Controversial development plan exposes limits on townships

Aerial view looking north along Wilmington-Dayton Road and Conference Road in Sugarcreek Twp. Sugarcreek trustees may vote on whether to allow Oberer to build homes on 85 acres known as the Rammel property at this location. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

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Aerial view looking north along Wilmington-Dayton Road and Conference Road in Sugarcreek Twp. Sugarcreek trustees may vote on whether to allow Oberer to build homes on 85 acres known as the Rammel property at this location. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Oberer wants to build houses in Sugarcreek Twp., but annexation spectre looms over process.

Sugarcreek Twp. trustees will decide tonight whether nearly 100 homes will be built on vacant farm land, a potential development that residents have fought.

But if trustees vote against the project, it might not mean much because a neighboring city could annex the land and give the development a green light.

The rezoning request from Oberer Land Developers, if approved, would allow the construction of 98 patio-style homes on half of approximately 85 acres along Wilmington-Dayton Road, while the other half would be preserved as green space.

Annexation into the city of Centerville could be the next step for the property owner, Peter Rammell, if it fails with the township.

RELATED: Oberer lawyer says Sugarcreek’s non-annex agreement invalid

The situation is a common concern among townships and rural residents in Ohio, and annexation reform in state law is a priority for the Ohio Township Association, according to OTA Executive Director Matthew DeTemple.

“Annexation involves property rights, one of our most cherished liberties,” DeTemple said. “People choose to live in a community because of the quality of life that it offers and the setting … And yet, under Ohio law, a city that landowners did not choose to live in, or a developer, can radically change the character of the greater area that they call home by utilizing some of the annexation processes in Ohio law.”

Sugarcreek Twp. has a 10-year, non-annexation agreement with Rammell, which would expire in 2024, but a lawyer representing Oberer has challenged its validity, stating that state law allows townships to have such agreements with municipalities, but not with private property owners.

DeTemple said annexation reform in state law is a priority for his organization, but there are no current bills proposed for state lawmakers to consider.

State Rep. Rick Perales (R-Beavercreek) said he’s willing to consider such a bill, but getting one passed “would be an uphill battle.”

“There would be so many facets to a bill like that, I would need to look at all the details,” Perales said.

Perales said township planners need to work with developers to find compromises during the early planning stages.

“When people move into any jurisdiction, it’s incumbent on them to know what the potential is. It is the responsibility of the township leadership to be aware of any potential for encroachment,” he said.

Oberer has worked with planners for Greene County and the township to modify the proposal, which resulted in a plan for fewer homes and eliminating a 90-degree curve on Wilmington-Dayton.

But the proposed lot sizes of less than an acre do not match neighboring homes that sit on two or more acres.

That’s one reason Resident Megan Simmons cites in her fight against the development.

Simmons said state laws need to be changed “so that townships and residents don’t have to fear the annexation threats.”

“I am hoping that the vote will be against it, and if Oberer seeks annexation … I am hoping Centerville will act as a good-faith neighbor and not annex the land.”

Last month, Centerville City Manager Wayne Davis said there are no current discussions about annexing the property, but records show in 2013 the city reached out to Rammell expressing interest in annexing the land.

In order for Centerville to annex the land, it would have to first acquire Bill Yeck Park, which sits in Washington Twp.

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DeTemple said state law does not define townships as property owners, thus they have no rights to object to annexations.

“We think townships should have more of a say in the process when a city decides that it wants to annex township-owned property,” he said.

Messages left with the Ohio Municipal League seeking comment for this story were not returned.

The Sugarcreek Twp. trustees are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. at the township building, 2090 Ferry Road.

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