By Sean Rice
Mercer County Commissioners may deny a request to rezone 65 acres near Wright State University-Lake Campus to commercial, after nearly two dozen residents showed up Thursday to voice opposition.
Under Ohio law, commissioners have 20 days to approve, deny or modify the zoning change request sent in by the Mercer County Zoning Commission, which oversees zoning in eastern Jefferson Township. The county commissioners set another public meeting for 3 p.m. April 6 to issue a final decision.
The request, which originated with state Rep. Keith Faber (R-Celina), was to rezone 65 acres south of Ohio 703 between Dibble Road and Lake Acres Drive from special/parks (SP) to commercial (C).
Faber had told the zoning commission he has interest in purchasing the unoccupied building that fronts Ohio 703 near the campus and requested an amendment to the SP text definition to allow the building to be used. The building is owned by George and Janis Rafferty of Celina.
When zoning laws were written for Jefferson Township in the early 1970s, several areas that contain businesses were zoned SP, a zone that only calls for agriculture, floodplains or wetlands. Grandfathered-into the SP zones were the campus, American Legion, Mercer County Sportsmans’ Association, Northmoor Golf Course and the 4-H camp.
Faber’s original request would have added some business uses to the SP definition, including educational institutions, professional and administrative offices and recreational facilities.
In mid-February, the zoning commission scrapped the SP text change because they felt it was too broad for all SP zones in eastern Jefferson Township. Instead, they recommended the entire area around the unoccupied building be rezoned to commercial/general business (C).
A wide variety of businesses can be allowed in a C zone without conditional approval, including bars, gas stations, banks, pet shops and restaurants. A long list of other business uses is allowed with conditional approval from the zoning commission.
That long list of business uses, which could range from adult entertainment facilities to group homes, was the main reason neighboring property owners objected.
“Based upon the language in the zoning code, SP seems to be a better zoning class for the Lake Campus. At this point we really oppose the reclassification,” Lake Campus Dean Anita Curry-Jackson said.
Some property owners on Dibble Road and Lake Acres Drive spoke up on behalf of groups of opposing property owners. Lake Acres Drive resident Jim Dabbelt presented a petition from several objecting neighbors.
Tom Saddler of the Western Ohio Educational Foundation (WOEF) board said members voted unanimously to oppose the change. WOEF is the organization that founded the Lake Campus.
Even Faber himself claimed to be opposed to the change to commercial, and presented the commissioners with another proposal for a text change to the SP district.
Several visitors to the commissioner’s office Thursday afternoon said they do not oppose Faber’s plan to put the unoccupied Rafferty building to use as a professional, administrative office.
“I have no objection to Faber occupying that building,” Dibble Road resident Frank Snyder said. “Great, it’s better than having it unoccupied ... but find a better way to get the zoning so it can be used.”
The new SP text change request presented by Faber at the Thursday public hearing would add to the SP definitions: professional offices, public service facilities, recreation and educational institutions. Under conditional uses, which require extra approval are: museums, daycare facilities, libraries and retail businesses.
One resident spoke up immediately against any proposal that includes retail business in the area.
The county commissioners did not indicate how they would decide the issue, and adjourned the meeting, to be reconvened in 19 days.