Darby protection is key

It’s been several years since jurisdictions in the Big Darby watershed began signing on to the Big Darby Accord, designed to protect the environment in the area and promote coordinated development planning in the various townships and municipalities. 

Developing with an eye to environmental impact and improvement of existing conditions are main goals of the accord.  The various groups want to protect and restore the open spaces most crucial to the local environment and water quality, restore streams, and focus development away from sensitive areas. 

To update the public on what has been done and what plans are for the future, representatives from the jurisdictions involved in the project held an open house Dec. 2 at Westland High School.

One step that has been taken is the establishment of the Big Darby Accord Advisory Panel. The panel reviews any rezoning requests from participating jurisdictions before the requests are brought before the local governments. The members of the panel come from the jurisdictions that have signed on to the accord. To date, those are Washington, Brown, Prairie and Pleasant townships, along with Columbus, Hilliard and Franklin County.  

The persons making the request before the panel have to fill out a detailed form. They give information about the existing conditions on the property, including wetlands, forest land, and existing development. They also must provide a map of the area showing all the details, and then explain how they want to develop it and how that development fits into the plan for the watershed. The panel staff then looks at the information and analyzes how it meets the goals of the accord.  The panel makes a recommendation based on the information, which is passed on those in charge of the final decision about rezoning. 

Adrienne Joly, planning manager for the city of Columbus, said the panel has had an effect already, although several of the cases are still making their way through the process of approval.

Another example of action being taken through the accord is a proposed ordinance that staff from several of the jurisdictions are developing. The ordinance would promote the concept of "open space residential design," according to Beth Clark, executive assistant to the board of trustees in Brown Township.

The concept revolves around the idea that developers work with existing open space to preserve as much of it as possible and minimize the environmental impact of subdivisions. Lots would be designed around existing woodland and open areas and might be closer together than usual. The idea is that this would maintain the local character, reduce demand for new parkland, protect wildlife habitat, and reduce pollution from runoff, among other benefits.

To fund these and other ideas, there are several revenue sources that could potentially be tapped, according to James Schimmer, director of Franklin County’s Economic
Development and Planning Department.

The first source would be through tax increment financing. As tax revenue increases through changes like new development, the extra revenue would be used to help fund accord goals. Other sources of revenue could be property taxes on new developments and contributions from the developers.

The planners have recommended some minimum guidelines for how much of the money raised through the various taxes and contributions should be spent on the essential purposes of the Big Darby Accord. 

Schimmer indicated that not all funds raised would necessarily be spent directly on those goals. Some, he said, could be spent on different government agencies like libraries and social service organizations, at the discretion of the local jurisdictions. He said it was important to make the communities a good place to live as well as pursue the accord goals.

Schimmer added they are a year or two away from being able to actually start raising revenue.

One question that has not yet been answered is who will oversee the use of the funds.  Schimmer said there were a number of ways to deal with the issue and deciding on those was the next step in the process.

"If we don’t have transparency in this process, we fail," he said.

The planners are recommending that a collective decision-making body representing all the participating jurisdictions be created to determine how the funds are spent. 

Since the fundraising is in the future, Schimmer said they still aren’t sure how much they will raise or even what exactly will be needed, but they will seek to use different funding options to make the whole thing work. 

"We’re doing this for future generations, and we’re trying to make everyone happy," he said.

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