Future of former hospital land now in the hands of Middletown City Council

Members to vote on proposed housing project at next meeting

Neighbors near a proposed housing project understand the more than 16 acres owned by a Middletown church eventually will be developed.

But after Tuesday night’s 4 1/2-hour Middletown City Council meeting that drew a large crowd of concerned citizens, it’s clear they’re against the plan from developer D.R. Horton. The four parcels of land that formerly were the site of Middletown Regional Hospital for nearly 100 years were sold to Oaks Community Church in 2016 for $500,000, according to the Butler County Auditor’s Office.

Pastors from the church, a representative from D.R. Horton and a Middletown attorney spoke in support of the project, while 10 residents voiced their concerns about the project due to its density and potential problems it could create near the historic district.

Council members heard the first reading of a plan and map amendment that would allow 50 ranch-style homes to be built on the former hospital site. Council is expected to vote on the plan at its next meeting on May 3, which also is election day.

Council member Tal Moon said during Tuesday’s meeting that he’s affiliated with the church so he wouldn’t be involved in any discussions. If Moon doesn’t vote on the ordinance, three of the four other council members would have to vote for it to pass.

If approved, as a part of the Planned Development process, the property would be rezoned to “Planned Development District” to acknowledge there is a development plan associated with the property, according to the city.

City Planning Commission conducted a public hearing on March 9 and recommended to City Council the request to rezone the property be approved.

Originally, D.R. Horton, which has built the more homes than any national builder in the last 20 years, according to its web site, wanted 53 homes constructed on the 16.64 acres. Then that number of houses was lowered to 50 with 50 feet of frontage. and 75-foot buffers between the new development and surrounding houses.

Rob Smith, who represented D.R. Horton at the meeting, said 50 homes was “as far down as we can do” because converting the hospital property will be “an expensive site to develop.”

He described the budget for the project as “really tight.”

Small lots don’t “mean cheap” and the homes would sell for between $350,000 to $400,000, according to Smith.

Building homes there would be “a far better use than a hospital,” he said.

“We believe in Middletown,” he said adding the project will be “really good for the city.”

Eric Russell, a pastor at Oaks Community Church and a real estate agent, said in Middletown, only one home is listed for more than $300,000 and it’s on Central Avenue. He said the city needs higher priced homes to attract residents.

The development, he said, would be “a good step toward a new Middletown” and is the “best option” for the city.

Dustin Hurley, a Middletown attorney, spoke in favor of the development and said the 50 homes offer an opportunity to solve “a massive problem” regarding housing in the city.

He said the plan “checks all the boxes” regarding the review criteria and council should “act in the best interest of the entire city.”

Those who live near the proposed development vehemently disagreed.

Rachel Rutherford, who lives on McKnight Drive, asked council members to slow down and consider the impact on the city 10 years from now.

“I want my neighborhood to stay beautiful,” she said.

Tim Carlson, who lives on Flemming Road, said the area around the former hospital is “a special neighborhood” that “should be cherished.”

Kelley Michel, who lives on Florence Street, said the width of the roads concerns her because if there’s parking on both sides there wouldn’t be enough room for fire trucks and possibly school buses.

She said the proposal “is not the right project for the hill.”

Steve Lewis, a park board member, questioned why the city has received only one proposal and not sought bids from other developers. He believes D.R. Horton wants to build there to take advantage of the larger, more expensive homes in the historic district.

Peggy Trimble, who lives McGee Avenue, urged council to “please support your current residents and vote against this issue.”

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