Butler County commissioners deny $353M mega-development in Ross Twp.

Several Ross Twp. residents attended the Butler County commissioners' meeting Monday, Dec. 13 to protest the $353 million Burns farm development. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: Submitted

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Several Ross Twp. residents attended the Butler County commissioners' meeting Monday, Dec. 13 to protest the $353 million Burns farm development. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: Submitted

Residents pack commission chamber to voice concerns

The Butler County commissioners received a round of applause Monday morning after they unanimously voted against creating a community authority for a proposed $353 million mega development in Ross Twp.

Commissioner Don Dixon has expressed strong opposition to the project and his fellow commissioners agreed after an impromptu vote on the matter. Residents packed the commission chamber to voice their deep concerns about the project.

Developer Ron Coffman asked the board a week ago to create a community authority to help finance $46.6 million for infrastructure improvements. He told the commissioners without the funding source he could not afford to build the project.

Coffman said it is essential for the development to proceed, because he is not going to “commit financial suicide” to build it without the new community authority.

“It won’t work financially at the current price the seller is asking for the property,” Coffman said. “If it’s not going to have the NCA I’m sorry I’m out, I can’t make it work.”

The 350-acre farm tract at the corner of U.S. 27 and Ohio 128 could have been developed with 339 mid-level and estate homes, senior cottages and assisted living,185 rental units and 124 units of “active adult housing.” A small portion, about 25 acres, could hold a hotel and neighborhood retail.

“I know we’re not supposed to vote today, but I can tell you I’m out,” Dixon said. “It doesn’t make any sense, I don’t think it’s good for Ross, I don’t think our constituents have had the input they need to have on this issue.”

He said there was no point in drawing the issue out any further by holding meetings to discuss with the public the merits of the development, because he doesn’t think the public should be funding a private enterprise.

“I think they ought to be doing it the old fashioned way they’ve got to get out their checkbook if they want to develop it, they’ve got to do the traffic study and do the road improvements and give those to public and county and if they don’t have the money then stay out of Dodge,” Dixon said.

A new community authority would have had the power to sell bonds to pay for infrastructure — including improving the major intersection — for the project and impose a 10-mill tax levy on new developments within the farm property. It is similar to the Liberty Community Authority formed for Liberty Center. The NCA could also impose higher sales taxes.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he agreed to the Liberty Center Community Authority because it largely was initiated to collect sales tax, not impose higher property taxes on residents which the Ross NCA would do.

“In this case they’re asking for an NCA to put on an additional property tax,” Rogers said. “As I look at it I really don’t think anybody should be adding a property tax which is continual on a year-to-year basis and never change.”

Coffman could not be reached for comment.

ExploreDozens of Ross Twp. residents protest $353M mixed-use development

Once the news of the development came out last week residents have flooded social media protesting the development, several of them showed up at the commissioners’ meeting to voice their concerns, although a vote on the issue was not scheduled.

Many like Meghan Hoffman were very worried that the plan called for a hotel near Elda Elementary School.

“I think it’s horribly unsafe and I don’t think those people care that children will be impacted, one of those children being mine,” Hoffman said. “Not safe at all, housing fine, but a hotel I don’t know because you can get transient people if they’re not filling those rooms at Spooky Nook. They’re going to let anybody stay there.”

Commenters on Facebook have said they want their township to remain rural, that’s why they live there.

“I believe the administration is out of touch with the people of Ross with this project,” Cindy McGurrin told the commissioners. “Do we want our families exposed to the dangers of the things we’ve moved away from? Or do we want to keep what we have. That’s a question I think needs to be asked. As far as a place to live is concerned Ross is a diamond in the rough, do not let our diamond be sold to a new jeweler.”

Since the township doesn’t control its own zoning the commissioners would have ultimately decided on the project as a whole, which officials said were not finalized yet. Residents were angered that they were not told about the plan before the matter came before the commissioners on the NCA request.

Retired Township Administrator Bob Bass, who the trustees contracted with the township to work on this development, said previously the developer was just doing his due diligence requesting the funding vehicle. There would have been full public hearings on the development at the zoning stage of the development.

Ross Twp. officials were shocked the commissioners took action, “I don’t know what to tell you, I am floored,” Trustee Ellen Yordy told the Journal-News when she first learned of the decision. She later said the commissioners hadn’t even received a formal petition to create the NCA, it was just up for discussion last week.

“In essence all three (commissioners) voted against NCAs in general,” Yordy said. “And that was done after a discussion with fewer than 10 people out of the township of 9,000 residents.”

Bass said he also couldn’t believe the commissioners voted on the matter “in spite of the fact they told the developer they would have individual meetings with him to discuss how the project was being funded, it’s disappointing, I don’t know what else to say.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter echoed Dixon’s sentiment it was pointless to continue the conversation.

“Personally I don’t think our core duties include funding a developer’s project,” Carpenter said after the meeting. “If it’s worthy of developing someone will be interested in doing that.”

The Burns family is determined to sell the farm and Trustee Keith Ballauer said he is concerned if it isn’t developed as part of a single plan, the development can’t be controlled in terms of density and appearance.

“It’s win and lose in any aspect of life, you know you present it out there, you think you’ve got a good plan, I was happy with about 87% of that plan,” Ballauer said. “That’s just the way it falls unfortunately. I’ll speak with my other two (trustees) and see what may go on in the future but Mrs. Burns definitely wants to sell that land. It’s going to happen one way or another.”

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