Land of Illusion rezoning decision pending after county public hearing

Land of Illusion Adventure Park on Thomas Road in Madison Township has Aqua Adventures park in summer months, Haunted Scream Park in the fall and a Christmas Glow in the winter. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Land of Illusion Adventure Park on Thomas Road in Madison Township has Aqua Adventures park in summer months, Haunted Scream Park in the fall and a Christmas Glow in the winter. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

The two sides on the Land of Illusion rezoning debate will have to wait a bit longer to find out if the county will give preliminary approval for a major expansion of the attraction in Madison Twp.

The commissioners met Monday to hear reasons for and against rezoning 206 acres across eight parcels off Thomas Road to a Business Planned Unit Development from the current agriculture, residential and general business classifications. Owner Brett Oakley wants to make Land of Illusion a year-round facility with additional family activities, camping sites and a hotel. He says the multi-phased project will be a $190 million investment in the county’s economy.

“This is a great park. I built this place not to make money, I built this place for passion,” Oakley said during the hearing, “I’ve been around Land of Illusion since 1997, I have personally never taken one penny, one wage out of Land of Illusions, I’ve done nothing but put money into it. I think that’s a good citizen and the kind of partner Butler County wants.”

The Butler County Planning Commission and the county Rural Zoning Commission denied the rezoning request. Neighbors have opposed the expansion, citing concerns over noise, traffic and other problems associated with a development of this size.

Zeb Acuff, the commissioners’ planning administrator, said there are unanswered questions.

“Staff believes that resubmittal of the application is premature, without addressing the pertinent public health and safety concerns of traffic problems and road improvements, sanitary and waste water treatment and the ability of local emergency services to adequately serve the proposed development,” Acuff said.

Oakley’s attorney, Scott Phillips, pushed back on criticism by neighbors. He said in 15 years there have been no noise complaints until recently when three were reported and there have only been 13 crime-related calls and two to three EMS runs to park since 2015.

He told the commissioners at the preliminary approval stage the developer is not required to provide in-depth environmental and traffic studies. He said if the commissioners deny the preliminary plans it would “would constitute a regulatory taking” of Oakley’s property and expose the county to a lawsuit.

“A much more prudent approach is to approve the application,” Phillips said. “The zoning commission will review each and every final phase and if we don’t meet the requirements for storm water, traffic and all the other engineering things that are supposed to be done at the final stage, we will not get out permit.”

An attorney representing multiple neighbors warned the commissioners Oakley has not always followed the rules, constructing buildings without permits, hiring under age workers and host of other alleged infractions.

“The majority of Madison Twp. residents oppose this zoning change,” attorney Joe Lucas said. “Small business owners, day laborers, skilled tradesmen, attorneys, farmers, township trustees and even a former fortune 500 president all came as Madison Twp. residents and spoke in opposition,” he said about previous hearings. “Why is that, well a number of reasons come to mind, Land of Illusion and Mr. Oakley have been bad neighbors for a long time.”

The commissioners had no questions and said they would have a decision soon.

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