Thursday, May 8, 2003

Petition legality under question

Fitness clubs lead drive over center

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Rick Keeton, owner and operator of Fitworks in West Chester Township, watches as a member signs a petition concerning a potential community center for the West Chester area.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
WEST CHESTER TWP. - Township officials are questioning the legality of a petition drive to have voters decide what, if any, type of community center should be built.

Because the West Chester trustees have not taken any official action regarding the center, the petition drive may be illegal, Township Administrator Dave Gully said Wednesday.

"We're checking it out. So far we know of no precedence or basis in the law for this," Gully said. "There are no final decisions that have been made on the center yet to petition. Any resolution the trustees pass can be brought to a referendum. But they haven't passed any yet."

Donald Crain, the township's attorney, is researching the matter and will give trustees a written opinion soon.

The petition drive is being led by operators of Fitworks Sports & Therapy and some township residents. Other businesses - including fitness clubs - are helping.

The drive seeks to prevent the township from acquiring or constructing the center unless voters approve the site, cost, financing and proposed uses for it.

Fitworks officials say they don't believe government bodies should compete against private businesses. They also want more information about the center made public.

A Fitworks official said Wednesday he believes the effort is legal.

"I wouldn't want to look at this in a legal term. Why would the trustees want to hide behind a supposed technicality to try to keep the citizens from voting?" said John Janszen, Fitworks executive vice president and chief operating officer.

"They are the ones who should have put this on the ballot in the first place. They should be doing what taxpayers want, not what special interests and developers want them to do," he said.

But trustees and Gully argue the entire process has been open. Focus groups made up of citizens even suggested ideas for the facility, they note.

West Chester's proposed center, which has ranged in potential costs from $20 million to $30 million, would be 110,000 square feet and may break ground as early as this year. It would have indoor and outdoor jogging tracks and swimming pools. There also would be meeting rooms, fitness equipment and perhaps a performing arts stage.

Trustees recently agreed to designate the community center an official township project and are accepting proposals for architectural and project management services. They also tentatively agreed to place it on a 211/2-acre parcel of land for sale at Union Centre Boulevard and West Chester Road.

Next, at Tuesday's 7 p.m. trustee meeting, they are expected to pass a resolution to investigate if there is funding available for the center from the Union Centre Boulevard and Ohio 747 tax increment financing districts, Gully said.


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