Friday, April 27, 2007

Suckered Again?

At its meeting last week, the Hilliard School Board authorized the signing of easement agreements between the District and Homewood Homes. I asked for a copy of the agreements, and picked them up today.

I have scanned the agreement, and have it posted on the website if you want to download it. Unfortunately it is a PDF of scanned images, so the file is large (8 meg).

Here's what I get out of the agreement:
  • Homewood grants an easement for water and 'temporary' sewer lines to HCSD, for which HCSD pays $10 (ten) dollars. The easement generally follows the north property line of the Homewood property, which is shared with developer George Sicaras, from Alton-Darby Rd just south of Pinefield Dr.
  • If Homewood annexes their land to a municipality (presumably Hilliard), the HCSD agrees to sign over the easement to municipality.
  • Homewood is permitted to tap into the water line and extend it without paying HCSD anything (Section 1.4). If either party causes the quality of the water service to be degraded, that party will be responsible for enlarging the water lines as necessary to restore the original quality of service.

    It would be easy to see this as a protection for the HCSD: i.e. if Homewood puts a pile of houses on the line and the pressure drops, Homewood would be responsible for putting in larger water lines to fix the problem. But remember that the HCSD intends to build a middle school on this property at some point. It is entirely possible for the timing to work out such that the construction of a middle school is the causative element requiring the installation of an upgraded water line – meaning HCSD would have to pay for it.
  • If another sewer line is installed in the area, and it would be "economically feasible" for the HCSD to attach to it instead of the temporary sewer lines, the HCSD agrees to do so without unreasonable delay, releasing the temporary sewer line easement back to Homewood, and bearing the cost of removing the temporary sewer line.

    People in our community often believe it is access to the water system which is the limiting factor to growth. That’s not always true, and in the western part of our school district, it is the sewer system capacity which controls growth. I suspect that this clause guarantees that when the City of Columbus is weighing the economic viability of running a larger sewer trunk into western Franklin County, the developers will already have the commitment of the HCSD to abandon their ‘temporary’ facilities and shift to the new one.
  • If Homewood chooses to annex its land into the City of Hilliard, the HCSD agrees to annex its parcels into the City of Hilliard as well.
Why would Homewood care if the school property is annexed into Hilliard? I can think of a few reasons:
  • Mayor Schonhardt wants Bradley High School, Brown Elementary, and the new middle school (if and when it is built) inside the city limits of Hilliard so that Hilliard can collect income taxes from the faculty and staff of those schools. This is an important source of income for the City of Hilliard, and I can understand the Mayor wanting to capture it. But this should be an understanding between City Hall and the School District, not part of an agreement with a third party. Something fishy here.
  • This causes the boundaries of the City of Hilliard to be extended to the western limit of the water/sewer services agreement between Columbus and Hilliard, creating an annexation path to land owned by a number of speculators and developers. By gaining this option, Mayor Schonhardt and the landowners change the dynamics of power in the Big Darby Accord (which is why I think the School Board was maneuvered into buying this piece of property in the first place).
  • The current annexation law says that if 100% of the landowners support an annexation (which HCSD would be required to do by this contract), then up to 500 acres can be annexed without requiring any permission or negotiation with the township, and the County Commissioners must approve the annexation. Interestingly, the total amount of land owned by the HCSD and these speculators and developers is almost exactly 500 acres. Coincidence?

The School Board has been played again.

At the February 2006 School Board meeting when the resolution was passed to purchase the Emmelhainz property for the third high school, I stood and asked the question: “how are you going to get water to that site?” It was clear to me then that the Board had been maneuvered into purchasing the Emmelhainz property, and that its location relative to the Homewood land raised many questions as to the role of Homewood in this selection.

The School Board had the opportunity to hold the upper hand. The contract they signed for the purchase of the Emmelhainz property, allowed them to escape the deal if all the contingencies were not satisfied, which included a satisfactory solution for water/sewer service. The School Board could have told Homewood that Homewood would have to participate in the cost of the water line, or the School Board would terminate the purchase agreement and go look for another piece of land.
But the School Board was desperate to find a site and get construction underway and so, for reasons I do not understand, waived the relevant contingencies and proceeded to closing on the land. That immediately gave all the negotiating power to Homewood, who owned the path to the water for the piece of land the School Board had purchased. So now the School District (that means us!) is going to pay over $800,000 to put in the water line and Homewood is going to get to tap off of it for free when they start building houses.

I need your help in sending a message to our Board that we will no longer tolerate seeing our school system used as a pawn by powerful corporations and the politicians they influence. Here’s a list of the Board members and their contact info.

No comments:

Post a Comment