Land-use issues draw big crowd in Canaan Twp.

Approximately 125 people packed the Canaan Township trustees meeting on Nov. 3. Most were there to oppose the possibility of a quarry along Plain City-Georgesville Road, as well as comment on residential development for the same acreage.

“If you’re here to protest a proposal for a quarry, there is no proposal,” said attorney David A. Skrobot who took the floor shortly after the trustees opened the meeting.

Skrobot represents Earl Osborne who owns agricultural land along Plain City-Georgesville Road near Big Darby Baptist Church. Osborne attended the trustees’ Oct. 6 meeting with Pete Miller who is interested in purchasing Osborne’s land for a gravel quarry.
Skrobot said Osborne and Miller attended the Oct. 6 meeting only to discuss the feasability of using the land for a quarry. Neither man submitted a proposal in writing to put a quarry on the acreage, and there is no written offer for the sale of Osborne’s property, the attorney said.

According to the minutes of the Oct. 6 meeting, Don Whitmer, chairman of the Canaan Township trustees, thanked Osborne for bringing the land-use issue to the township’s attention. The minutes also state that the trustees were concerned about such a development.

According to the trustees, an individual asked for a copy of the Oct. 6 meeting minutes; soon after, residents received an unsigned note urging them to voice their opinions at the Nov. 3 meeting. A copy of the minutes accompanied the note. As a result, a large crowd showed up for the meeting.

Residents’ reaction to quarry idea
At the Nov. 3 meeting, Donald W. Gregory, a Canaan Township resident and attorney, spoke on behalf of some of the township’s residents. He said the residents have two things in common: “They love the land, and they think any sort of quarry or gravel pit… is wholly inappropriate.” He noted that the area lies near schools, along a dangerous road, and in the Darby Watershed which is home to national and state scenic rivers.

Gregory also said the residents feel Osborne is using the quarry possibility as leverage to gain support for a dif-ferent use of the land—residential development.

“If that’s the intention, shame on you,” Gregory said to Osborne. “Don’t threaten your neighbors with something inappropri-ate.”

Regarding residential development on the acreage, several residents said they want the area’s land to stay agricultural, that they did not want “a lot of houses.”

Residential plan for the acreage
Osborne submitted a plan to the trustees in 2004 to divide about 65 acres of his property, located on the east side of Plain City-Georgesville Road, into 20 residential lots.

The plan, which took more than a year to put together and included input from an architect, included buffer space on the road and Darby Creek sides of the development, homes with limited footprints, and a limit-ed access road. The remainder of Osborne’s 360 acres was to be left as farmland.

“It incorporates everything that would be pleasant to homeowners and neighbors,” Osborne said.

When Osborne presented the plan, the trustees rejected it because it did not mesh with the Madison County Comprehensive Plan, which Whitmer says calls for the area to remain agricultural.

Whitmer also said Osborne’s plan ran counter to the county’s Farmland Preservation Plan which dictates that development happen from the “inside out”—starting from places with infrastructure already in place. (On Nov. 3, trustee Jim Meeker added that more than 70 percent of respondents to a land-use survey conducted a few years ago said they did not want a lot of residential development.)

Osborne could have taken his plan to the county commissioners, but he did not pursue the matter further until this spring. (The commissioners make decisions on land-use changes in unincorporated areas; their decisions are informed, in part, by recommendations from township trustees.)

“In March 2008, Earl asked to speak to the trustees about the same proposal,” Skrobot said.

According to the trustees’ minutes from the March meeting, Osborne was aware that the next review of the county comprehensive plan is coming up within two years. He wanted to know if there was “any chance of a more favorable result” for his residential development idea following the review.

Trustee Monroe Harbage, who was not a trustee when Osborne first approached the township in 2004, asked for a copy of Osborne’s plan. The minutes note that the township clerk would supply the trustees with copies “in preparation for discussion at an upcoming meeting.” That discussion has not taken place.

The March minutes also note that the county commissioners have told Osborne to present his plan during the review period of the comprehensive plan. Additionally, the minutes state: “Meeker suggested that the majority of the residents of the township still do not want concentrated development and that any changes in the plan will set a precedent.”

“My biggest frustration was that the trustees took it upon themselves to vote against (my residential development plan in 2004) without discussing it with the residents of Canaan Township,” Osborne said, adding that the trustees had a second opportunity to do so when he approached them again this spring.

Circulation of meeting minutes
While the residents voiced concern about Osborne’s intentions for his land, Osborne’s attorney expressed displeasure with how the residents were informed about the quarry discussion.

“I have a fundamental problem with a body that allows unofficial minutes to be circulated,” Skrobot said.

The trustees had not yet voted to approve the minutes that accompanied the meeting notice that residents received prior to the Nov. 3 meeting.

Stephen Pronai, the county prosecutor and the Canaan Township trustees’ legal advisor, said the unofficial minutes should have been labeled as “draft.” At the same time, he said, citizens have the right to review the minutes.

One person in the crowd said that regardless of the status of the quarry idea or how residents found out about it, sooner is better than later.

“This is preventative medicine,” the resident said, regarding the community’s interest and input.

Lisa Minshall, a Canaan Township resident, said she was against the quarry idea but also didn’t want the meeting to become a lynching of Osborne.

“Earl did follow the right path. I don’t want this to be a mob…I hope we all remember we are neighbors. He didn’t have to come to the trustees and tell them he wanted to sell his land,” she said.

Whitmer confirmed that Osborne could sell his land without talking to the trustees. It’s up to a landowner who wants to make land-use changes to contact the proper authorities.

Is a quarry possible?
When the crowd started asking questions about land-use and zoning, Pronai offered a quick guide to how the process works, using the quarry idea and Osborne’s land as an example.

Osborne’s land is zoned agricultural. If someone wanted to put a quarry on it, they would have to consult the agriculture section of the county zoning resolution. The resolution does not permit a full-blown quarry operation, but it does have an allowance for “borrow pits” which can operate for one year. To run a borrow pit, the landowner would have to apply for a conditional use permit. If the landowner wanted a full-blown quarry, the land would have to be rezoned.

Both changes require review by Building & Zoning, which looks not only at the zoning resolution, but also the county comprehensive plan and the farmland preservation plan to inform their decisions.

Pronai noted that changes to the comprehensive plan are rarely granted to accommodate an individual.

Regarding the quarry idea, a resident at the Nov. 3 meeting noted that Osborne lives in the township. She wanted to know if, as a resident, Osborne would want a quarry in the area.

Osborne replied, “I do not want a quarry here, but I will not tell you I would not absolutely sell my property to Mr. Miller.”

Zoning and trustee business updates
The audience asked how they can keep up with trustee business and zoning issues.

The trustees said their minutes can be viewed by going to the county’s Web site, The “Townships” button is the last in the list of options on the lefthand side of the page. The minutes for each of the trustees’ monthly meetings in 2008 are posted.

Resident also can attend the trustee meetings, which take place at 7 p.m. the first Monday of each month at 8055 U.S. Rte. 42 S. near Plain City.

As for news about the next review of the county comprehensive plan, residents can visit the county Web site from which copies of the plan, township zoning maps, and the county zoning code can be downloaded. These files can be found under “Building and Zoning” in the list of options along the lefthand side.

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