Thursday, July 15, 2004

Green Twp. thwarts Lowe's

Rezoning likely to be denied

By Kevin Aldridge
Enquirer staff writer

DENT - Mounting opposition from Green Township residents has derailed an attempt - at least for the time being - to build a 150,000-square-foot Lowe's Home Improvement center on Harrison Pike.

Hamilton County commissioners indicated during a public hearing Wednesday that they would likely deny a request from developers to rezone 18 acres across Harrison Pike from Veterans Park for the building supply store. Commissioners, who have the final say on the project, are expected to vote on the matter Aug. 4.

Commissioner Phil Heimlich said he was hesitant to overrule recommendations from the county's rural zoning commission, which voted 2-2 in June to reject the proposal. A split vote results in an automatic recommendation for denial.

It would take a unanimous vote of commissioners to overturn the zoning commission's recommendation. Commissioner Todd Portune was in agreement with Heimlich. Commissioner John Dowlin did not attend the hearing.

"There has been a very strong showing (of opposition) from residents," Heimlich said. "I feel that it is their community and they have the right to decide what kind of community they want."

That's a theme proponents of major retail outlets are starting to see and hear with regularity. In some Greater Cincinnati communities, chains such as Wal-Mart, Bigg's and Lowe's have been struggling to get a foothold.

Wal-Mart, which has nine supercenters proposed or under construction in Greater Cincinnati, has encountered opposition in Harrison and Milford.

Al Norman, founder of Sprawl-Busters, a Massachusetts-based group that helps residents battle big boxes, said opposition to bigger stores is a nationwide phenomenon. He said about 1,000 cities a year oppose the building of megastores.

"The companies are pushing harder and communities are pushing harder back," Norman said. "Nobody wants to live next to these supercenters. They are the retail equivalent of a nuclear power plant."

Nearly a dozen residents - several from the adjacent Chateau Lakes subdivision - spoke against the proposal at Wednesday's hearing, citing traffic, environmental and other quality of life concerns.

They said the development, which sits on the fringes of residential subdivisions, is too big. Four years ago, residents headed off an attempt to rezone the same property for an unidentified store that was to be half as big.

"This project is totally out of scale with the surrounding area," said resident Allan Lassandro. "This kind of project would never take place in Blue Ash, Madeira or Indian Hill. Their elected officials would never allow it."

Reid Geiler, co-owner of the property, expressed frustration with another failed attempt to develop the site. In 2000, his father, Jack Geiler, dropped efforts to rezone the property after opponents collected enough signatures from residents to challenge the zoning with a referendum.

"We have a right to develop this land," Geiler said. "Because a small number of residents have made a lot of noise, we are being denied our rights as property owners."

Geiler said Green Township - Hamilton County's second-largest township with 57,000 residents - is seeing increased residential growth, but not enough variety in retail to match it. Many residents, he said, are driving to Colerain or Lawrenceburg to purchase items.

"It's a convenience," Geiler said. "Convenient shopping adds to property values."


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