By Linda Dillman
As a November ballot referendum regarding a proposed warehouse development looms, Canal Winchester City Council and citizens remain at odds over the fate of the land owned by the Schacht family.
During an April 4 council work session, a resolution up for consideration by council and crafted by Councilman Patrick Shea asked organizers of the referendum to withdraw their petition.
Members of the Canal Winchester for Smart Growth organization spearheaded the referendum to stop a pair of warehouses from being developed on Bixby and Rager roads by Northpoint Development. The petition drive collected signatures from residents opposed to the project and in March the petitions were delivered to the city and later certified by the Franklin County Board of Elections.
“I adore our city,” said petition organizer Bethany Ferguson. “I adore our people. But if we continue to put more warehouses up without a plan, there will be another referendum and another.”
Northpoint Development representative Tim McElroy said his company held informal discussions with Columbus regarding moving the project to that city, albeit in the same location after detaching the parcel from Canal Winchester.
“They will welcome us with open arms,” said McElroy, “I can promise you that. Mark my word. It will be developed in the city of Columbus. You’re not going to get a referendum to pass in the city of Columbus…I’m sorry it’s looking like its heading to the city of Columbus. It appears that’s the path we have to go down.”
If the referendum was withdrawn from the ballot, the development of two proposed warehouses would proceed as requested and previously approved by council.
“I personally believe giving this property to the city of Columbus is the worst thing we can do for the future of this city,” said Shea. “We have a choice to make on city council. Do we let this money walk out the door and go to Columbus?”
Councilman Chuck Milliken said any member of council has the right to draw up a resolution.
“Whether it is appropriate to the individuals in Canal Winchester for Responsible Growth, that’s a different thing,” said Milliken. “I still stand by the sentiment of the resolution. However, I don’t feel I need a resolution to make that ask.”
During a public hearing prior to the council meeting, State Representative Rick Brown, who is a Canal Winchester resident and whose district covers the Lockbourne, Obetz, and Groveport areas where warehouses are prolific, said most of the complaints he gets are about warehouses.
“There are more complaints about traffic, about crime, about reckless truck drivers,” said Brown. “I hear it all the time.”
Brown said he is not against all warehouses and noted they bring jobs, are a tax benefit to the community, and help fund schools.
“I’m just urging caution with future development,” said Brown, who acknowledges the difficulty elected official have in making decisions representing all constituents. “You’re never going to make everyone happy. There are no easy answers.”
Brown told council to look at each project carefully and make decisions based on the individual project with an eye on what is best for the future of Canal Winchester.
Shea’s referendum resolution was voted down, though it was then brought back due to confusion by Councilman Mike Walker before being rescinded by Shea.
An ordinance asking council to approve the detachment of nearly 71 acres of Schacht property from the city back to Madison Township to develop the site in another entity, most likely Columbus. The detachment was requested by the property owners and was expected in light of the referendum certification.
The original ordinance provided recourse for owners Teresa and Dale Schacht, the Harold Schacht Trust and the Norma Jeanne Schacht Trust—whose family farmed in the community for 150 years—to reverse the annexation back to Madison Township if requested.
“Northpoint was willing to come in here, help build an interchange, and add value to the community,” said Dale Schacht, “and you ran them out of here like they did something wrong. Why would they want to come back? Why would some developer want to come to Canal Winchester ever again? I think you need to change your name to ‘Can’t Winchester’ because you can’t do a damn thing here.”
Schacht said while some people continue to call Canal Winchester a farming community, the farming business in the area is gone and the remaining farmers are weary of the traffic, houses, and trash littering their fields and backyards.
“They’re tired of trying to move machinery down the road,” said Schacht. “We want to move out. This is an opportunity for me to get out of here. You already lost this opportunity with our farm because it’s going to go to Columbus. Sorry about your luck.”
Another development proposal
A public hearing was held after council’s work session regarding a rezoning request from rural to limited manufacturing for 80 acres of land owned by Harriet Levin at 5700 and 5900 Winchester Pike.
Jim McGill representing Stotan Development said the project would be a perfect fit for the area.
According to McGill, the developer would need to widen frontage on Bixby Road, along with constructing a turn lane and a four-foot shoulder across the property line for an estimated $1.2 million in off-site road improvements.
According to resident Mike Vasko, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted against recommending the rezoning and said Canal Winchester has another opportunity to listen to the people.
“Don’t sell out this community for 30 pieces of silver,” said Vasko, “You’re not listening. When you fail to listen, you’re selling out this community. Listen to the people.”
Resident Angie Halstead said her organization—Canal Winchester for Smart Growth—is fighting to preserve the community and it is important to understand how industrial the city is becoming.
“I’m tired of hearing this rhetoric that it’s either apartments or warehouses,” said Halstead. “We have Planning and Zoning in place for a reason.”