Big developments at risk as Warren, Butler counties fight over sewers

Warren County leaders want Butler County officials to approve sewer service for projects in southwestern Warren County. Butler County’s decision affects 1,400 acres of land across from Otterbein Senior Lifestyles in Warren County. That area will soon see the first phase of a 4,500 home development called Union Village, including the Warren County Sports Park. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

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Warren County leaders want Butler County officials to approve sewer service for projects in southwestern Warren County. Butler County’s decision affects 1,400 acres of land across from Otterbein Senior Lifestyles in Warren County. That area will soon see the first phase of a 4,500 home development called Union Village, including the Warren County Sports Park. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Union Village, sports complex among proposed projects held up.

Butler County leaders want to renegotiate the deal to provide sewer service in southwestern Warren County, a move that could threaten millions in development projects for booming area between Dayton and Cincinnati.

Warren County Commissioner Shannon Jones said Butler County was holding customers and developers in her county hostage as a result.

For now, Butler County is delaying issuing permits for the first phase of the 4,500-home, 1,400-acre Union Village development, projected to attract as much as $1.5 billion in investment.

Butler County decided to put the brakes on permits for this and other developments east of I-75 in Warren County after learning Union Village itself could ultimately produce 8 million gallons of sewage a day, according to emails acquired by this newspaper.

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“At that point, a decision was made to pause to assess our capacity situation, as a development of this magnitude and density was never contemplated. We also had not considered the sale of the prison land and the development associated with that acreage,” Butler County Administrator Charles Young said in a July 20 email to Warren County Administrator Tiffany Zindel.

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The move raised alarm in Warren County, due in part to concerns this could also stall progress toward opening the $15.5 million Warren County Sports Park at Union Village.

“Is there any ability for Butler County, for projects currently submitted and within the current service areas, to be allowed to move forward?” Zindel asked in a reply.

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Jones accused Butler County of planning to put the full burden of Butler County sewer expansion on Warren County customers.

“What they are basically trying to do is hold us hostage, to charge customers, developers and Warren County even more than they are already being charged,“ Jones said during a meeting last week in Lebanon.

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Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon said he and Warren County Commissioner Dave Young planned to meet later this month to work toward a compromise.

Dixon said existing contract terms date back 40 years to when Otterbein — developers of Union Village — ran into problems with the sewage treatment system for its retirement campus.

“The rest of that was pretty much fields,” Dixon said. “Over the years, Warren County has grown and grown.”

Today, Butler County provides sewer service to the prisons and commercial development, including the Miami Valley Gaming racino, in southwestern Warren County.

Other developments are also planned to the north, around the Shaker Run Golf Course and along Union and Greentree roads.

“They are going gangbusters. We’re going gangbusters,” Dixon said. “We need to work closely together.”

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Butler County has yet to do so, but will provide sewers for the first phase of Union Village, Dixon said.

“In the short term, we can handle it, and we intend to handle it,” he said.

Another long-term solution is needed, he said.

“We don’t have that capacity. We just don’t,” Dixon said, estimating serving the growth in the area could cost $50 million to $75 million.

The rights to provide sewer service are divided up according to rules established under the Clean Water Act of 1972. Warren County turned the area east of I-75 over to Butler County in the 1980s, according to Warren County staffers.

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The OKI Regional Council of Governments rules on changes in this area.

Last week, Warren County Commissioner Young said the county should explore asking OKI to give back the areas currently served by Butler County so it could build a plant to serve the area itself.

Warren County staff said it would take three years to build a new plant to serve the area. Dixon said it would be more like five years.

MORE: Sewer service key to development east of I-75

Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices has retained John Albers, a Columbus lawyer, to handle the Union Village sewer-permit issue.

"If any issues arise in the discussions, it would be important to Union Village to get them resolved pretty quickly. Meanwhile, we are continuing to move forward with engineering design work and a plan to present the next governmental submissions later this fall," Gary Horning, vice president for marketing and communications at Otterbein, said in an email.

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Dixon said rates for the first phase could be affected by a pending rate study by Butler County.

“Preliminary results of that analysis show a need for an increase in connection fees to support that growth,” Acting Assistant County Administrator Susan Vance said in a statement.

Butler County Administrator Young also made this point on his July 20 email.

“As I mentioned in our meeting, we anticipate the need to work with you and your Board of County Commissioners to amend the sewer service contracts between Butler and Warren Counties to reflect the actual cost of serving customers outside Butler County,” he said.

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