Residents speak out against former Middletown hospital property development

City council members will vote June 21.

The proposed developer of more than 16 acres in Middletown, called the “last piece of prime real estate in the city,” became upset after listening to nine Middletown residents saying they’re against the plan.

A second public hearing was held during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, and many of the residents shared the same concerns: the density of the development, the size of the homes and the additional traffic.

Following the hearing, and after listening to a presentation from Rob Smith of D.R. Horton, council members agreed to delay voting on the proposal until the June 21 meeting, six weeks after it was originally scheduled for a vote.

If approved, as a part of the Planned Development process, the property would be rezoned to “Planned Development District” to acknowledge there is a development plan associated with the property, according to the city.

After the first hearing on April 19, City Council asked Smith to prepare another option for the land. In the second option that included 52 homes, Smith said there would be nine larger homes with 80 feet of frontage on Florence Street and 43 additional homes.

The single-family homes would range between 2,800 to 3,485 square range with four bedrooms, 2.5 baths with an estimated cost of about $300,000, said Smith, who represents D.R. Horton, the largest national builder in the last 20 years, according to its web site.

“This plan has a lot of merit to it,” Smith said.

A third option proposed building townhomes on the property, though Smith said that wouldn’t be considered unless there was “strong interest” from residents and council.

Option 1, originally presented at the April 19 City Council meeting and approved by the Planning Commission, called for 50 ranch-style homes to be built on the property formerly owned by Middletown Regional Hospital.

The hospital sold the land to Oaks Community Church for $500,000 in 2016, according to the Butler County Auditor’s Office.

While no residents spoke in favor of the project Tuesday night, nine residents, including two Realtors, voiced their concerns.

Rachel Rutherford, who lives on McKnight Drive, said she was bothered by the development’s density.

“I cannot imagine 52 homes squashed on that land,” she said. “I can’t imagine the traffic.”

Middletown resident Chris Lacy said no one is opposed to developing the land, but the 50- to 52-home plan would “totally alter the neighborhood” and it would be better suited elsewhere in the city.

The Hill Property represents the “heart and epicenter” of the city and is the “last piece of prime real estate,” according to Lacy.

Michael Combs, a Middletown Realtor for 46 years, said the development hasn’t “felt right, doesn’t smell right.”

Matthew Armbruster, who lives near the proposed development, said he’s against all options.

“Don’t do this,” he told council members. “It’s not a good idea. It’s way rushed. Vote no.”

His wife, Rachel Lewitt, a longtime Middletown Realtor, said those in her profession “love development,” but it must be “the right kind of development.”

After the public hearing, Smith, who became frustrated and at times crossed his arms, was allowed to address some of the concerns.

He said the development would have 3.48 units per acre, which “is not outside the norm for this city,” though it’s higher than the Historic District.

“The Historic District is not the city,” he said. (It’s) part of the city, a beautiful part of the city.”

He said only a few residents who live outside the Historic District have told him they’re against the project during the eight public meeting he has attended.

A traffic analysis was conducted and the number of vehicles would be “pretty insignificant” compared to when the hospital was open, he said.

Council member Rodney Muterspaw said he understood why Smith was upset by some of the negative feedback. But he said Middletown residents are “very compassionate” because they have been “burnt by projects in the past.”

Then he added: “Don’t take offense to the passion. This is where they live. This is their city, my city, our city.”

Council member Tal Moon said he’s affiliated with Oaks Community Church so he wouldn’t be involved in any discussions. If Moon doesn’t vote on the ordinance, three of the four other council members would have to vote for it to pass.

Mayor Nicole Condrey indicated Tuesday she was against the plan.


TIMELINE OF PROPOSED HILL DEVELOPMENT

2016: Oaks Community Church purchases 16 acres from Middletown Regional Hospital for $500,000, according to the Butler County Auditor’s Office.

March 9: Planning Commission approves the Hill Preliminary Development Plan and Map Amendment for a new subdivision that proposes 50 single-family homes with public streets.

April 19: A large crowd of concerned citizens say they’re against the housing development. Pastors from the Oaks Community Church, a representative from D.R. Horton and a Middletown attorney speak in support of the project, while 10 residents voice their concerns.

May 3: The legislation is pulled pulled from the City Council agenda to give the developers and city leaders more time to “evaluate,” according to a city official. Council was scheduled to hear the second reading, then vote on the legislation.

June 7: Representatives from D.R. Horton present three options for the property. Nine Middletown residents say they’re against the development during a public hearing.

June 21: City council expects to vote on the second reading of the legislation.

SOURCE: City of Middletown, Journal-News archives

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