Warren County wants land, money from developer

Plan seeks 4,500 homes on 1,400 acres.

Warren County wants the developers of a proposed 1,430-acre development to provide land for a public school and commercial sports complex, and allow collection of as much as $4 million for the local school district.

ExploreThe master plan for Union Village seemed headed for approval, despite plans for as many as 4,500 residences, along with retail, office, hospital and arts facilities over 40 years off Ohio 741, south of Lebanon in Turtlecreek Twp.

It would be one of Ohio’s first walkable, new urbanist communities, according to the project architect.

County planning officials streamlined the permit process to speed approval for the developer, Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices, a not-for-profit retirement community provider and community institution.

Few opponents spoke as the plan was reviewed at a public hearing expected to end in approval June 19.

Then, county commissioners laid out conditions they wanted Otterbein to agree to in exchange for permission to build homes at a residential density rarely approved in Warren County.

“I like to play ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ ” Commissioner Dave Young said. “This is 9,000 new residents with a couple thousand new kids.”

After further discussion, the hearing was continued to July 8.

In the meantime, Young and county officials plan to meet with officials from Lebanon schools and Otterbein.

“Otterbein has always worked very closely with the county,” Jill Hreben, Otterbein CEO, said at the hearing. “I would hope we can work something out.”

Bumps in the road

At the hearing, Young and Commissioner Pat South negotiated with Otterbein officials and their architect, Michael Watkins, head of a Washington D.C.-based firm known for walkable, planned communities. The third commissioner, Tom Ariss, abstained because he is on the Otterbein board of trustees.

In addition to concerns about the schools, Young and South urged Otterbein to include about 70 acres for a sports complex, even suggesting the site be relocated to create a band of parks from the county’s Armco Park, across 741, to a Turtlecreek Twp. park off Greentree Road.

"I really want to see the sports complex there at Otterbein," Young said, although officials from the Warren County Convention and Visitors Bureau had also been working with the city of Lebanon on building a sports complex in the city.

While pressing Otterbein for concessions, Young said, “Everyone, including me, thinks this is going to be great.”

Watkins previewed plans combining the latest in design techniques with quaint features found in downtown Lebanon, a 200-year-old city and the Warren County seat.

Otterbein also needs approval from the Ohio Department of Transportation for a traffic light and roundabouts on Ohio 741, at the north and south ends of a downtown area to straddle the road between the existing campus, home to 800 elderly residents, and a main entrance to Union Village.

The road leads from Springboro across Interstate 71 to the Kings Island amusement park, crossing Ohio 63 just east of the Otterbein campus. Ohio 63 leads north into Lebanon and south past two prisons, the new racino and an outlets mall, to Interstate 75.

ODOT’s decision will be based on a traffic study that has yet to be submitted, according to ODOT spokesperson Elizabeth Lyons.

“Roundabouts are an intersection type that may be considered based on specific site conditions like traffic volumes and geometry,” Lyons said in an email.”

Otterbein plots future

Last week, Otterbein declined to comment on the conditions sought by the county.

At one time, Otterbein owned 4,005 acres here, purchased from a community of Shakers, a celibate religious sect, known as Union Village. Otterbein has sold land for nearby prisons and now the location of the Miami Valley Gaming racino.

Otterbein’s original retirement campus covers about 130 of its remaining 1,400 acres.

At the hearing, Hreben pledged Otterbein’s continued commitment to Warren County and the development.

“We have served this community for 102 years. Our intention is to be around for another 100 or even longer,” she said. “It is our intention to ensure that our land is developed with the highest quality.”

In addition to creating a new multigenerational community, Otterbein envisions the development providing additional amenities for residents of the retirement community.

“We can use this gift to serve the community at large in a way that creates a special life experience for the folks that live there, work there and come to visit,” Hreben said.

Walkable, self sustaining

Watkins said Union Village would be his latest walkable community designed to end the era of the automobile-dominated society.

“It’s a far superior way to live,” Watkins said. “It has been an uphill battle to change the form of growth in this country.”

While the homes and apartments would be built close together, 20 percent of the development is to be designated as green space.

Turtlecreek Twp. plans to expand a nearby fire station to serve the development. Construction on the first phase, including the town center across from the existing campus, is to begin next year.

A community authority, taxing transactions or residents, and a joint economic development district, are being discussed, to fund infrastructure and service expenses.

County conditions

To offset impact on the schools, the county wants Otterbein to commit 10-15 acres for a school and about 70 for the sports complex. In addition, $4 million would be raised through $1,500 fees paid by new homeowners, and turned over to the schools after about 1,000 homes had been built.

Last week, Lebanon Superintendent Mark North declined to comment on the proposed terms, prior to meeting with county officials on July 1.

“That first phase would not have any effect on us,” he said, noting there were many large undeveloped tracts in the 82-square miles comprising the district. “There’s a lot of places that can potentially have a lot of kids.”

The county hearing is to resume at 10 a.m. Tuesday, July 8.

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