West Chester Twp. officials will move forward with several major projects that will affect many throughout the region in the coming year while also gaining community input on what they should address in their future planning.
There are huge projects planned this year, such as the $14 million Union Centre Boulevard interchange bottleneck-busting makeover, the $1.8 million widening at the Tylersville Road interchange and completion of the Cincinnati Dayton Road work.
Perhaps the bigger focus this year will be township officials reaching out to see what is important to their citizens and businesses.
“My biggest thing is the vision committee, getting that back together,” said Trustee Ann Becker. “I think the community really needs to get some input on where the township is going for the next 15, 20 years. We’re changing, we’re getting a little more mature, and we need to make sure we’ve got a firm handle on what our residents want.”
The township has dealt with serious issues in recent years, including whether it should become a right-to-work community, whether it should allow medical marijuana and swingers clubs, the recent sale of the historic Station Road schoolhouse and approval of a controversial drug rehab center on U.S. 42.
Neighbors came out in droves on all these issues to voice their opinions. Policy decisions like these could be topics for discussion during the vision plan process, including whether the township should have a hand in providing senior services, according to Township Administrator Larry Burks.
Senior citizens visited a recent trustee meeting and said they were afraid their senior center is closing. Burks said he met with Community First — the non-profit that leases the center and runs the programs — before the holidays and was told it would not be renewing the lease with the township when it expires in December.
Burks told the Journal-News he had further discussions with Community First.
“We’ve agreed to work together to find a solution to the problem,” he said. “We just don’t know what that solution is at this time. We are trying to come up with a variety of options that may work and then hopefully we can collaborate with the community as whole to determine which option would be best.”
In addition to the vision plan, the township plans to conduct some informal and possibly a formal community survey to collect citizen opinions and identify concerns. Another issue that could be ripe for community input is $250,000 the township has set aside in its 2019 capital improvement plan for “land banking.” and another $250,000 for U.S. 42 redevelopment improvements.
This is the first time the township has broached the subject of land banking, which can serve two purposes. One is the blight-busting ability of land bank activities — the township is not a member of the Butler County Land Bank — and the other is economic development. There are no specific projects planned that would relate to the land bank, Burks said.
“We just want to have land banking funds available as a tool in our toolbox to be used if we have an opportunity to acquire, say, a dangerous and dilapidated property, or we have an opportunity that may secure redevelopment in specific areas,” Burks said.
Trustee Mark Welch said that tool must be used “very judiciously” and not in competition with the “free market.”
“It’s not the first thing you should pull out to try to do development. If it’s a tool that can be used very sparingly and under strict conditions, then let’s use it,” he said. “But I’m not at all for the township going in there and competing with private enterprise.”
Other issues and or projects the trustees will or may consider this year are a possible pedestrian tunnel under Liberty Way that would connect the north side of the busy road with Voice of America MetroPark in the township; what to do with the outdated fire station on Duff Road near Interstate 275 and a re-branding effort.
Fresh off a trade mission from China, Trustee Lee Wong said it is possible new overseas developments could materialize with some of the business leaders he met.
“They are interested in manufacturing, hi-tech, and they want to buy or build a brewery,” possibly in the township, according to Wong.