Saturday, May 26, 2001

A tale of two townships: Clermont goes suburban




By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        They are the anti-country — the suburban townships on the border of a county that's still largely rural.

        When outsiders talk about Clermont County, they usually mean suburban Miami and Union townships.

        Since the early 1970s, the townships have grown into major communities, fueled by commerce from Interstate 275, which cuts through the townships and the western side of the county.

[photo] Eastgate Square in Union Township has grown from a Biggs store to include Service Merchandise, Wal-Mart, restaurants and other major retailers.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        The communities share a common development — as well as problems — from growth that began in the late 1960s.

        Thirty years ago, Miami Township's population stood at about 23,000; Union's at 21,000. Since then, the townships have been discovered by suburban home buyers. Today, about 37,000 people call Miami home, while more than 42,000 live in Union.

        The population boom has brought a new lifestyle but also problems typically associated with growth.

        Since 1993, a year after the local fire department became public, it has seen a 39 percent increase in fire and emergency medical runs.

        “The pressure is on but we can handle it,” said Jim Whitworth, chief of the Miami Township Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

        “Growth has made an impact on us by making our volume of runs go up. And with the increase in run volume, our time for ancillary matters, including training and education, has gone down.”

        He said this does not directly threaten public health and safety, but it does hinder staffers and affect people to a degree.

Community unto itself

        Miami Township lies next to the city of Milford. It has grown into a community with the highest household income — $42,530 — in Clermont County.

        The township operates its own police, community development and service departments, fire and emergency unit and a growing park system.

        “We're building our fourth new park in six years and we have more than 350 acres of green space,” said David Duckworth, township administrator.

map
        The park system began in 1990 and nowhas 250 acres. A new 35-acre park is across from the Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail.

        Starting with three constables in 1963, the police force has grown to 40 officers and five civilian employees, who operate special units such as canine teams, bike patrol, traffic safety unit, chaplain program and citizens' police academy.

        With 33 square miles, the township still has room for growth. About 80 percent of the land is zoned residential.

        Fortunately, Mr. Duckworth said, the township — and its other communities — have had few problems obtaining water because county commissioners built new reservoirs in the late 1980s.

        One long-time township bottleneck, busy Ohio 28, has improved since a bypass was built in the 1990s.

        “If you polled citizens, they'd probably say traffic is still their No. 1 concern,” Mr. Duckworth said. “But as a township, we don't have much control over highway matters. The bypass has helped and the state plans to widen Route 28 farther down in 2006.”

        On old Ohio 28 in Mulberry, where curbside stores are plentiful, traffic and sales are doing well.

        “Business is better now than it was three years ago,” said Tammy Henry, who owns the Ameri-Stop convenience store and gas station. “Of course, there's a lot going on around here.”

        ”

        Like Miami Township, Union has its major highway, Ohio 32, which backs up at rush hour.

Room to expand

        “Where we're at, there's a little more traffic than in past years, but it's more prevalent back toward the mall,” said Chris McAfee, who manages the Used Car Supermarket off Ohio 32. “I think it will be awhile before the growth gets to our area, especially if the economy slows down.

        “But with growth comes problems. The township gives tax breaks to businesses to come in, and that hurts homeowners who are trying to pay most of the taxes.”

        Township Administrator Ken Geis said people might feel that way about the schools, which do submit periodic operating levy requests, but the statement doesn't apply to the township.

        “We have a mix of different jobs and we continue to attract companies,” he said. “Since 1988, we've added 3,977 new jobs, brought in $208 million in investment by companies and collected $3 million in taxes from it. We more than doubled our aggregate tax valuation from 1990 to 2000 ($395 million to $814 million), and that's phenomenal.”

Services keep up

        Like Miami, Union Township operates its own police and service departments.

        Police Chief Tom Knox said he's satisfied with the way the department is handling the increased demand for services.

        “The calls for service have increased significantly,” he said. “For instance, from 1996 to 2000 our calls increased over 30 percent - 32,436 to 42,428. But our department has handled them admirably.”

        Veteran township trustee Catherine Wuerdeman said Union Township government's biggest challenge is to keep up with the growth.

        “Our administration building is jammed with everything from the road crew to the planning people,” she said. “That needs to be addressed some time. And the township doesn't have a post office. People should look forward and try to come up with solutions. In the future we need to incorporate. That would help us be more self-sufficient.”

        She is happy with the park space available, particularly the 25-acre Veterans Park on Glen Este-Withamsville Road at Clough Pike. The township is also home to North Park on Summerside Road.

        Resident Julie Morris, 32, said she brings her children to the parks often. “It's nice to have parks so close to home,” she said.

        “Sixteen years ago I was persecuted for trying to establish Veterans Park,” Mrs. Wuerdeman said. “But it's now my highest achievement. People said then that we didn't need a park. But it's jammed every night in the summer.”

        Although Miami and Union townships have grown by large numbers in the last decade, the pace might not continue in the future, said Dean Niemeyer, planning supervisor for the Clermont County Planning Commission.

        “I don't think they'll grow as much as they did because room is running out,” he said. “There is room for more and a lot of development is still going on there. But some of it is also heading into Pierce and Stonelick townships. Soon we're probably going to review a major Planned Unit Development — 430 single-family units — for Stonelick and a little for Batavia townships. Pierce Township has seen major growth on the high end of the market and it will continue in the next 10 years.”

        Union Township, with 18,787 total acres, has 4,017 remaining for both residential and agricultural use, while Miami, with 21,375 acres, has 3,857 remaining.

        “Right now, we're trying to do some long-range planning,” Mr. Niemeyer said. “It's all about the future.”

       



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