Butler Twp.’s Sudachi development plan causes debate

Group of residents concerned about potential development of wetland, land-lab area.

The Sudachi Gateway redevelopment proposal in Butler Twp. is envisioned as an attractive destination for residents and potential businesses, but some community members are voicing environmental concerns.

The concept was designed last year following the demolition of the former township administration office and police station near the intersection of North Dixie and Sudachi drives. The plan encompasses a 20-acre area on both sides of North Dixie, including the site of the now-demolished Murlin Heights School, just north of the Dayton Memorial Park cemetery.

The Sudachi Gateway project is a collaboration between the township; the Vandalia-Butler School District, which owns the Murlin Heights site; and SLM Properties LLC, which owns several properties on North Dixie Drive, according to township Administrator Erika Vogel.

The concept plan includes the potential for development of retail, restaurant, office, and residential properties within the area, all of which is dependent on the investment of prospective buyers.

During a recent township trustee meeting, a group of residents shared their concerns over the project, many of which centered on the Murlin Heights site.

The 15-acre parcel of land is home to a wetland and wooded area that previously served as a land lab for students. It is now home to over 50 species, according to resident Nancy Claiborne.

A former librarian at the Murlin Heights school, Claiborne has been working for the past year to ensure the safety of the site’s six-acre wetland area, which was initially constructed in 1992.

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In July 2021, biologists from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and from the University of Dayton visited the property at 8515 N. Dixie Drive, and conducted individual studies. Both evaluations concluded the area was a category-two wetland, which supports moderate habitat and/or hydrological or recreational functions.

According to the study summary from UD, both researchers determined if the wetland were to be developed, there is a possibility of severe flooding throughout neighboring areas.

“It might be an extremely difficult and lengthy process to attempt to build on the wetland as it serves an important purpose for storm water discharge,” the report reads.

Vandalia-Butler Superintendent Rob O’Leary noted that the area has not been officially recognized as a protected wetland under the federal Clean Water Act.

“We do not have land that is officially designated as a wetland,” he said. “(This) portion of land is what we refer to as the Land Lab, which was created through a grant received by the district many years ago for the intended purpose of outdoor educational opportunities for students who attended school at Murlin Heights Elementary.”

Even so, Vogel said it’s the intention of the township, as well as the school district and SLM Properties, to preserve the land.

“From the beginning ... all of our plans have incorporated that area to be left natural,” Vogel said. “We’ll work with whoever purchases the property to make them aware of it and that (we) want them to conserve it.”

Some residents remain skeptical, including Jeff Jacobs, who said the concept plan doesn’t portray the preservation of the wetland and surrounding wooded area as it currently stands.

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“If you look (at the wetland area), there’s woods, a stream, a pond, and trails ... but when you look at the concept plan, everything is gone and all that’s left is two ponds,” Jacobs said.

According to Vogel, the plan depicts the original wetland with the addition of a retention pond. The area to the west, which is currently wooded, is depicted as yellow in the plan drawing to show the potential for single family homes or townhomes. Vogel reiterated that the drawing is “very conceptual” and that no plan is set in stone.

“If (a developer) comes in and they want to add in residential like our concept plan shows, we would have to rezone the property again to allow for mixed use,” Vogel said. “So, then residents would get notification and be able to come to the hearing and speak.”

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Residents have also voiced concerns over the notification process. In 2019, the school district first made the decision to sell the Murlin Heights site, which has been appraised at approximately $1.5 million, according to district treasurer Eric Beavers. The property was rezoned that year to Local Commercial Service.

As part of the township’s process, Vogel said notices of the rezoning hearing was sent to 27 surrounding property owners. Thirteen of those owners, according to resident Wendy Wilson, did not receive any notices.

Wilson said she and other residents don’t feel as though they’re being heard or properly represented by the township. In addition to protecting the wetland, Wilson said another concern of residents is the possibility of increased crime if the Sudachi Gateway project goes as conceptualized.

“Because of the Walmart, the hotels, and the traffic that goes through Miller Lane, it’s already high crime,” she said.

A website, www.butlerpeople.org, has been created on behalf of township residents who are concerned about the Sudachi Gateway/Murlin Heights plans and is regularly updated by Jacobs.

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