Monroe looking at changes for undeveloped I-75 land near Cincinnati Premium Outlets

Requests have been filed to rezone two of the last undeveloped parcels of undeveloped land along Interstate 75 in Monroe, but council members are debating those requests and a vote at last week’s meeting.

One parcel, which is east of I-75, south of Mason Road and the Cincinnati Premium Outlets mall and west of Butler Warren Road, includes more than 117 acres. The request seeks a change in zoning from a general commercial district to light industrial district.

Developer Lenny Robinson, who owns the land south of Cincinnati Premium Outlets mall, said that area was originally zoned industrial in the 1940s and was rezoned to commercial in the late 1999 for a 1.4 million square-foot mall project led by Taubman Company. However, after September 2001, the retail sector took a severe downturn, and Taubman dropped their option in 2003, he said.

“We worked hard to attract new commercial which become the Cincinnati Premium Outlet mall,” Robinson said.

He said the market for commercial property has become very competitive in the area along I-75 with the development of Liberty Center and Austin Landing.

The second parcel, which is owned by the Berns family, is more than 164 acres along both sides of I-75 and bordered by Greentree and Union roads and other agricultural land.

At the city’s request about 10 years ago, the Berns family rezoned the land from industrial to business park, according to the zoning application submitted by Michael Berns. However, after 10 years of waiting for development, the Berns family has been advised by multiple brokers that the land is not consistent for business park use. They are now seeking to have the land rezoned back to industrial, according to the zoning application.

That land was once considered by Middletown Regional Hospital for its new facility before it opted to invest $300 million to build the 190-acre Atrium Medical Center campus off the I-75/Ohio 122 interchange in Middletown. Middletown Regional Hospital became part of Dayton-based Premier Health system in 2005. Premier opened Atrium Medical Center in 2007.

The first reading of the two rezoning ordinances on Tuesday caused some controversy.

Law Director K. Philip Callahan said four votes from the seven elected council members are needed to approve the first reading, so the motion failed as prescribed by the city charter. Five of the seven members were at Tuesday’s meeting and vote was 3-2, with Vice Mayor Dan Clark and Councilman Todd Hickman voting against. Absent from the meeting were Mayor Robert Routson and Councilwoman Anna Hale.

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However, there were questions about Callahan’s ruling. On Thursday, Callahan issued an opinion that it has become custom for council to vote on motions to approve a first reading but there is nothing in the city charter requiring a vote to accept a first reading for an ordinance or resolution.

“There must be a first reading but a vote to approve that first reading is superfluous,” Callahan wrote in opinion.

There will a second reading on the rezoning request on March 12.

Hickman and Clark have voted against several rezoning requests in recent months, Monroe has enough warehouses and would prefer to see other businesses that pay employees higher salaries.

Clark said this opinion is something needs to be discussed as a council.

“My vote reflects what people in Monroe want: more diversity in businesses,” Clark said. “They’ve had enough warehouses.”

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