Tuesday, May 01, 2001

Butler Co. townships expand commerce

By Walt Schaefer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As the flurry of home construction continues in Butler County's Liberty and Fairfield townships, a commercial base to serve the growing population is taking shape.

        But some residents say the convenience of local shopping comes at a high cost: the sort of congestion and traffic that caused them to move away from more urban areas.

        Both townships are creating commercial hubs and using the easy access of Michael A. Fox Highway interchanges (Ohio 129) as magnets.

        “For sure, Home Depot and Wal-Mart are guaranteed,” said Chris Gilbert, Fairfield Township zoning administrator. Both have broken ground at Ohio Bypass 4 and Princeton Road just north of the Fox Highway and Bypass 4 interchange. “There's room for another "big box' retailer.”

        Fairfield Township Administrator Ron Randolph said that with the community's population jumping from 9,000 to 16,000 in the past decade and about 400 homes built in each of the past two years, the commercial growth is welcome — not only to serve residents but to help rein in rising property taxes.

        “Princeton and the bypass is becoming our commercial hub,” said Mr. Randolph, who predicts such development stretching along the bypass from the Fox Highway north past Princeton Road by 2006.

        Just to the east, a similar pattern is emerging in Liberty Township, where a recent study indicates a need to earmark 17 percent of township land for business development.

        New business would complement the township goal of attracting low-density, single-family housing. In each of the past two years, an average of 480 homes were built in the township.

        Developers plan a Target store on property northeast of the Fox Highway's Cincinnati-Dayton Road interchange, along with an upscale retail development dubbed Liberty Commons. It may be bordered with an upscale hotel, offices or both.

        The area around the interchange is attracting sig nificant retail business. Trustee David Kern said he expects general business to flourish from Interstate 75 west past Cincinnati-Dayton Road along the Fox Highway.

        Trustee Margy Conditt said commercial development generally will be contained within Ohio 747 and Cincinnati-Dayton Road corridors. Ms. Conditt said the leap in population from 9,600 to 22,800 in 10 years fosters a critical “need for commercial growth to help our tax base or the citizens will be taxed to death.”

        As commercial development is getting a good grip in both townships, interest in high-tech industrial and office development also is taking hold. The townships hope to attract such development soon.

        “We are really excited about the Cox Road extension.” Mr. Kern said. That project would continue Cox Road north from its present junction with Hamilton-Mason Road east of I-75 to Bethany Road. Along with the exten sion, a second road is being proposed to link Hamilton-Mason Road to Bethany on the west side of the interstate.

        Liberty Trustee Bob Shelley said the two roads paralleling the interstate will target high-tech industry and office.

        Steve Koebbe, owner of Koebbe Auto Tech service center off Lakota Lane welcomed the plans. “Any time I become more accessible and visible, it's good. It makes it easier for my customers and for my suppliers to find me.”

        In Fairfield Township, Mr. Randolph said a large tract along Tylersville Road west of Bypass 4 has been designated for high-tech industry.

        The township also expects to see Lutheran Services provide a senior services complex at the northwest corner of Bypass 4 and Hamilton-Mason Road, he said.

        The boom in southern Butler County's townships, especially West Chester, has propelled the county to 14th fastest-growing in Ohio, according to the 2000 Census. But even with a horizon rich in new commerce, residents in Liberty and Fairfield have concerns — increased traffic being the most critical.

        “I've lived in big cities from Washington to Denver and (there) you would not do this without infrastructure in place,” said Ferd Steele, who lives near Princeton Road and Bypass 4. “The road system is a joke and the bypass is nothing but two lanes, bumper to bumper. I'm not against development, but you need roads before it.”

        Fairfield Township resident Jody Merrill said he's all for convenience to retail shopping, but has concerns about office development affecting neighborhood character and traffic. “I can see a big office tower ... and a traffic light right at our (development's) entrance” off Princeton Road, he said.

        Mr. Randolph said Fairfield Township hopes to designate tax dollars from the new businesses for road improvements.



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