Dayton plans for prairie development draw more protests

A battle over the proposed redevelopment of a prairie near the Dayton airport intensified this week as opponents again pressed city leaders to reverse course, and the city of Union joined the fray with an official filing.

Dayton has agreed to sell 109 acres of property at Frederick Pike and West National Road to a developer that is building massive industrial facilities around the Dayton International Airport, creating more than 2,200 new jobs.

But Union’s city manager on Wednesday filed an affidavit that contends the 140-acre Paul E. Knoop Jr. Prairie property has to be used for airport operations.

MORE: Dayton considers land sale, development deal at airport

Also on Wednesday, and for the second time this month, more than 50 people took the podium at the nighttime Dayton City Commission meeting to urge commissioners to preserve the prairie.

The speakers, most of whom live in Dayton’s suburban communities, accused the city of being short-sighted and not gathering public input before deciding to sell the prairie property.

“You could not have picked a worse site to try to develop on,” said Kevin Reichling, a Vandalia resident. “You are planning on developing right on top of the area where Wiles Creek starts.”

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said the city took all of the appropriate steps before moving forward with redeveloping the site and claims the public had many opportunities to provide input before the decision was made. She said the property can be developed in a way that does not harm the environment.

RELATED: More jobs coming to new Dayton airport industrial site

“To suggest that this process has not included opportunity for involvement from partners or citizens is unfair, and mischaracterizes city processes that are designed to ensure that stakeholders have a clear and protected space to be involved in such conversations,” she said.

In 2016, Union and Dayton reached an agreement over land in Butler Twp. near the airport that both cities wanted to annex.

The agreement said Union will get to annex about 450 acres, but a portion of the property that included Knoop prairie would become part of the city of Dayton through a boundary adjustment.

The agreement said the boundary adjustment is necessary to support a runway extension and associated airport operations and should be used “solely for its necessary airport operations.”

On Wednesday, Union City Manager John Applegate filed an affidavit of facts with the Montgomery County Recorder’s Office that states the prairie property must be used only for necessary airport operations, such as a runway extension.

Knoop prairie is of the oldest reconstructed prairies in the state and has a creek that flows into Aullwood Audubon and Aullwood Garden MetroPark.

Applegate told this newspaper that commercial redevelopment of the prairie property does not comply with the terms of the annexation agreement, and Union is exploring next steps if Dayton violates the deal.

A large group of people spoke at Wednesday’s commission meeting to ask the city to preserve Knoop prairie. A slightly larger group of speakers made the same requests at a commission meeting two weeks ago.

Multiple speakers said the prairie is the watershed for Wiles Creek, which winds through the Aullwood Audubon property and Aullwood Garden MetroPark. They said the creek is vital to a diverse group of plant, insect and animal life.

Speakers said the prairie’s destruction would devastate an important ecosystem and habitat and severely threatens the park and Aullwood farm.

MORE: Dayton prairie targeted for development, upsetting some

There is no reason the proposed development project has to be on that specific site, which is ecologically sensitive and cannot be replaced, said Mark Maury, whose property on Frederick Pike abuts the prairie.

Maury said there are other available sites close by that are suitable for development.

“I live there … I look out my window and I see eagles landing in my backyard, and I see wild turkeys come out of the woods all the time,” he said. “This is going to destroy a lot of habitat.”

Some people who live near the airport said the city’s redevelopment projects are harming the quality of life in their communities.

MORE: Dayton airport official says prairie redevelopment will bring 600-700 new jobs

Whaley said notices were sent to nearby land owners when the city moved to rezone the land, and airport staff were in contact with Aullwood Audubon leaders.

No one opposed to the rezoning attended public hearings and commented about the proposed zoning changes, and a potential end-user emerged in April, Whaley said.

On April 24, the Dayton city commission approved a development agreement and real estate purchase agreement with NorthPoint Development for 109 acres of the property. The rest of the property, about 30 acres, will remain native warm season grasses.

A week later, the city approved the Dayton Plan Board’s recommendation to rezone the property, and there was no opposition, Whaley said.

The city has attempted to be as responsive as possible, and the city believes the site can be developed while still protecting the environment, Whaley said.

“We have taken your concerns seriously and are working to ensure that any use of the site includes environmental best practices,” she said.

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