Lawyer: Warren County “double dipping” with open-space regulations

A lawyer representing neighbors opposed to a proposed 60-home development just north of Lebanon claims Warren County is violating Ohio law by including land set aside for sewage treatment as open space required in planned-unit developments.

The county commissioners delayed a decision on the development on the 70.4-acre Meadow Lane Farm on Ohio 48 in Turtlecreek Twp., while a county prosecutor researched the claim by lawyer Michael McNamee at last week’s commission meeting.

“Is that a problem?” Commissioner Tom Grossmann asked before the commissioners decided to table its decision after a public hearing at the Feb. 5 meeting.

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The systems are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and Ohio EPA and operated. The one proposed would be maintained by a private contractor through funds to be provided by homeowners of the proposed Creek Song development.

It was unclear how this issue could affect other developments relying on on-site sewage treatment systems, such as Aberlin Springs, under construction just outside South Lebanon.

At the meeting, McNamee said state law “does not allow double dipping” in planned-unit developments where green space is set aside in exchange for higher-density development on the remaining land.

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Once the 8.3-acre sewage-system drain field is subtracted, the plan fails to meet open space requirements, said McNamee, representing neighbors Randy and Victoria Powell.

McNamee and neighbors raised other issues, such as the effect of traffic from the development.

But the commissioners seemed ready to approve the plan - recommended for conditional approval by the regional planning commission and township trustees - except for the open-space question.

Grossmann and Commissioner Dave Young urged the neighbors to consider the likely increase in their property values resulting from the subdivision by developer Mike Williams, who built last year’s Homearama development.

“This 70 acres is going to have houses on it,” said Young, while also suggesting the communal sewage treatment system proposed was better than individual septic systems on each home site.

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While the neighbors currently plan to continue living there, Grossmann suggested they would benefit when they - or later generations - sell their property.

“At some point, everybody does that,” he said.

Owner Stephen Deger said Williams was the first prospective buyer in five years he had been marketing the property.

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Williams said the plan was preferable to a 35-home subdivision operating off separate septic systems, permitted under existing zoning. He pledged to complete a “high-quality” project, if the development plan is approved.

Lebanon city limits are nearby. County sewers are 1,700 feet away, according to county records submitted for the meeting.

Lebanon wound up providing sewer service to the Homearama development, Highlands at Heritage Hill, originally proposed on a septic system, just south of city limits.

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moreAfter the meeting, McNamee said he sent the commissioners a legal opinion “so they can evaluate what the possible consequences might be if the development is approved as submitted.”

The opinion warns that approval of Williams’ plan “would result in my clients having legal recourse against the county and the developer to prevent the proposed development.”

Also, McNamee criticized commissioners’ comments during the public hearing.

“The Board’s focus on the developer’s perceived reputation, for instance, or the ‘inevitability’ of the development, has no place in this zoning decision and cannot form a basis for its approval of the application,” McNamee said in the opinion letter.

On Tuesday, the commissioners are to resume discussion and expected to decide whether to approve the planned-unit development.

Warren County Development Decision

Tuesday, Feb. 12, 9:45 a.m.

Warren County Administration Building

405 Justice Dr., Lebanon


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