Over residents’ objections, the Springboro City Council unanimously approved a court-ordered settlement agreement Thursday night for the development of the 103-acre Easton Farm.
After nearly a year of litigation and mediation, Springboro and the property owner and developers of a proposed $265 million housing, retail and commercial development along Ohio 741 reached a settlement agreement to avoid a trial that had been set for March 2023.
The settlement agreement with Easton Farm Partners LLC and others was approved with an emergency clause that became effective at passage and does not allow any referendum votes. The full agreement has been posted on the city’s website at www.ci.springboro.oh.us.
City Manager Chris Pozzuto said the settlement agreement grants Planned Unit Development/Mixed Use Zone status, and a general preliminary development plan, to the owners and developers of the Easton Farm project at 605 N. Main St., about a mile north of Ohio 73 on the west side of Ohio 741.
However, the developer will be required to submit new development plans to the city Planning Commission. And council will hear from residents and businesses adjacent to the proposed development as the Planning Commission process is implemented, Pozzuto said.
Pozzuto said if the city had continued the court case and lost, “the plaintiffs could have received all the components of the original plan they submitted — notably 330 multi-family units, a parking garage, a direct street cut-through to Deer Trail, 33-foot-wide lots —close to 700 total residential units.”
Law Director Gerald McDonald said Thursday that the court would not have taken into account community sentiment, petitions, objections from neighbors or anything of that nature. McDonald said the court had rejected city motions seeking a dismissal, adding that the city would not have been covered by insurance, because its policy excludes land use issues.
City Manager Chris Pozzuto said on Friday, “After considering the factors of the lawsuit over a course of a year, the rejection of all the city’s arguments for dismissal of the case from Judge (Donald) Oda, and the potential for a high seven-figure payout to the plaintiffs in financial damages, the city’s attorneys recommended to settle the lawsuit.
“The proposed rezoning and development did meet all of the city requirements in the zoning code, was consistent with the recommendations of the 2009 Master Plan, and was compatible with uses of land surrounding the property,” Pozzuto added. “The only argument the city may have had to defend itself was that the decision was not arbitrary. Based on this set of facts, it was clear that the city had an uphill battle to win the lawsuit.”
Council, which normally does not permit public comments when considering settlement agreements, allowed nearly a dozen people to speak, as this was the only legislation on Thursday’s agenda.
David Beckman, a resident of Deer Trail Drive, said the development is against the general welfare of the city and that the developers will be receiving tax incentives.
“Lawyers are risk-averse just because it’s difficult to do. I’m at a loss for words,” Beckman said. “You need to remember you are working for the city and if you accept this, you’ll divide the community. Council showed great character last year with its decision. You should let a jury decide this.”
Pozzuto said had the case gone to trial and the city lost, the damages levied against the city were estimated at $7 million.
“That would have been paid directly by the taxpayers because the city was denied any insurance coverage. The city appealed twice and was rejected,” Pozzuto said. “The council felt that they could not risk those kinds of taxpayer dollars. That was first and foremost in their minds.”
To put the potential damages in perspective, $7 million is approximately 50% of the city’s net annual income tax collections, Pozzuto said. “Services such as street resurfacing, leaf collection, park maintenance, etc., would have to be reduced immediately or taxes would need to be raised to offset those damages.”
Resident Donald Cummings, who lives on Deer Trail Drive, said he wanted to be more informed.
“We’re not against development but what’s submitted went backwards,” Cummings said. “I came here to raise a family. I don’t agree with the settlement agreement.”
Another resident Maria Dershem, noted that 2,000 residents signed a petition in the past year opposing the development.
“Elections are coming, but Springboro won’t forget,” she said.
The property at 605 N. Main St. was the focus of a contentious rezoning process that was opposed by residents. Some residents in neighboring subdivisions and elsewhere in the city objected to the the number of homes proposed. Plans to develop the same land had been brought forward by other developers in 2008 and 2017, but either were rejected by the city or dropped.
Back in September 2021, Springboro City Council unanimously rejected a development proposal and rezoning for the Easton Farm.
In November 2021, the owners of the property and the development team controlled by the Borror Group and Dillin Development Inc., filed suit against the city in Warren County Common Pleas Court, alleging an unconstitutional taking of the property. After mediation, a rezoning plan with no financial damages assessed against the city was proposed.
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