By Cindi Andrews
Enquirer staff writer
The rejection of zoning for a home-improvement warehouse in Green Township wasn't the slam dunk that residents expected Wednesday, after discussions with developers and township officials led a Hamilton County commissioner to switch his vote.
The measure still failed, although Joe Trauth, the attorney for Lowe's, said he expects to fight the decision with court action within the week.
Lowe's wants to put a 150,000-square-foot store on Harrison Road on an 18-acre site owned by the Geiler family. The rezoning wasn't recommended by the Rural Zoning Commission, which deadlocked 2-2, so the commissioners could have approved it only with a unanimous vote. Commissioners Phil Heimlich and John Dowlin voted for it Wednesday, but Todd Portune voted against.
Heimlich was leaning against the rezoning after neighbors criticized it at a public hearing in July. Residents thought they'd won the debate, and few attended Wednesday's commissioners meeting. Representatives of Lowe's and the Geilers attended, however, and again made their arguments.
"We were told that the public hearing had been closed," said a rezoning opponent, Bridgetown resident Bill Myles, after the meeting. "The sense is one of great disappointment in the process."
Developers also got a private audience with Heimlich during a recess, as the commissioner tried to broker a deal to make the development palatable. At Heimlich's request, Adam Goetzman, Green Township's development director, listed conditions that would make the store and its grounds more attractive, and Trauth agreed Lowe's would follow them.
"I see this as somewhat of a protection," Heimlich said in explaining his switch on the vote.
If Lowe's doesn't go on the site, he said, it could be used for less desirable developments such as fast food: "It's not going to stay the way it is."
However, Portune questioned how Goetzman could offer up conditions on a proposal that his bosses - the township trustees - couldn't reach agreement on. Steve Grote is against the development, Tony Upton is for it and Chuck Mitchell can't vote because he is the Geilers' attorney.
Still, Mitchell has remained involved, speaking to Heimlich on Wednesday morning on behalf of the Geilers. Mitchell also called Goetzman to make sure he was attending the commissioners' meeting and would accurately reflect the trustees' position.
"One trustee who is not permitted to participate is apparently wielding a great deal of influence over these discussions," Portune said.
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