By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LEBANON - Mike Kilburn grew up in a rural area of Warren County, now almost an oasis amid ever-increasing development and congestion.
For most of his two decades as county commissioner, he watched the boom sweep his county, making Warren Ohio's second fastest-growing county and the nation's 45th fastest-growing. But with the growth steamroller still barreling ahead, Kilburn now has jumped in front of it, yelling for the brakes.
Commissioner Mike Kilburn says he will fight the growing push to develop Warren County.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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"All you gotta do is turn on the television at night and listen to how things are in Hamilton County, in Cincinnati," Kilburn recently told about 100 Warren elected officials during a countywide summit on impact fees aimed at limiting growth.
"No one wants to live down there anymore, guys. They all want to have the good life like we've got here in Warren County," he said. "But guess what? If we fill up this 10-gallon can too quick, we're going to be just like them. And I don't want to turn Warren County into one solid sheet of concrete."
As concerns about unbridled growth rise in many once-rural Tristate areas, Kilburn is emerging as an anti-growth leader in the epicenter of the Tristate's suburban boom. He epitomizes a sentiment that while growth has brought benefits, it also takes a toll on lifestyles.
Kilburn is using county zoning powers to restrict new subdivisions, has pushed for bigger lot sizes and green space, and is crusading for hefty impact fees to curb development.
He senses a mandate for controlling growth after capturing 70 percent of the vote in November's election.
"I'm looking out for the silent majority out here," he said during a recent interview at his funeral home in Morrow. "My mom and dad shouldn't have to build that new school to take care of people from Cincinnati moving out here. Growth needs to pay its own way."
On the attack
Last year, homebuilders poured their campaign contributions behind a Democrat. But Kilburn won handily and stepped up his attack. He told one homebuilder: "You've taken all of Warren County you're going to take."
Now, he is leading the charge to refuse zoning for new subdivisions in townships where commissioners have that authority. He is pushing to establish impact fees to make developers pay part of the costs of expanding schools to support new housing. Tuesday, commissioners hold a public hearing on proposals Kilburn supports to increase lot sizes and preserve green space.
Office: Warren County Commission; first elected in 1982
Political Party: Republican
Occupation: Funeral director/owner
Employer: Stine-Kilburn; Warren County Government
Education: Master's of business administration, hospital administration, Howard University
Family: Wife, Debbie; children: Stephanie, 26, Stacy, 18, Steve, 15, Suzi, 12.
"They don't run this county," Kilburn says of homebuilders. "We do. We are running this railroad. They are just riding the caboose."
But Commissioner Pat South has been warning Kilburn - and fellow Commissioner Larry Crisenbery - not to "arbitrarily" halt new home subdivisions by changing the rules midstream. The county, she maintains, needs to work with builders for the good of the community.
"If we alienate them, all it does is make our job more difficult and frustrating," South says.
Homebuilders say they don't deserve so much criticism.
"The commissioners have an obligation to treat everyone with respect; and these are highly respected, legitimate developers and homebuilders," said Brad Knapp, executive vice president of residential services at Henkle & Schueler & Associates Inc.
Clyde Baston, a Hamilton Township trustee, said Kilburn shouldn't be so quick to take his victory as a carte blanche mandate.
"He thinks he represents the silent majority, but I just think people are afraid to say anything against him," says Baston, a Republican who has held office 22 years. "He got 70 percent of the vote because it's a Republican county. But that doesn't mean you can just shut the doors on the county. It's going to grow."
Kilburn also has been attacking Help Me Grow - and similar social service programs the county provides with state and federal funds.
'I really admire his stance'
While Kilburn has vocal opponents, many Warren residents are cheering him on.
Long-time Warren County resident and downtown Lebanon business merchant Connie Schuler is relieved Kilburn wants to preserve the county's rural flavor.
"I really admire his stance on growth," Schuler said as she left a recent Lebanon Rotary luncheon at the Golden Lamb Inn. "We don't want to see Warren County turn out like Colerain Avenue. We want to see planned growth."
Taking the battle to Columbus
State Rep. Tom Raga (R-Mason) has said impact fees are not his priority and there are other things Warren County leaders could do to control the growth.
But Kilburn says he will continue to fight.
"I have made a commitment to make this impact fee thing happen in the state of Ohio," Kilburn says. "Because let me tell you, 70 percent of the people in this county agree and think I'm right on this."
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