Now that Liberty Center has been open for business almost two years, the Liberty Twp. trustees are eager for another major development to come their way.
The three trustees recently met with local developers to find out what they need to locate major developments in the township.
The trustees are lamenting the fact TriHealth recently took its scaled back development across boundary lines to West Chester Twp. and three hotels are also under construction there, just on the other side of Liberty Way.
“There’s some frustration there that there’s three hotels going up on the south side of Liberty Way,”
Trustee Tom Farrell said the township has 88 acres set up for hotels, but for “whatever reason” ended going to the south.
“It wasn’t our zoning, it wasn’t our cost, it wasn’t the land,” he said. “I want to make sure we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
Farrell was talking about a large tract of land at Liberty Way and Cox Road where TriHealth planned to go but then reversed direction.
Economic Development Director Caroline McKinney said they talked with two of the hotel developers but the 88-acre tract that was available in the area they wanted to build was too big.
The biggest takeaway all three trustees got from their meetings is there has been a sea-change in what people want to and can profitably develop.
“They have to put a project together that allows them to create dollars right away,” Trustee Steve Schramm said. “There just is not the opportunity right now in the office world to lead with office development. So we almost have to give them some opportunity to develop and create some value and some tax base for us ultimately.”
Schramm said there is another issue — over which they have no control — that is property owner driven. He said there are several “shovel ready” properties, like the 88-acre tract at Liberty Way and Cox Road, that are just very expensive and in some cases the owners don’t want to break them into smaller pieces. He said he is hoping to get his fellow trustees to relax some of their zoning restrictions as a “carrot” to developers to offset the property issues.
Farrell said he believes the only thing they need to change is their stance on allowing residential as a piece of the mixed use planned unit development (PUD) pie. Farrell said his 10 years on the zoning commission taught him developers aren’t deterred by zoning restrictions, they merely fight to get what they don’t like, changed.
It’s not that residential is never allowed in commercial areas, Liberty Center has apartment buildings, but McKinney told this news agency the township has a vision that doesn’t contemplate residential in commercial areas.
“Residential is permitted within a PUD,” she said. “However, our vision has been that there would not be residential along Liberty Way, east of I-75. I think it’s fair to say our vision didn’t really include the residential piece that came with Liberty Center, however the developer came with that piece as a mix and explained that is an important part of the mix.”
Creating environments for people, with housing, businesses that cater to those residents and commercial development are what the developers say sells these days. Giant office parks are a thing of the past. The trustees are trying to think of ways to attract those types of developments, but there are still question marks over what that looks like.
“The key word is sustainable,” Farrell said. “None of us can really say that we know what is sustainable. What is going to be here 20 years from now that will make us different from everybody else. And I’m not sure I know what that is.”
Trustee Board President Christine Matacic said she was glad they tapped into the developers’ thoughts and knowledge and they should keep the lines of communication open as they develop the rest of the township.
“It will help us to understand what the next piece will look like,” she said. “And quite honestly I don’t want to look like everybody else.”