Mason weighs $3.5 million land buy

Warren County deal would result in annexation, sewer service.

The city of Mason is considering the purchase of $3.5 million in unincorporated land as part of an agreement to provide sewer service on 481 acres between Mason and Lebanon.

Officials in Union Twp. oppose the agreement, obtained through a public records request by the Dayton Daily News, as it would apparently result in Mason annexing the land, primarily consisting of what is known as the Todorov farm.

“Obviously, Union Twp. would not want to see any of our land annexed,” Union Twp. Trustee Chris Koch said, in part because Mason, rather than the township, would derive property tax revenues on the development after annexation.

According to the draft purchase agreement between Mason and developer Terra Firma Associates, Mason would buy 178 acres on the northwest side of US 42 in Union Twp. from the developer for $3.5 million; Mason would annex about 300 acres controlled by Terra Firma on the southeast side of US 42 and help Terra Firma in annexation and residential development of the land, according to the agreement.

The newspaper pursued the draft agreement after officials from Mason indicated they were close to a purchase agreement with Terra Firma during a March 11 meeting about whether Lebanon or Mason should provide sewer service to the land.

“We are interested,” Mason Mayor David Nichols said, adding council members balked at some of the details in a proposed purchase agreement.

On March 11, in response to objections from Mason, the Warren County Commissioners withdrew support for turning over to Lebanon the authority to provide sewers to the land, where Terra Firma is proposing a 600-home development. Otherwise Lebanon was to be designated for the service by the OKI Regional Council of Governments on April 10.

Although Union Twp. was not represented at the meeting, Koch verified that Union Twp. favored Lebanon providing the sewer service without annexation.

Mason intervened in January, when city and school officials attended a county commission meeting. Officials said they were opposed to high-density residential development and the potential for crowding of Mason schools.

“The city’s primary concern is land use, how that property is developed,” Mason City Manager Eric Hansen said this week.

The draft calls for Mason to permit residential development of one home per acre on the roughly 300 acres that would be controlled by Terra Firma, including 65 acres Lebanon was to sell to the developer.

This week, Mason officials continued to decline to elaborate on details holding up the agreement. Officials said they were bound to secrecy because the discussions occurred during a March 10 executive session.

However, Hansen acknowledged terms in the draft agreement were discussed but said the complete agreement, proposed by Terra Firma, was not shared with the council members during the executive session.

By purchasing and annexing the land, Mason would secure rights to provide water and sewer service, according to Chris Brausch, sanitary engineer for Warren County.

“Upon annexation, Mason automatically becomes the Designated Management Agency for sewer service, and their Facility Planning Area is automatically amended,” Brausch said in an email.

Dick Haglage, principal at Terra Firma, declined to comment on the purchase agreement or negotiations.

Mason and Terra Firma are expected to continue discussions in coming weeks, Hansen said. The city could pay for the land with cash or by financing the expense through long-term debt, Hanson said.

The draft agreement obtained by the newspaper “may provide the framework,” Hansen said. “It’s not the agreement we were looking for.”

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