By Linda Dillman
A referendum petition drive is underway in Canal Winchester, that, if successful, could put the brakes on a rezoning project until the November ballot.
Members of the Canal Winchester for Smart Growth organization spearheaded the referendum to stop a pair of warehouses from being developed by Northpoint at Bixby and Rager roads by placing legislation passed in January by Canal Winchester City Council before voters this fall.
“Currently, the city of Canal Winchester does not have a development or economic plan to guide decisions on how to further develop our area,” said Smart Growth representatives Angie Halstead and Bethany Ferguson. “The last study was done in 1999, and the city did not adopt it. Developers are knocking on our door at lightning speed and our government is welcoming them in with open arms. With the recent development, we have warehouses sporadically placed around our town, invading people’s homes, with no infrastructure to support them.”
During a Jan. 18 council meeting, an ordinance was passed by council to rezone land owned by members of the Schacht family from rural to limited manufacturing. Northpoint wants to construct a pair of warehouses to compliment two already located in their Canal Crossing development.
“Our city council went against Planning and Zoning’s recommendation and overrode their decision on Jan. 18 to allow this development to take place,” said the petitioners.
If the Smart Growth group turns in enough valid signatures by 30 days after the ordinance was signed by Mayor Mike Ebert on Jan.19—giving the petitioners a Feb. 18 deadline—and the Franklin County Board of Election validates the petitions, the rezoning is put on hold until voters weigh in on the issue in November.
“Residents do have the right to file a referendum on zoning ordinances. It is outlined in the Canal Winchester City Charter,” said City Development Director Lucas Haire, who added the process is allowable under the charter and the Ohio Revised Code.
Members of CW for Smart Growth and others concerned with what they see as a proliferation of warehouses have regularly attended and spoken out at council meetings, attended planning and zoning meetings, and corresponded with council and the mayor. A Facebook page currently has 900 members and Smart Growth signs dot yards throughout the city.
“The citizens of Canal Winchester and those on the outskirts of town have come together as a community to voice our concerns and oppose the hasty development,” according to Smart Growth representatives. “We are not being heard by our local government. Most residents do not want to see our hometown inundated with warehouses, essentially boxing in our town. Residents have been asking and begging for a pause in development until we have a plan in place. There are many reasons we feel so strongly against not just this ordinance, but warehouse development in general.”
As a result, the Smart Growth group began the referendum process, which they hope—if successful—will provide residents an opportunity to be heard.
“This is democracy in its purest form,” said the petition drive organizers. “Residents deserve to be heard and have a say in the future of our hometown, our way of life. Through diligently attending meetings, speaking out, and independent research we feel a referendum is our Hail Mary to be heard by our city. We have five new warehouses currently built and four more approved including the Bixby/33 (Schacht Farm) Northpoint warehouses—which is what we are trying to stop with the referendum. Two of the four approved are extending our industrial park down to Bowen Road and butting up against residents’ homes.”
The petitioners stated Canal Winchester is currently 14 percent industrial and, according to their research, Cincinnati is six percent while Cleveland is 12 percent.
CW Smart Growth alleges the warehouse projects at the heart of the petition drive and beyond would irrevocably change the landscape and the character of the town.
“Protecting the integrity of the community is an economic and development strategy and our current city administration has forgotten everything that makes our city so great – charm, character, and the people,” alleged the petitioners.
If the petitioners are successful in filing documents with the city for the referendum—and due to a pre-annexation agreement passed by the council on Sept. 7, 2021—the property owner can request that council detach the property from the city and reverse a recently approved annexation.
The property would then revert back to unincorporated territory in Madison Township and the owners could pursue an agreement with a different entity, if so desired.