Friday, May 25, 2001

A few blots on 'beautiful suburbia'

All of a sudden, Liberty Twp. not country anymore

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LIBERTY TWP. — Popularity came swiftly to this formerly obscure Butler County township.

        No township in the Cincinnati area has grown faster than Liberty Township since 1990, according to the 2000 Census. From 1990 to 2000, its population mushroomed from 9,249 to 22,819.

        Because of this sudden growth, Liberty residents are seeing some changes they don't like: heavier traffic on two-lane roads, higher taxes, crowded schools and vanishing green space.

[photo] People keep moving to Liberty Township as fast as homes can be built, like this complex on Bethany Road.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        It has forced the township to spend more to battle crime, reduce the response times of firetrucks and life squads, and build parks and acquire green space.

        The growth in Liberty spurred Butler County to build a 2-million-gallon water storage tank to prevent water shortages, expand a waste-water plant and plan sewer improvements.

        “Certainly this growth is unsettling for those who have lived here for a while,” said David Kern, a Liberty Township trustee and a 33-year township resident. “People moved out to what they thought was the country. Quickly, it's become not the country.”

        Liberty Township has what developers want: abundant undeveloped land and a proximity to Interstate 75 and Hamilton County.

        For years, West Chester Township, south of Liberty, was the fastest-growing township in Butler County. But when vacant land became more scarce in West Chester, developers began flocking to Liberty.

   How the township's population has changed:
   • 1960 ....... 3,145
   • 1970 ....... 3,736
   • 1980 ....... 6,506
   • 1990 ....... 9,249
   • 1995 (estimated) ....... 14,931
   • 2000 ....... 22,819
        The vast green space, the relaxed lifestyle, good interstate access, the Lakota school district and the reasonably priced houses with big yards have induced many people to move.

        “It's beautiful suburbia,” said Glen O'Halloran, who has lived in the township for 14 years. “This is just what I always dreamed of.”

        But many residents see their dream life beginning to fade.

        “The growth appears to be accelerating so rapidly right now that it's a concern to me,” said Sal Ciriello, a township resident for six years.

Vanishing fields
        There's a cornfield in back of Tom and Debbie Krzmarzick's property on Bridgeton Manor Court.

        The couple, who have five children, worry the field and other open spaces near them will vanish in the next few years.

        “Liberty Township is losing that country flavor,” Mr. Krzmarzick said. “In 10 or 15 years, it's going to be all suburbs and no country. I'm very sad about that.”

        Many residents are upset about their escalating taxes.

        “Taxes are too high,” said Cleo Wilson, 74, who has lived in Liberty for 30 years. “They're ripping us off. They're making it hard on us retired people.”

        Residents of Liberty shoulder about 95 percent of the property tax burden. Commercial and industrial provide the other 5 percent.

        Lakota's need to construct more buildings to accommodate its ever-expanding enrollment has boosted property taxes. Owners of a $100,000 home today pay $275 more per year in property taxes for schools than they did for a comparable home in 1988.

        Township officials want to reduce residential property taxes by attracting more businesses.

        A major commercial development is planned on property northeast of the Michael A. Fox Highway's Cincinnati-Dayton Road interchange. Developers want to build a Target store along with an upscale retail project called Liberty Commons. A hotel, offices, or both, also may be built at the site.

        Township officials are excited about a proposal to extend Cox Road north into Liberty Township and to expand the partial interchange at the Fox Highway and I-75 into a full interchange and link it to Cox Road.

        “That would open up several hundred acres in the vicinity of I-75 and Cox Road to commercial development,” said Nell Kilpatrick, township administrator.

        But there's no funding yet for this project, although a planned increase in Butler County's sales tax would become the source of money to make the plan become a reality.

        The opening of the Fox Highway more than a year ago has relieved traffic congestion on some of Liberty's secondary roads, such as Princeton Road.

        But some residents say traffic still is a continuing problem.

        “Traffic is terrible,” said resident Pat Redmond, 55. “When I moved here 25 years ago, this was a farming community. I'm getting ready to move out.”

More police, fire needs
        The booming population also has increased the need for more law enforcement. To cope with this, the township began a contract arrangement with the county sheriff's office in 1993.

        The sheriff assigns deputies to work exclusively in Liberty, and the township pays their salaries.

        The township now has a sergeant, a detective and 12 deputies working out of a substation adjoining the township administration building. The sheriff's office handles all administrative duties.


        Liberty has its own fire department that has grown tremendously in the past 10 years.

        In 1990, the department had no full-time paid employees. They were paid per call.

        Now the Liberty Township Fire Department has a chief, an assistant chief and six part-time personnel and 35 paid-per-call volunteers. Six full-time personnel will be hired soon.

        The township is buying property on Ohio 747 near the Fox Highway for a third fire station.

        From 1991 to 2000, fire runs jumped from 196 to 515, while life squad calls rose from 410 to 932.

Expanded sewers, parks
        Water and sewers are additional services in Liberty under escalating demands.

        In addition to the water tank to be built by Butler County this year, $2 million in water mains will be installed.

        To accommodate future growth, the county is planning major improvements in the sewer system during the next five years.

        “We have to be ahead of the gun,” said Tony Parrott, director of the Butler County Department of Environmental Services. “We're already planning projects for 2007 just to stay ahead of things.”

        Many people who have moved to Liberty in recent years want parks and ball fields. The township is trying to address this area. Ten years ago, Liberty had no public parks. Now, it has seven.

        A township committee is working to develop a system of hike-bike trails linking the parks and connecting to existing bike trails in other parts of the region.

        Liberty also has been working to preserve green space so it doesn't become border-to-border subdivisions, as some residents fear.

        The township requires developers of larger tracts to donate a certain amount of land to the township for green space.

        Wendy Breen, who moved 14 months ago from Clifton to Liberty with her husband, Michael, said she sees a positive aspect to some of the development. New stores and other commercial development provide more conveniences for residents and contribute to Liberty's emerging identity, she said.

        But in Mrs. Redmond's view, the disadvantages of so much development outweigh the advantages.

        She and her husband, Jerry, used to live on a 5-acre tract on Yankee Road in Liberty Township where they raised two horses. But they moved to Hamilton-Mason Road in Liberty eight years ago after a subdivision was built next to their 5 acres.

        “It seems wherever I go, people follow me,” she said with a laugh. “I don't know where we'll go next.”


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