By Linda Dillman
Action by the Canal Winchester City Council, in a 6-1 vote on May 16, put an end to a months-long debate focused on the rezoning and detachment of land owned by the Schacht family and a ballot referendum opposing rezoning of the former farm land that was to appear on the fall ballot.
In its stead, council approved an ordinance rezoning the 70-acre parcel from exceptional use to planned industrial district, under emergency language with a request to waive a second and third reading.
Councilwoman Ashley Ward was the lone dissenting vote.
Both the emergency and reading waiver placed the ordinance in immediate effect upon passage, making it not subject to a referendum.
Prior to the vote, written comments were read into the record and speakers on both sides of the issue made their way to the podium to voice their opposition or support of the emergency ordinance.
“What it comes down to, to me, is transparency,” said Canal Winchester Smart Growth organizer Bethany Ferguson. “We deserve better than for you to vote (Councilman) Patrick’s (Shea) ordinance. We’ve done everything we possibly can to work with you, to work with Northpoint, and once again we’re being stonewalled. I’ve advocated for our city for so long. I don’t feel like we’re being heard. You are asking us to put down our guns during a gun draw you will win. I wish we had a better outcome than us versus you.”
A citizen-led Smart Growth referendum petition drive garnered enough signatures for a referendum for the fall ballot and put the brakes on a council decision to rezone the Schacht property for the development of a pair of warehouses. That ballot issue for a public decision in November was negated by council action on May 16.
“We presented this (referendum) as an opportunity for the community to put in their two-cents worth,” said resident Kathleen Vasko. “We went out. We followed the law. We did what we were supposed to do. This is a lawful petition and you are slapping us in the face by taking away that right.”
Michael Vasko said it was sad to sit and watch the division the rezoning issue created. He said divisions are usually a result of the failure of opposing parties to communicate. He also called the Planned Industrial Development ordinance a slight-of-hand in changing a zoning in order to circumvent another referendum.
“This is about a financial deal you’re afraid of losing (that) these people are afraid of getting,” said Vasko. “As an attorney, I’ve made deals for years. You don’t make deals by drawing a line in the sand and making enemies of your constituents.”
In an email to council read into the record by Law Director Thaddeus Boggs, resident and former state legislator Larry Flowers wrote “This is the right project, at the right time, on the right property and the right location. This development is good for our city, good for our schools and will create jobs. Please don’t let emotions guide your decision. I urge you to be guided by three topics—facts, facts, facts…Communities that can move at the speed of business and not the speed of government are the winners. I urge you to vote in support of this project.”
Resident Amy King said the issue is business and not a popularity contest and by changing the zoning, it sets a western boundary for Canal Winchester, prohibiting Columbus from future encroachment.
“It is imperative that we draw this line to protect our town, our schools, and our financial growth,” said King in her written comments. “Being the northern most point of the city will ensure financial growth and the old town charm of Canal Winchester proper will continue to remain void of change.”
Smart Growth organizer Angie Halstead said the group tried to work with council.
“We never got any response in writing we asked for,” said Halstead. “Do what’s right. Don’t try to take away this referendum. This is the nuclear option you’re pulling out. Do we really want to push that button? Do we really want to set that precedent? This is not a good faith effort.”
The ordinance as passed by council, repealed the original rezoning ordinance—the subject of the referendum—approved the change in zoning from exceptional use to planned industrial district, was declared an emergency and had second and third readings waived. It also resulted in rescinding the assent to detachment and rendered the referendum moot.