Friday, May 04, 2001

Suburbia residents wrestle with development

Rural Hamilton Township now boom's ground zero

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON TWP. — On paper and in fields, the rural nature of this Warren County community is undergoing a sea change.

        In 2000, for the first time, more houses were built here than in neighboring Deerfield Township. And this year, builders expect to put up more homes in Hamilton Township than in any other township in Southwest Ohio. A total of 152 building permits were issued here from January through March.

        “It just seems like everybody wants to be here,” Hamilton Township Trustee Clyde Baston said.

[photo] Bill and Sue Henne of Hamilton Township say they're worried about traffic as the area grows.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
        More permits, of course, soon will translate into more residents — at an average rate of 2.8 people per house, Warren County planners estimate. That, in turn, will make Hamilton Township the fastest-growing township in the state's second-fastest-growing county.

        Growth isn't a new phenomenon, of course. Housing permits in Deerfield tripled from 1995 to 1997. That helped drive a 70 percent increase in residents there from 1990 to 2000 — to 25,500 — according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hamilton Township was no backwater in the 1990s, either, with 63 percent growth.

        But the expansion has moved east in earnest. Deerfield's housing starts last year dropped close to 1995 levels, while the growth in Hamilton Township can only be called torrid.

        “We wanted to be out a little further,” Bob Gittinger, 71, says of his and wife Janet's move from Montgomery 15 years ago. “Now we're still part of the crowd.”

        The township is on pace for at least 750 new homes this year, based on the first three months and the traditional summer upswing in construction. That would be 2,100 new residents this year for an area that's now home to 9,630. The newcomers tend to be upper-middle-class, two-income families who commute to Cincinnati or southern Warren County, county Planning Director Robert Craig says.

        “Everybody's going where the land is,” said Elda Marshall, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati. “People can get more home for the money the further out they go.”

        Regardless of the causes, the effects remain the same.

        The transformation of countryside into suburbia begins with bulldozers gouging holes for foundations in former cow pastures. It culminates in more children in the schools, more cars on the roads and fewer farmers on the land.

        Both longtime and newer residents, however, are taking the changes in stride — so far.

        Former state Rep. George Terwilleger, Hamilton Township born and raised, admits to being a little sentimental about seeing the bulldozers pull in.

        “I've probably squirrel-hunted in most of those woods over the years,” he says. “I've walked a lot of miles in those fields doing bird hunting.”

        Still, Mr. Terwilleger — husband of township Clerk Jackie Terwilleger — credits officials here with shaping how the growth has occurred.

        “Hamilton Township has done a good job of maintaining a lot of the residential character,” he said. “We have had good country folk who have been involved in (land planning and zoning) and recognize the need and concern for the next generation to have trees and such.”

        Mr. Gittinger doesn't mind the growth, either, he says as he fishes with his grandson and waves to passing neighbors. He lives in the township's first subdivision, Sunrise Landing, which has about 250 single-family homes and condos built around a small lake.

        “We're concerned a little bit about the traffic,” he concedes. “However, when you know the back roads and the right times of day to travel, it's not too bad.”

        Nicole and Bryan Hall, both 29, have no complaints about the township's two-lane roads, even though they commute to Hamilton County. And Mrs. Hall is glad to have shopping just down U.S. 22/Ohio 3 on Fields Ertel Road in Deerfield Township.

        “It's close to everything, but you're still out in the country,” Mrs. Hall said of the couple's 2-year-old home. “Kind of.”

        Sue Henne is one of the few who see trouble coming down the township's narrow, winding roads.

        “Our roads are falling apart,” says Mrs. Henne, 60, a six-year resident. “They weren't built to handle all the traffic. ... We can't get out on the road half the time.”

        Traffic is only going to get heavier, not only because of the housing boom but also because of the commercial growth that is beginning to follow the people.

        A strip shopping center and the township's first grocery are under construction on U.S. 22/Ohio 3 at Ridgeview, and another developer is seeking tenants for a possible strip center along the rural highway at Grandin.

        Officials, minding the old truism that residents' taxes don't entirely cover services, are elated at the spurt of interest from businesses.

        “We would like to see a tax base down there,” Warren County Commissioner Mike Kilburn says.

        If the county handled zoning instead of the township, Mr. Kilburn says, he'd like to have seen the Ohio 48 corridor attract “nice, corporate office centers” instead of subdivisions.

        He'd like the county to start approving tax breaks only for businesses that settle in underdeveloped areas such as Hamilton Township, Carlisle and Waynesville.

        Mr. Terwilleger agrees the township needs more industry but adds that posher communities such as River's Bend — where houses start at $375,000 and rise to $2 million-plus — bring in more tax money than average.

        It's difficult to draw in businesses, officials here say, because they lack quick access to Interstate 71. Also, residential growth has made land expensive.

        The township doesn't appear to be in the poorhouse yet. It has opened a new administration building and a new firehouse since January, Mr. Baston, the trustee, says, and planning has started for two more firehouses.

        Four roads are being widened: Stephens, Nunner, Mounts and Striker.

        “I think we'll be in pretty good shape,” Mr. Baston says.


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