By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LIBERTY TWP. - Hundreds of neighbors are expected to pack the first public hearing Nov. 7 on a controversial proposed interchange here.
The 6 p.m. meeting at the township hall off Princeton Road is a necessary step in the interchange being on a regional transportation board's long-range project plan list.
Township and county officials are proposing extending the Michael A. Fox Highway east off Interstate 75 in Liberty as a way to bring commercial development to this fast-growing area.
But neighbors in the Four Bridges country club subdivision east of the proposed project worry the interchange - and commercial development expected with it - would reduce the values of their homes, which range from $250,000 to nearly $1 million.
In a flier the Butler County Transportation Improvement District is mailing to Liberty homes, county officials ask residents to attend the meeting even if they are in opposition. Placement on the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments' list is required before state transportation officials will support the interchange.
"It is especially significant at this time, because this infrastructure investment is the most critical and time-sensitive highway improvement project in Butler County," reads the brochure. "We need your support to expedite its completion in order to benefit the residents of Liberty Township in the most dynamic way. ...OKI must see that the residents are interested in improving this area and that the Liberty Interchange project does matter."
Between 1990 and 2000, Liberty's population zoomed 147 percent and now stands at 25,000. The township is about 90 percent residential, has few businesses and is in dire need of commercial development to offset soaring residential costs, leaders say.
Plans call for the Fox Highway to be extended a quarter-mile east to connect with a proposed four-mile section of Cox Road in southeastern Liberty Township. Cox Road eventually would run to Ohio 63 in Monroe, linking 655 acres of land zoned for light industrial, commercial and office use, county officials say.
It also would bring 15,100 jobs and generate millions in tax revenues, according to a recent University of Cincinnati study on the project.
The Fox Highway opened in 1999 and connects Hamilton to I-75.
The eastward interchange proposal, however, has been controversial since it emerged as a top priority among county leaders this summer because neighbors complain it would sandwich development between I-75 and upscale homes at Four Bridges.
It also could eventually cut through the Green Crest Golf Course just east of I-75 on Bethany Road, which has been in operation since 1969.
And then earlier this month, Cincinnati City Councilman John Cranley announced he joined OKI in part to kill the interchange because he wants to see existing developments in the region improved first before new ones are built on farmland.
Residents who aren't too keen on the project agree. They say they prefer Liberty remain mostly residential - especially if the coming development resembles the fast-food restaurants, gas station/convenience stores and strip centers that line the township's main commercial artery, Cincinnati-Dayton Road at the Fox Highway.
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