Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Zoning board scales down plan

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - A controversial proposal to increase home lot sizes and green space in new subdivisions returns to Warren County Commissioners today - with scaled-back revisions from the county's zoning board.

The Warren County Rural Zoning Commission has reduced the proposed lot size and green space requirements that came from commissioners this winter. Commissioners want bigger lots and more green space to help put the brakes on the county's rampant growth.

The zoning board's decision will stand unless county commissioners unanimously overturn it - and that is not likely. A vote isn't expected for about two more months.

• Warren County growthWarren is Ohio's second-fastest-growing county and the nation's 45th fastest-growing.
• The county's population grew by 39 percent in the 1990s, from 113,909 to 158,383, according to 2000 Census figures.
• County planners estimate 172,000 people now live in the county. The projected population by 2020 is 196,681.
County Commissioner Pat South says she will go along with the zoning board's decision, which she describes as a compromise with homebuilders, developers and others involved in housing.

"God forbid it should have been approved the way we submitted it. We would not have liked the look of the county," South said. "It would have encouraged annexation and it still would not have stopped the growth.

"This won't stop the growth either, but it will slow it down and will make still for what I think are more attractive developments with well defined open space."

South also plans to suggest at today's 11 a.m. public hearing that the commission meet soon with officials from the five townships where the county controls zoning to solicit their ideas. Those townships are: Turtlecreek, Harlan, Union, Washington and Franklin.

The original proposed changes included:

• Requiring 25 percent of planned developments to be set aside as open space.

• Increasing minimum lot sizes in R-1 residential zones - the most common zone - from a third of an acre to half an acre for areas with sewer access. Areas without sewer would require two-acre lots, up from three-fourths of an acre.

But the zoning commission voted for 20 percent of planned developments be set aside for green space, minimum lot sizes in R-1 residential zones a little over four-tenths of an acre, and areas without sewers 1.5 acres.

The new plan better accommodates the county's overall future growth by allowing clustering of homes so all varieties can be offered, say homebuilders who assisted the zoning board and South.

"I certainly don't want cookie-cutter lots," South said. "I don't think that is attractive or the best use of the land and it's unrealistic to think that every person who builds a house ... wants to live on all two acre lots or all 11/2-acre lots."

Larry Sprague, senior land development manager for Fischer Homes in Crestview Hills, Ky., is president of the Ohio Valley Development Council, a group of homebuilders. He assisted the zoning commission during a series of meetings this year as the board reviewed the county's recommendations.

Sprague says now the county should also consider comprehensive planning, not just land use planning, to accommodating housing needs for the entire county - and ways to pay for future infrastructure.

The county has proposed impact fees on all new homes to pay for schools - but homebuilders are opposed. And the county has had difficulty finding a state lawmaker to craft legislation for such a move.

"You have to come up with a long range plan to deal with growth and manage it," Sprague said. "You have to accommodate growth. You can't just put up barriers. That doesn't work. In the long run, it has adverse effects on property values, taxes and how things are done."

But Commissioner Mike Kilburn, who has been leading the charge against growth, prefers the original proposal and hopes he can still get his way.

"The one good thing is that the zoning board is agreeing there needs to be some changes for the density," Kilburn said. "While they may not have come as far as we wanted them to, at least they recognized what we put in front of them and realized it needs to be increased.

"I would prefer to have implemented what we sent them, but I have an open mind and will listen."

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com

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