By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LEBANON - Each time Warren County's zoning inspector looked to homebuilders for help Tuesday, Bob Buffenbarger grew more aggravated.
The county's zoning inspector, Barry Sullivan, frequently got clarification and explanation of changes to the county's requirements for home lot sizes and green space in new subdivisions as he explained them to Warren County Commissioners.
"The homebuilders are writing the zoning code," said Buffenbarger, 76, a long-time Warren County resident who founded an awareness group called the Residents Association of West-Central Warren County.
Homebuilders assisted the Warren County Rural Zoning Commission in reviewing the commissioners' proposal to increase lot sizes and green space requirements. That proposal's lot size and green space requirements were reduced by the zoning commission, and unless county commissioners unanimously overturn the decision - which seems unlikely - the zoning commission's plan will stand.
County commissioners want to slow explosive growth in Warren County, the state's second fastest-growing county and the nation's 45th fastest-growing. They held their first public hearing Tuesday on proposals to reduce the number of new homes in the five townships the county controls zoning in: Turtlecreek, Harlan, Union, Washington and Franklin.
More than two dozen homebuilders, developers and Realtors turned out Tuesday, saying the bigger-lot proposal would price new homes out of reach of most people.
But for residents such as Buffenbarger, fewer new homes will help congestion on roads and overcrowding in schools - schools he and others are being asked to fund more frequently with levies.
"We are not against progress," Buffenbarger told commissioners. "We have seen change and have accepted change and are trying to live with it. But our schools and roads haven't kept up."
County commissioners' 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 without sewer access. Areas without sewer would require two-acre lots, up from three-fourths of an acre.
The zoning commission, however, voted for 20 percent of planned developments to be set aside for green space, with minimum lot sizes in R-1 residential zones of a little more than four-tenths of an acre, and areas without sewers at 1.5 acres.
County Commissioner Pat South, Larry Sprague of Fischer Homes and president of the Ohio Valley Development Council, and other homebuilders say the zoning commission's decision comes after a compromise that better accommodates the county's overall future growth by allowing clusters of homes so all varieties can be offered.
"We are not totally happy with everything in it, but we are supporting it at this point," Steven Hunt, an attorney for the Ohio Valley Development Council, told commissioners.
The final vote, expected from county commissioners this summer, is setting up another showdown with homebuilders, who say they want to help the county properly plan for the future.
But Commissioner Mike Kilburn still is pushing for two-acre lots in areas without sewers.
"I don't want to turn Warren County into another Cincinnati or another Hamilton County," he said. "I am bound and determined to find a way to give us the tools to keep that from happening."
Realtors, however, called for the county to implement an overall long-range plan for the county before changing zoning.
"I think Mr. Kilburn's passion has kind of closed his eyes to some really good ideas," said Skip Young, president of the Warren County Board of Realtors.
"Clustering the homes will help a little bit, but there's a lot of effects from this and one of the major ones will be reducing affordable housing in the suburbs. This is evidence that each township needs to take control of their own zoning."
In e-mails this week to commissioners, residents expressed support for efforts to brake growth.
"Keep up the fight," read one e-mail from Jeff Sloan of Lebanon. "If we end up with only homes and concrete, we will have nothing but poor schools, traffic congestion and more strip malls than we know what to do with.
"This will do nothing but raise taxes and drive people away from the county."
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