd Portune said it should be the city of Harrison — not the county — laying water and sewer lines. The city could do the job more cheaply, he said.

        But Mr. Main said work on those lines could begin by county agencies in as little as six months. And that's just what Ms. Johnson is concerned about.

        “They're going full speed ahead and providing taxpayer-financed infrastructure, even though they have no tenant,” Ms. Johnson said. “We think there is a better use for our tax money.

        “If I lived on the east side of town and had sewer problems, I'd wonder why they were giving away free sewers in the west.”


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