By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer
WEST CHESTER TWP. - A new controversy has erupted in the Tristate's first gated subdivision, one that may pit neighbors against one another.
Residents heatedly challenged plans for a new section designed for "empty-nest" homes late Tuesday during a public hearing before West Chester Township trustees. They fear additional cars from the new development could possibly endanger their children - reviving the issue that led to gates.
Cut-through traffic was Wetherington's chief reason for installing gates in March 2002.
One resident said she and several other residents have retained an attorney and are threatening a lawsuit against the Wetherington Homeowners Association. The dispute stems over an agreement the association board recently signed with developers of the new section, called Harbor Town Village.
"As a group, we do believe the majority of homeowners object," said Tammie Harrison, 40, who lives on St. Ives Place, which backs up to where Harbor Town would go.
"Our homeowners association didn't let us vote on this. They have a right not to, but we have shown them more opposition than approval for this and thought they would let us vote and they did not," she continued. "Our whole thing is the safety of our kids. We are not opposed to a nice collection of homes back there. We are opposed to the density and the traffic."
Plans for Harbor Town call for 84 homes aimed at "empty-nesters," or adults whose children are grown, on 26 acres, or 3.1 units per acre. The new section will rise off Hamilton-Mason Road adjacent to one side of Wetherington. There will be gates at the entrance off Hamilton-Mason and gates inside Harbor Town separating it from Wetherington.
When completed, Harbor Town is expected to generate 765 vehicles per day, according to a traffic study the developer, Great Traditions - which also built Wetherington - paid for.
Great Traditions officials say their traffic engineer estimates 80 percent of Harbor Town vehicles will use the Hamilton-Mason entrance and 20 percent, about 150 cars a day, would go through Wetherington to reach Tylersville Road.
But Harrison and other residents also object to the traffic study, saying more Harbor Town cars than projected will cut through St. Ives to Tylersville. St. Ives is a narrow street with no sidewalks, several children and three school bus stops, the residents noted.
All Harbor Town residents will be able to use the second set of gates inside Harbor Town to get into Wetherington. Only Harbor Town residents can use the Hamilton-Mason gated entrance.
Kevin Plank, president of the Wetherington Homeowners Association, did not return calls for comment Wednesday. But some residents spoke in favor of Harbor Town - and the gate arrangement - at Tuesday's meeting.
One man, Chip Baumgartner, 44, also lives on St. Ives Place but says he is glad homes instead of businesses will emerge. And he doesn't even mind that the Harbor Town gates will be on his property.
"I do want gates in my front yard," he told trustees. "I look forward to new neighbors."
Great Traditions officials stress they have worked with Plank and other members of the association board for months to resolve the gate debate and address traffic concerns.
"We recognize that people have different opinions and concerns, but we can't negotiate with 350 people in the community," said Jim Sullivan, the Sharonville-based company's vice president and treasurer. "This wasn't something that was taken lightly by the (Wetherington) board. They took it serious and negotiated a very tough agreement with us."
He noted that the association board unanimously voted in July for the agreement over Harbor Town, which gives Wetherington control over a set of gates separating the two sections.
West Chester's zoning commission already has approved plans for the new section - and even delayed their vote until a compromise on the gates was worked out between Great Traditions and the homeowners association.
Trustees now are considering the matter and are expected to vote at their Aug. 26 meeting. It would take a unanimous decision to overturn the zoning board, however, and that is not likely. "As bitterly as they dislike this new subdivision being connected to Wetherington, there is absolutely nothing in the law that gives us the authority to change that agreement," Trustee Catherine Stoker said.
The fight follows a pattern, says a national expert on gated communities, of disagreements breaking out once gates are used.
"A lot of this is silly," said Edward J. Blakeley, co-author of Fortress America - Gated Communities in the United States.
His book states that gates divide neighborhood from neighborhood, encourage privatization and send signals of exclusion.
"Early on, the gated communities don't present a threat," said Blakeley, dean of the Milano Graduate School at New School University in New York City. "But after a while, you start getting hassles."
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