Madison Twp. residents prepare for possible legal battle against Land of Illusion expansion

Madison Twp. residents met Tuesday to discuss next steps in their battle to prevent the expansion of the Land of Illusion Adventure Park.

More than three dozen residents who oppose the expansion plan met at the Knights of Pythias park near where Brett Oakley, owner of Land of Illusion, wants to build a campground as part of a 227-acre plan to expand the park.

Last week, the Butler County Rural Zoning Commission voted 4-0 not to recommend the proposed rezoning and plan at the Thomas Road facility. That recommendation is scheduled for a July 6 public hearing before the Butler County Commission for a final review and vote. By state law, the county commissioners can accept, modify or reject the recommendation.

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John Pruett, who owns Triangle Fishing Lake on Franklin-Madison Road adjacent to Land of Illusion, said the proposed expansion would damage his business and lower his property value.

Pruett is also concerned about the increased traffic on the small township roads, the need for additional fire vehicles and emergency personnel and infrastructure issues.

He’s also concerned the additional infrastructure and public safety needs will increase property taxes to the point that many older residents would have to sell their homes.

“Neighbors are worried about it,” Pruett said. “It’s not personal but this isn’t the place for something like that.”

Pruett also said he met last week with Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon and County Administrator Judi Boyko at his pay fishing lake. Pruett and other residents want a public hearing before the county commissioners on the issue.

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Another resident, Matt Richardson, said many residents are opposed to the rezoning, including some who live on the other side of Franklin-Madison Road in Franklin Twp., in Warren County.

“This isn’t going to work here,” Richardson said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Wayne Gross said his parents, who are both in their mid-80s and have their home of 52 years in the middle of the proposed expansion area, just want their peace and quiet.

“This is a big deal,” Gross said. “We went through this before. It’s insane what he’s asking for. The (Madison Twp.) trustees have been silent for too long and have turned a blind eye to this.”

The residents are continuing to meet, share information on social media and raise money to cover legal costs.

Joe Lucas, a Franklin lawyer representing some of the residents, urged the group to attend the next hearing before the county commissioners. He said the residents do not want Oakley to withdraw his pending request and are concerned it could be resubmitted in a piecemeal manner in the future.

The Butler County commissioners are required to hold a public hearing on the zoning request within 30 days of the zoning commission’s action. A hearing has been scheduled for July 6, but Oakley has asked for a six- to eight-week extension “to allow our team additional time to respond and modify plans based on comments from the community,” a letter to Boyko reads.

The commissioners discussed the postponement Monday, and Commissioner T.C. Rogers had concerns about the message they might send if they granted the extension.

“It was brought up before that we maintain neutrality and I don’t know whether postponing it would give an indication that maybe we were on one side or another,” Rogers said.

The commissioners said they are uncomfortable approving a project that has been substantially changed without the zoning commission reviewing the changes. Boyko said the process would need to begin again if the plans change significantly.

“I would like to have all that reviewed by the prosecutor and his direction on how to proceed,” Dixon said. “He might be representing us in court, and I want the prosecutors involved from the very beginning.”

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser told the Journal-News he will not share his advice publicly until he has shared his opinion with the commissioners.

“The hearing will go forward as scheduled, there is a statutory mandate for that,” Gmoser said. “However, the request for a continuance is under consideration and an answer will be given in a timely manner to that request.”

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