Ross development expected to be boon for township, region

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Ross Twp. officials have been working for about three years on a $353 million new mixed-use development on the Burns farm property and say it will benefit the entire township if it can clear the last development hurdle.

The 350-acre farm tract at the corner of U.S. 27 and Ohio 128 is a prime location that could be developed with 339 mid-level and estate homes, senior cottages and assisted living,185 rental units and 124 units of “active adult housing.” A small portion, about 25 acres, would hold a hotel and neighborhood retail.

Financial Advisor Andy Brossart told the Journal-News the preliminary value of the 350-acre development is $150 million for the commercial portion and $203 million for residential.

Officials met with the Butler County commissioners on Monday to make a plea for establishing a new community authority that developer Ron Coffman said is essential for the development to proceed, because he is not going to “commit financial suicide” to build it without the new community authority (NCA).

“It won’t work financially at the current price the seller is asking for the property,” Coffman said. “If it’s not going to have the NCA I’m sorry I’m out, I can’t make it work.”

The auditor’s office has the farm valued at just over $2 million.

Ross Fiscal Officer Julie Joyce-Smith told them this development will not inundate the Ross Schools and it provides transitioning seniors an opportunity to stay in the township.

“We are very excited about this proposed development because we have an opportunity for controlled, planned development...,” Joyce-Smith said. “There is a perception in Ross Twp. amongst the residents, they do not want to be vinyl valley and we’re seeing that in Harrison. It is not something that’s attractive, it causes high density.”

Ross Schools Superintendent Chad Konkle said they wholeheartedly support this project because the senior living aspect and higher end homes mean they likely won’t be flooded with more kids they can’t handle.

He said they commissioned a study and even with this largely residential project, they are projected to lose 100 students over the next 10 years.

“If we don’t go down this road and this project fails and multiple developers come in, who knows what that looks like,” Konkle said.

A new community authority would have the power to sell bonds to pay for an estimated $46.6 million worth of infrastructure — including improving the major intersection — for the project and impose a 10-mill tax levy on new developments within the farm property. It is similar to the Liberty Community Authority formed for Liberty Center. The NCA could also impose higher sales taxes but that is not part of the current funding the plan.

Retired township administrator Bob Bass told the Journal-News they have already established a tax increment financing district (TIF) to collect the new 10-mill levy and a 120-acre joint economic development district to prepare for the 1.3 million-square-foot Spooky Nook complex under construction in Hamilton that is expected to draw crowds from around the region. Bass said if the new development is approved it will be added to the JEDD.

Townships generally do not collect income taxes unless they unless they partner with a municipality to construct a JEDD. Under the new JEDD the township’s cut is 95%, and Hamilton will collect the rest, plus an administrative fee for managing the taxes. Plus, the city will get an additional 3% in hotel taxes to pay for Spooky Nook parking.

Bass said with these funding streams in place, existing residents will not foot the bill for new development.

“If we can use TIF and JEDD and community authority monies to get this project off the ground it would draw future dollars from those taxing authorities to the township, so that the amount of services that need to be expanded because of the development will be paid for by the development itself,” Bass said. “It will not saddle the existing community with additional taxation.”

Brossart said the JEDD revenue figures are very preliminary, but that vehicle will bring in an estimated $638,00 annually when the development is built out. The 10-mill levy will collect about $1.2 million a year.

Commissioner Don Dixon has a number of issues with forming an NCA and said it is better to “build it the old-fashioned way” with the developer footing the bill.

He told the Journal-News he will not vote for the new community authority because with the ability to raise property and sales taxes within that area be doesn’t see how it can be competitive and successful.

“Here’s the problem, when you raise the sales tax and everybody around you is cheaper it slows your sales down, how does that help,” Dixon said. “Put that 10-mill assessment on, I can go right across the street and build the same building they are going to build in there and it will be assessed 10 mills less.”

Dixon also mentioned the fact the new Liberty Center owners have applied to change the face of the mall by building apartments where an anchor store was originally imagined.

Since Ross trustees don’t control their own zoning, the developer could come back and ask to change what has been planned and it would be up to the county zoning commission and commissioners to approve. He said the trustees know better than they do what is best for the township.

“Once it gets out of the trustees’ hands and they approve this and it gets into the developer’s realm they can move all that stuff around,” Dixon said. “If it’s not successful they can come back and say this is not working I need to change these one-bedrooms to four bedrooms. And they say if you don’t let me do it we’re going down. It’s just you’re putting all your eggs in one basket… He who has control will make that thing right.”

Joyce-Smith told Dixon they have a committee working on putting a question on the November ballot next year asking voters to grant them zoning authority.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he is not going to compare this issue to Liberty Center because that is all retail and commercial, and this one is mainly residential.

“I haven’t made a final decision yet but I think as I looked at the project it’s well thought out,” Rogers said. “Plus your township wants it, and your board of education wants it; if we were to turn it down we have to have a good reason.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter could not be reached for comment but said at the meeting they support anything that is good for the township, “our hearts are in this but we’re having some trouble understanding this project.”

The commissioners agreed to meet with the parties in private to discuss it further.

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