Thursday, February 28, 2002

Business projects on ballot

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LIBERTY TWP. — Voters will decide in the May 7 primary whether two commercial developments will rise at the intersection of Ohio 747 and Princeton Road. It's the latest showdown over development in this rapidly growing area.

        Petitions collected last year by residents protesting the businesses were certified Wednesday by the Butler County Board of Elections.

        “The homeowners are the ones who live where the area is affected, not the developers and the township trustees,” said Robert Hoffman, 56, who helped lead the petition drive.

        “It's important we agree the type of businesses that come into our neighborhood are compatible with our lifestyles and the value of our property.”

        The referendum is the second one in less than a year initiated by Mr. Hoffman and other citizens upset at how leaders are handling development.

        Last November, neighbors halted commercial development off Yankee Road next to the Michael A. Fox Highway. Voters overturned trustees' decision to zone two parcels for development.

        Now, The Todd Group wants to build a strip shopping center on about three acres at the southwest corner of the 747/Princeton crossroads.

        Another developer, Mark Sennet, proposes a United Dairy Farmers store with gasoline pumps as the first phase of a business development at the northeast corner of the intersection. Additional phases would fill that 10-acre site with a fast-food restaurant, an office building and a strip shopping center.

        The township approved the zoning for the businesses last year. A small business hub at that intersection is consistent with county and township master plans.

        But neighbors want the western portion of Liberty Township preserved for residential, not commercial, development.

        Between 1990 and 2000, Liberty Township experienced a 146 percent jump in population and now has about 25,000 residents. At least a dozen new subdivisions are under way, and the Fox Highway linking Interstate 75 to Hamilton is expected to spur commercial development on thousands of acres of former farmland.

        According to the Sierra Club, 80 to 90 percent of petition drives against growth are successful.

        “Petitions are a growing trend citizens are using to react against poorly planned sprawl,” said Glen Brand, spokesman for the Sierra Club's Cincinnati office. “Good planning is the only solution to sprawl in the long run. Otherwise, residents are condemned to fighting an endless series of smaller battles.”

        A protest hearing concerning the referendum is scheduled for March 22 at 9 a.m. at the board of elections.

        The developers contend the projects will bring much-needed commercial tax revenues to the township and traffic improvements to the intersection.

        Mr. Todd said he wasn't sure he will build the retail center at the intersection now. “This may change my whole plan,” he said. “We were looking for something we could do right away. This whole thing could be tied up in court for years.”

        Township officials are worried another referendum will cast Liberty as an anti-business community. “We are fearful of the precedent that it could set in attracting future businesses to the township,” Trustee Bob Shelley said.


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