There was plenty of change during 2021 in Warren County, from changes in leadership for local communities, to continuing growth and development, to surges in COVID-19 that pushed school leaders to think outside of the box to keep students in school.
$265M Easton Farm plan nixed in Springboro
A proposed $265 million mixed-use development for the 103-acre Easton Farm was a major issue of controversy for most of 2021 as nearby residents opposed the density of the project and fought the rezoning and proposed plan.
Residents developed a strong opposition campaign rivaling many campaigns for political office. The project proposed the construction of 299 single-family homes and townhouses; a 113-unit assisted living facility; and retail, office and commercial space.
After months of lengthy Planning Commission and City Council meetings, Springboro council voted 6-0 to reject the rezoning and preliminary plan in October. Less than a month later, developer Larry Dillin and the property owners filed a lawsuit against the city in Warren County Common Pleas Court, claiming the city’s zoning was unconstitutional.
Two “sanctuary cities for the unborn”
In May, Lebanon became the first city in Ohio and the 29th in the nation to become a “sanctuary city for the unborn.”
City Council voted 6-0 to approve the emergency ordinance, which bans abortions in Lebanon and criminalizes providing certain assistance to people seeking an abortion. The seventh council member, Krista Wyatt, submitted her resignation earlier in the day.
Some residents questioned the need for the ordinance as there are no abortion clinics in Lebanon or in Warren County. Council members said it was a way to prevent an abortion clinic or provider from opening in Lebanon. The ACLU of Ohio and Planned Parenthood promised a legal challenge that has yet to be filed.
In October, Mason City Council approved an ordinance for a similar measure that also included criminal penalties for “aiding and abetting” a woman seeking an abortion. Mason residents circulated petitions and gathered enough signatures for a referendum. In addition, Mason residents voted out two of the council members who were in favor of the ordinance in the Nov. 2 general election. The new council that took office rescinded the sanctuary city ordinance in December.
Warren County property tax holiday
Warren County property owners won’t have to pay a portion of their property taxes in 2022. County commissioners approved a $47 million property tax holiday for 2022 that they say will lessen the impact of an average 17% property value hike from a mandated reassessment done this year.
The commissioners say through their fiscal conservatism they have amassed a budget carryover of around $50 million, some of which they said belongs in taxpayer pockets, not the county coffers. The county will not collect on its portion of property taxes, which add up to around $24 million. The Developmental Disabilities and Senior Services boards are also granting taxpayers a property tax break, so property owners will realize a total one-time reduction of around $151 per $100,000 of property value.
Pig gets his day in court
A Vietnamese pot-bellied pig got to stay with her owners after a Warren County Common Pleas Court judge adopted the magistrate’s decision that determined the animal was a household pet and not livestock.
In the five-page decision filed in September, Judge Donald E. Oda II said he found no error in law in Magistrate Paige Crossley-Tate’s determination that “Arnold Ziffel” is a domesticated animal that is regularly kept and fed by the members of the household inside the house, and is in every way treated as a companion animal, as opposed to a livestock or utility animal.
Mercy Health begins construction
In late October, Mercy Health held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new $200 million hospital campus to serve the growing population of Warren County. The 172,000 square-foot facility will include a 60-bed hospital and medical office complex that will initially employ 175 to 200 full-time staff and grow to more than 275 employees.
The new campus is being built on the 30-acre site of the former College Football Hall of Fame at Kings Island Drive and Kings Mills Road. The new hospital is expected to open in 2023.
Local school COVID plan gets nod from governor
Warren County school superintendents created a pilot program allowing students who were exposed to COVID to remain in school if they got tested, wore masks for 14 days and showed no symptoms. The idea was that too many students were forced to quarantine at home and miss classes even though they stayed healthy.
The Ohio Department of Health studied the results of the Warren County schools’ efforts, and approved the plan for use statewide. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine eventually rolled out the “Mask to Stay” and “Test to Play” programs, using Warren County’s experience as the baseline.
School threats abound
Like other school districts throughout the state and nation, Warren County school districts have had to address various threats made by students and others, some of which have been encouraged by social media platforms. These threats placed school and law enforcement on high alert and have resulted in some juvenile arrests.
A TikTok challenge for a “National Shoot Up Your School Day” ratcheted up police presence because it came a few weeks after a school shooting at a Michigan high school.
Four Warren County students have hearings in Warren County Juvenile Court in January for making threats or possessing a deadly weapon on school property.
Other top news of 2021
** Business/development: Dorothy Lane Market announced its entry into greater Cincinnati as an anchor for a $150 million development in Mason. The Dayton Homearama put the homebuilding spotlight on the new Union Village development. A former strip club, New York, New York Cabaret, was demolished in Franklin for a new car wash. Springboro said goodbye to Edwards Furniture as the business closed after 76 years.
** School news: Franklin also announced a new roundabout on Ohio 123 as part of the new construction of Franklin High School. In December, demolition started on the former Franklin Junior High after a century of service. The issue of racism was a major topic in the Springboro schools that continues to be addressed. The school district was blessed when former teacher Patricia McCandless left her $500,000 estate to the school district for student scholarships.
** Government: After 32 years as a Lebanon City Council member, former Lebanon mayor Amy Brewer stepped down and later announced her candidacy for county commission. Mark Messer succeeded Brewer as mayor after 20 years. Warren County Commissioners reluctantly accepted the $46 million in federal recovery funds and put the money into various projects. The county also opened up the new 122,000 square-foot, $56.52 million jail and sheriff’s office that increased the number of beds from 280 to 496. The new jail opened on time and under budget.
** Crime headlines: A man shot at a Warren County Sheriff’s deputy in an incident captured on a doorbell camera video system; A Deerfield Twp. woman stabbed a 3-year-old-boy who lived next door; a former Springboro Schools superintendent was indicted and arraigned in court; and teens fighting at Kings Island forced an early closing.
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