Development issues heat up in WJ

Concerns over how to handle commercial and industrial growth sparked heated discussion between West Jefferson council members and Mayor Tom Phillips at the July 2 council meeting.

The controversy centered on Phillips’ report to council about a series of meetings between village officials and representatives from the Ohio Department of Development (DOD), Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and developers from Duke Realty and MTB. Phillips said one of the meetings, held at the Madison County Chamber of Commerce in London, was called to help Duke Realty and MTB come to an agreement on development issues in West Jefferson’s commercial/industrial park.

“It was becoming evident that both Duke and MTB were wooing many of the same businesses,” Phillips said.

The two developers needed to sit down with ODOT and DOD representatives to work out details, he added. Part of the negotiations involved giving both developers access to an existing road off Converse Parkway into the commercial/industrial park.

Phillips said the village will work with the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commis-sion to “come up with a detailed traffic study for the village” to aid future planning for the commercial/industrial park.

Council Vice President Scott Hocken-bery questioned the move to approve access plans for the roadway before receiving MORPC’s traffic study.

Phillips said the approval was needed to facilitate business negotiations for Duke Realty and MTB, both of which were working in a short time frame with businesses interested in property in the commercial/industrial park.

Councilman Ron Garver admonished Phillips over what he called a “lack of communication between village hall and council,” making reference to a newly revised conceptual plan for Duke Realty’s development. The new plan shows eight buildings; the initial plans Duke presented to council on June 18 showed 13 buildings.

Garver said he was not aware that Duke Realty was already changing plans and said it was up to village hall to keep council informed of such changes.

“I never thought in the past that we needed a development committee, but now, with all of this going on, the development committee and all of us here on council need to be kept informed. I don’t think we should be hearing about it first out on the street,” Garver said.

Phillips said he would make a point to keep council members informed of all development changes and plans.

The discussion over communication followed council’s only agenda items for the night—a public hearing on the Planning and Zoning Commission’s fee schedule recommendation and adoption of an ordinance to accept the schedule.

Council approved the proposed schedule unanimously.

West Jefferson will now charge a one-time “commercial development fee” of $500 per 1,000 square feet of building to be directed to a downtown revitalization fund. The village also will charge $1,000 per new residential dwelling and a $500-per-acre fee for new commercial development; those fees will go toward park development and maintenance.

The new fee schedule also includes updated figures for existing fees and new charges for alterations or additions to development plans.

Rick Snyder, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said the new and updated fees are the result of an extensive study of fees charged by other communities, including Groveport, Plain City, Dublin and London.

Councilman Steve Morris initially questioned the $500 per 1,000 square feet of commercial building, stating that the amount seemed excessive. Jack Herrel, West Jefferson’s finance officer, concurred, asking if the fee might be a detriment in attracting developers and new businesses to the community.

Hockenbery said developers have been paying similar fees in other communities. He does not see the new fee as a negative, but rather a step in the right direction.

Council President Darlene Steele agreed with Hockenbery, stating that the fees, which will go to the revitalization fund, can be used to pay the village’s portion of matching grants and cover increasing costs for maintenance of roadways and the downtown area.

Council must adopt a written policy of use for downtown revitalization fees. Council’s development committee was asked to come up with that policy as soon as possible and present it to council for approval.

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