West Chester biggest stories of 2019: Big projects, Kroger progress, community healing

West Chester Twp. officials say 2019 included numerous accomplishments while officials avoided some of the controversies that were part of recent years..

Angry residents flooded the trustee meeting room voicing opinions on multiple recent issues, including the Right to Work, a controversial drug rehab center and what to do with the historic Station Road Schoolhouse. Trustee Board President Mark Welch said the year was pretty quiet, but the biggest accomplishment, the revamp of the Union Centre Boulevard interchange at Interstate 75, was monumental.

The $20 million project was imperative to ease congestion and open up development opportunities, he said.

“It was a big deal because it’s like holy cow, $20 mil,” Welch said. “And the township did not go out and seek any grants, the reason that we didn’t was because the delay it would have taken number one, and really the benefit that a grant would have possibly given us would not have been that much… It would be three, four, five years out if it got approved, so we pulled he trigger on it.”

Major work at UCB interchange begins

The Butler County commissioners awarded the $20 million contract to the John R. Jurgenson Company last spring for a project that is entirely funded with West Chester’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money.

“Infrastructure improvements like the DDI project are consistent with the mission of the TIF, which will provide a means for continued investment by developers in commercial property keeping West Chester at the epicenter of economic vitality in the region,” Township Administrator Larry Burks said.

The early estimate for the project was $14 million but Wilkens had to revise the projection a couple times due to the construction market this year. The township is paying $6 million in cash and sold $14 million in TIF-backed bonds.

The DDI is tentatively scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2020.

Cincinnati Dayton Road reopens

After a year-and-a-half the busy road through Olde West Chester reopened in October. The $7.8 million project — mainly funded with federal funds — included widening the road to four lanes from West Chester Road to Interstate 75, new sidewalks and decorative lighting, five crosswalks, a bridge replacement, a bridge widening and a new pocket park at Station Road.

Moe Ismail said Halls Carry-Out nearly went out of the business during the construction, but things have picked up now that the orange pylons and heavy equipment have moved out.

“It was almost out of business, kind of slow. It was one lane and cones all over the place, it’s like nobody can come in and it’s taking forever, more than a year and half,” Ismail said, adding he is glad it’s over. “Big time, more customers more business.”

Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens said he knows the lengthy project has been very hard on business owners who line the street through Olde West Chester.

“They’re dying during the project, it does have an effect on them,” Wilkens said. “But after a project we’ve heard numbers as high as 20, 25 percent increase in foot traffic into the businesses.”

Giant new Kroger Marketplace closer to fruition

The giant new Kroger Marketplace in West Chester Twp. cleared a major hurdle with an agreement involving the Providence Bible Fellowship church on Cox Road.

The township trustees finalized a $1.8 million deal with Kroger’s landlord, Regency Centers, in September to sell the former township Activity Center to clear the way for a giant new grocery and retail center. The acquisition allowed for a new 95,545-square-foot Kroger to replace the existing store, but the grocery giant and retail center owners needed two other properties to build a 117,166-square-foot Marketplace.

Regency has to purchase the Providence church and a portion of the adjacent Chesterwood Village property, which is owned by Hillandale Communities. The agreement with West Chester stated if Regency was unable to secure the church property within 90 days, it could terminate the agreement with the township. The 90 days will expire next week.

After that 90 days, the agreement can’t be terminated unless something adverse is discovered during the due diligence period, there is an issue with zoning or Kroger won’t sign a lease. The Chesterwood land purchase was not a deal breaker.

Ryan Ertel, senior leasing agent at Regency, said they “are under contract with Providence.”

Welch said he is satisfied Regency has fulfilled the agreement with the township to this point, “they’ve accomplished basically what they needed to do.”

Senior programming finds temporary home at the library

Senior programming that was displaced by the sale of the West Chester Activity Center for a new Kroger location moved temporarily to the MidPointe Library.

West Chester Twp. trustees unanimously approved the $1.8 million sale of the township’s Activity Center that housed senior programming to clear the way for a giant Kroger Marketplace. The center closed for good in October.

Township spokeswoman Barb Wilson said staff worked with community volunteers and seniors about their priorities and interests. West Chester focused on three qualities when looking for an alternative gathering space for the 50-70 senior citizens who visited the Activity Center regularly, accessibility, consistency and programming, and the library has them all, officials said.

“Change is always difficult, but the library feels like a winning combination of beautiful indoor and outdoor space welcoming to the type of gathering and fellowship the seniors enjoy at the Activity Center, and with friendly staff prepared to make them feel at home,” Wilson said.

Nancy Williams and her husband Jack led a group of seniors who worked with the township to find a new home for their programming, after it was discovered in January Community First Solutions would not be renewing the lease at the Activity Center and the programs would end.

“It’s been a really long road, and emotional road for everybody,” she said. “Trying to keep them happy and trying to find a place, so yes I think in the interim right now the library will be good.”

West Chester wanted to know what people think of the township

West Chester Twp. is already ranked as one of the top places to live in the country, but officials surveyed the community to help plan a vision for the future of the township.

“Just because you are number one doesn’t mean that you cannot improve,” Trustee Lee Wong said. “We want to get feedback from the community, how can we do better. That’s how you raise the bar another level.”

The township is the top place to live in Ohio and one of the best in the nation for many years, according to Money Magazine.

The township commissioned a survey from the National Research Center for $15,600 — they received $8,500 from the 2019 Duke Energy Powerful Communities Local Impact Grant to put toward the project — and 1,500 residents were randomly selected to answer 132-question survey, according to Assistant Township Administrator Lisa Brown.

Brown said the survey results were enlightening.

“We work for the residents of this community and are energized by the outcomes of the survey,” Brown said. “This isn’t the last time we’ll be reaching out, but it is a great starting place. Our Trustees now have a roadmap to work from and staff will be guided by the results as we consider areas for improvement.”

Community mourns four family members murdered

Following the slaying of four members of a Sikh family in an apartment on Wyndtree Drive on April 28, the township invited members of their congregation to pray before the trustee meeting.

Welch assured members of the community the township mourned with them.

“Together we mourn the unimaginable deaths of our neighbors,” Welch said, “and extend our collective support to their family and all of our Sikh community.”

Amrick Singh, a priest from Gurudwara Sahib of Greater Cincinnati, where the family worshiped, led the prayer at the start of the May meeting, first in his native language and then translated.

“We pray for the peace of the souls whose lives were cut short before (their) time,” he said as everyone in the room stood with heads bowed. “We pray for them to reach their heavenly destination, for them to rest in peace and for them to meet the lord, who will take care of them.”

Singh also prayed for justice and asked that the entire West Chester community be “soothed.”

“We pray for the Sikh community that are in West Chester for their fears to be soothed, for their hearts who are in pain to be soothed,” he said. “We pray for the fellow brothers and sisters, Sikh and non-Sikhs, we pray for their safety, we pray for their love and we pray for their souls, in God’s name.”

Then he and the small group of men with him quietly left the meeting.

Gurpreet Singh, 37, is charged with four counts of aggravated murder stemming from the incident. With specifications of using a firearm and killing two or more persons, Singh faces the death penalty if convicted.

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