Saturday, April 17, 2004

Residents seek to slow growth

By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON TWP. - Residents fed up with the explosive, high-density growth in Warren County's fastest-growing township are taking matters into their own hands.

Roughly a dozen people are garnering support to put an initiative on the ballot that would change the home-ruled township's zoning code so it mirrors Warren County's more-stringent code requirements.

"Once you set a precedent, it's hard to reduce zoning, so the trustees either could not or would not reduce the density," said township resident Jeff Carey, a former zoning board member and principal with Cincinnati-based Carey Laumer Commercial Realty. "We think this initiative ... would at least be a place to start and would at least begin to reduce the densities that are being allowed currently."

The move is the latest in a string of attempts in the county to control the residential boom that has dominated this once-rural area for more than a decade.

Countywide, the population soared 14.7 percent (or 23,257 people) between April 2000 and July 2003, bumping its population to 181,743 and making Warren the nation's 52nd-fastest-growing county, according to census estimates. State projections show no reprieve and estimate that Warren County's population will reach 215,020 by 2010.

County commissioners, who have already increased minimum lot size and green space requirements in the county code, are now pushing for a moratorium prohibiting any more building and/or zoning permits from being issued. Elsewhere in the county, Clearcreek Township is considering increasing lot sizes and a moratorium as well.

A large portion of the growth is happening in the southern part of the county. Between 1997 and 2003, Warren County issued 3,343 building permits for Hamilton Township - about a third of the total number of permits it issued during that time for all 11 townships.

Hamilton Township, which like Clearcreek Township controls its own zoning, requires new homes to be built on at least a 12,800-square-foot lot in areas with sewers and one-acre lots for areas without sewer access, according to Gary Boeres, the township's planning and zoning administrator. The same zoning district in the five townships under county control requires new homes be built on half-acre lots in areas with sewer access and on at least 2 acres for areas without access.

Hamilton Township trustee Becky Ehling said she has not considered changing lot sizes because the township has been so focused on commercial development. But she contends that the township has made strides in trying to manage the growth, including a $250 voluntary fee on new units to raise money for the schools.

"Essentially what they're telling these farmers is 'you've lived here all your life and you've lived off the land, but we don't want you to retire because we don't want the houses there,' " said Ehling, a lifelong resident. "None of us (trustees) are against slowing down the growth. But we are against the government stepping in and mandating landowners' rights."

For residents to put an initiative on the ballot, it would require at least 416 signatures, which is 10 percent of the number of Hamilton Township residents who voted in last governor's race, according to Susan Johnson, executive director of the Warren County Board of Elections.

The signatures then go to the township, which must post them for 10 days. The township can either verify the signatures or turn them in to the board of elections and let the board verify them.

The entire process must be completed by Aug. 19 for the initiative to make the November ballot.

It wouldn't be the first time residents took zoning into their own hands. Last November, Loveland residents used a referendum to overturn a zone change that allowed commercial development at White Pillars, a city-owned historic site.

The first step, Hamilton Township residents say, is more research and finding an attorney to help them.

"There's nothing you can do to stop growth," said resident Russell Alford, who is pushing for the initiative. "What you can do is manage it. We're just looking for a healthy balance."

Hamilton Township population booms

Hamilton Township is the fastest -growing of Warren County's 11 townships. Between 1997 and 2003, the county issued 3,343 building permits for Hamilton Township. That's about a third of all the permits it issued during those seven years for all townships.

1990 population5,900
2000 population9,630
2001 population10,809
2002 population12,624
2003 population14,309
2004 population (projected)16,058
Source: U.S. census, township estimates



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