Board OKs less restrictive water protection zone

City commission next to take up controversial changes.

The City of Dayton Plan Board Tuesday passed a zoning map amendment that will have the effect of reducing the city’s environmental protection area for its well fields that draws on the Miami Valley acquifer.

It’s a companion piece to a city zoning code rewrite passed in April by the board that governs how the city regulates businesses that fall under the city’s source water protection program.

The City Commission will take up the two proposed sets of changes on July 29 and make the ultimate decision. The Plan Board’s vote was 6 to 1 with no discussion. Member David Bohardt voted no.

City staffers say the revisions better reflect the science of how the aquifer works as well as reduced pumping from the resource by the city over the years.

James Shoemaker, an hydrologist with the city, said the protection zone bans chemical manufacturing, gas stations and other businesses using hazardous chemicals.

The protection zone in the city would be reduced by 5 to 8 percent. The zone also extends beyond Dayton. It would in total be reduced by 25 percent when including areas outside the city limits including Vandalia, Huber Heights, Harrison Twp. and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The city’s current protection plan has been around since 1988 and the city credits it with a reduction of more than 25 million pounds of chemicals in the zone.

Local businesses, however, have advocated for the changes, saying at least eight companies, representing more than 1,000 jobs, moved out of the water protection area because of the “restrictive” well field ordinance.

The proposed changes also increase the number of prohibited land uses and types of chemicals allowed in the protection area, preventing businesses in sensitive well field areas from expanding their inventories. It hikes fines for violations.

Still, there are objections. Matthew Curry, an attorney with the law firm Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc., doesn’t like language that he says makes zoning variances easier to obtain — requiring variances to be denied when they represent a “substantial risk.”

“It’s an unclear standard that causes me concern,” he said.

Laura Rench of Ohio Citizen Action is concerned about the prospect of more hazardous materials around the area. The acquifer, she said, represents a major resource for the area. “It’s the biggest thing we have here,” she said.

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