Saturday, September 09, 2000

Warren County looks to future

No signs of growth slowing

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — What will Warren County look like in 10 years?

        A tight web of cul-de-sacs, or communities filled with wide-open green spaces?

        The future is difficult to predict, officials say, for a decade is a long time in a developing county.

[photo] Some Warren County residents worry that scenes such as this, at Gene Steiner's cattle farm in Turtlecreek Township, will be hard to find in 10 years because of rapid development.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        If you drive around Clearcreek Township, for example, you'll see former farms transformed into subdivisions with street names such as Woodbridge Court, Oakland Hills Court, Riviera Court — and spacious houses costing up to $700,000.

        In five years, entire subdivisions and commercial developments could sprout in the fields of Ohio's second-fastest-growing county. According to census estimates, from 1990 to 1998 the county's population increased 28.2 percent — to 146,033 people.

Boom likely to continue
        Planners expect the population increase to continue. After all, Warren County's development is tied to convenience — the county lies between Dayton and Cincinnati, on Interstates 75 and 71 — and has much undeveloped land.

        “Sometimes I wonder what the county will be like in 10 years,” said Helen Fox of Mason, who in 1999 helped found a green-space group called Balance. “We need more green space; that's my biggest concern. And I'm not talking about soccer fields.”

"Lifestyle communities'
        Ms. Fox says she isn't opposed to growth. She just wants to make certain that the inevitable growth is balanced between highways and houses and the abundant woods and fields that now fill much of Warren County, especially in the north.

        Developer Patrick Merten, who works for J-II Homes in Fairfield, says Warren County could change significantly in a decade.

        “It's a place of interest for J-II Homes and other developers because of its labor force and accessibility,” he said. “The variables are roads and infrastructure, which guide development.

        “The trend is toward communities that provide a lifestyle instead of just a subdivision. Lifestyle communities have neighborhood commercial areas with small businesses — banks and dry cleaners and so forth — to meet people's needs. The only place to build them is in an area with a lot of green space, such as Warren and Butler counties. Warren is where the future communities will be created, if the infrastructure is there.”

        In 2005, the county's high-growth areas probably will be Mason, Deerfield Township and others that have been growing for years, says Robert Craig, director of the Warren County Regional Planning Commission.

        By then, Hamilton Township will probably be in a residential building boom. “It appears to be the next area to take off,” planner Yana Keck said.

        Other areas expected to grow include Turtlecreek, Clearcreek and Franklin townships.

        “We'll see growth around the cities,” Mr. Craig said.

        Hamilton Township is already experiencing suburban sprawl from neighboring communities. In June, Homearama, the prestigious home show, was held at River's Bend, a golf development off Ohio 48. On display were 17 decorated and landscaped homes, priced from $670,000 to $2.2 million. Their choice for Homearama signaled that the township has arrived as a hot spot.

        Elsewhere in the town ship, less-expensive subdivisions are expected to rise to the north of Maineville and west of Zoar Road, toward the Little Miami River. Earlier this year, the old farming community had 30 subdivisions under construction. School enrollment has increased 22 percent since 1990.

Predictions are difficult
        The community looks much like Deerfield — an initial suburban growth area — did in the early 1980s.

        Last spring, Nordstrom Inc. announced that one of its stores will be the anchor of a new shopping center in Deerfield. A month later, developers announced plans for a 360,000-square-foot, open-air retail center on 45 acres across from Nordstrom.

        “I don't know if Deerfield will continue to grow at the rate it has in the last 10 to 15 years, but we'll still see activity there,” Ms. Keck said. “Deerfield has grown the most in the past, but recently we've seen activity in Clearcreek and Turtlecreek townships and a little in Union.””

        “We'll see the same areas growing, barring any new water and sewer projects,” Mr. Craig added. “Growth is associated with areas that have roads, water and sewers.

        “We're growing a little faster than the state will project officially. But how far out can you predict the viability of the regional economy, let alone the national one? It's hard to say if in five years we'll have a recession. A lot of it comes down to the character of the area, what kind of feel people want.”

        Ms. Fox thinks she knows the answer.

        “We should make green space a tribute to our rural heritage,” she said.

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