Saturday, June 14, 2003

Warren officials boost home lot sizes

Heated debate stirs emotions of commissioners, builders, residents

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - Cathryn Hilker yelled "Tough!" more than once as homebuilders and their attorney got up to bemoan the increased lot sizes Warren County commissioners passed late Thursday.

The lifelong Mason resident, who says she is "sick and tired" of sitting in traffic and paying taxes that seem to soar every year, sat in the back of commission chambers.

She grew angrier as each representative of the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati and the Ohio Valley Development Council pleaded his case before commissioners, before they increased lot size and green space requirements for new subdivisions.

But Hilker really steamed when an attorney mentioned a lawsuit that the homebuilders association once filed that eventually overturned a similar zoning case in Union Township, Clermont County.

"I don't like to be threatened with even veiled threats just because I don't want everybody living on top of me," Hilker, 72, told homebuilders when it was her turn at the lectern.

Then, turning to Warren County commissioners, she said, "I'm for you guys. I'd like to see 10-acre (lots)!"

Warren leaders didn't approve lots quite that large Thursday after the third and final public hearing. But the new lot sizes and green space requirements are an attempt to slow the county's runaway residential growth.

"We don't want to turn Warren County into Hamilton County. Period," Commissioner Mike Kilburn told homebuilders. "Or Cincinnati. I mean, who wants to live down there? Everyone who lives down there is moving up here. It's a mass exodus situation, and we're wanting to start controlling that as soon as we can."

During the 1990s, Warren County gained more than 44,000 residents and 20,200 housing units to make it the second fastest-growing county in Ohio and the nation's 45th.

The population stands at about 180,000 and if the county continues growing at its current rate, at least 220,000 residents will live in Warren by 2010.

The new lot size requirements call for homes on 2 aces in areas without sewer access and on half an acre in areas with sewers.

The county's new rules also allows for cluster zoning and increases open space in residential subdivisions by a 20 percent green space requirement.

While homebuilders were relieved that cluster zoning is part of the new zoning code, they repeatedly lamented the increased lot sizes Thursday. They contend that commissioners would reduce the value of farmland and would usher in more urban sprawl by spreading houses over more land.

"You're eating up a lot more pavement quicker," said Dan Hendricks, director of governmental affairs for the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati. "If they think it's not going to be developed, they are wrong. It may slow it down, but the development they get is going to eat up a lot more land."

Steve Hunt, an attorney representing the association, accused county leaders of "exclusionary zoning" by making lot sizes so large, only upper-income residents will be able to afford to move there.

The new zoning rules are applicable only to the five townships in which the county controls zoning: Franklin, Harlan, Turtlecreek, Union and Washington.

After the vote, Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati officials said the group was disappointed but likely wouldn't sue.


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