Saturday, August 16, 2008

How Does This Protect the Schools, Mr. Mayor?

A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch reported the fact that commercial growth might exceed residential growth in Hilliard for the first time in 30 years. It's not that commercial growth has been all that great of course – it's because the residential housing market has collapsed nationwide, and Hilliard is not immune to this condition.

According to the Dispatch story, Mayor Schonhardt said: "We want continued growth without adding continued burden to the schools." He gives as an example of this policy the rezoning of land on Trueman Blvd from what was supposed to be 246 apartments to professional offices.

I'm not a professional real estate investor, but I am a retired professional who derives my income from investments – a good chunk of which are real estate partnerships. One thing I know from my involvement in real estate is that you don't construct a building just for the fun of it and hope that someday you might get some tenants. You would much rather build having already signed up some tenants, or at least know that there is plenty of demand for the kind of building you intend to construct.

On that basis, I expect that the driving force for changing the use of this Trueman Rd parcel had little to do with protecting our schools, and everything to do with the belief by the developer that more money could be made leasing professional space than apartments. Personally, I'd put my money into a professional space before apartments every time – fewer tenants, fewer problems/complaints, longer leases, less overhead keeping units filled – it's just more profitable.

On September 11, the Hilliard Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to hear a request to rezone 58 acres at the northwest corner of Cemetery Rd and Britton Parkway from Medium Manufacturing to Planned Unit Development.

This is the site where Dana Corp once had a significant manufacturing operation. When the Data plant was in operation, it was a major employer and generator of income tax revenue for the City of Hilliard, and it paid significant real estate and personal property taxes to the school district. Even today as an empty parcel, it generates $47,298.07 in annual school property taxes. And not one kid is added to the student population.

I had no idea what Planned Unit Development means, so I looked it up in the Hilliard City Code. It says:

"The Planned Unit Development District is intended to provide incentives to encourage its use by permitting certain variations from normal development standards."

I take that to mean a PUD is used when the city has a hunk of land it wants to have developed, and it can't get anyone to develop it under existing zoning standards. Therefore some standards will be relaxed or modified to encourage the developer to make the investment.

More residential development helps neither the City of Hilliard, which needs commercial development to create jobs that generate income taxes, nor the Hilliard City School District, which needs property taxes from commercial rather than residential sources.

The school funding problem we have in Hilliard and other central Ohio suburbs has nothing to do with the constitutionality arguments which have reached the Ohio Supreme Courts. That whole situation is about rural districts with low land values, mostly because farmland by law is taxed at a small fraction of its true value.

The suburban funding issue has three components: a) the real estate taxes paid by the average suburban home is only a third of what it takes to educate the kids who live there; b) the fraction of school funding that is paid by local businesses is getting smaller and smaller; and finally, c) the State of Ohio has shown that it's willing to fix the funding problems in the rural and urban districts by diverting money from the so-called wealthy suburban districts. The constitutional amendment championed by the Ohio Education Association (the teachers' union), would make this situation worse.

We can't do much locally about the third factor, but the first two are completely under our local control, or at least the control of our local elected officials. Politicians like Don Schonhardt and Dan Nichter have moved into Hilliard to harvest it – not serve the people who live here. It's the same story in all the I-270 suburbs of central Ohio – the developers get what they want, aided by friendly politicians who operate largely ignored by the public, and in the process destroy the economic viability of every community along the way. This process is described beautifully in Gregory Jacob's book Getting Around Brown. While this book is no longer in print, it is available at the public libraries, and its full text is available online at The Ohio State University Press.

Our silence is all the permission the politicians need. Remember that Mayor Schonhardt ran unopposed for re-election last November.

As is true for the majority of folks living in the Hilliard City School District, I am not a resident of the City of Hilliard. I don't get to vote for City of Hilliard elected officials, but I – like many of you – will pay directly for the development decisions they make, as well as those made by all the other municipal goverments that control land use within our school district.

Our shared voice in all this is the School Board. I believe it is vital that they develop a formal policy statement regarding residential development in the school district - in particular tying the pace of residential development to commercial development to ensure that our funding gets no further out of whack.

This is a revision of the original story. I wrote the first version making the assumption that the name "Village at Britton Parkway" was an indicator that a new high-density, entry-level Dominion Homes development was going to take place on this commercial/industrial parcel.

That assumption was in error. The current zoning application calls for a mixture of retail, office and residential space. In particular, the current application calls for over 300 condominiums.

The second thing I need to clarify is that this is a zoning application, not a development or building permit application. Chances are good that the current landowner, First Industrial LP, is not planning to be the ultimate developer of this property, but rather that they have a prospective buyer who has said they'll buy and develop the property only if First Industrial LP is successful in getting it rezoned.

I considered just deleting this story, but there are points in it which are valid and important nonetheless. If multi-family or condiminium homes are developed on this parcel, there could be significant impact to our schools. Our continued attention to this and all Hilliard annexation and rezoning actions is vital.

My apology for the false alarm.


  1. To be fair, we don't KNOW what is planned for the DANA site. Wasn't that going to be a Menard's Home Improvement Warehouse? I remember reading that at some point...

  2. Musicman: You're right, a PUD can be used for both residential and commercial development, so my suspicion that it will be residential is solely based on the name: The Village at Britton Parkway, a naming convention used often by Dominion Homes.

    I'll see if I can get additional information about the application from the City.

    If anyone already knows the planned use, please post a comment or email me.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Check out this link under "Hilliard":

    And this, a Commercial Development Site:

    These both point to Commercial Development for the DANA site.

    Slightly off-topic, I believe the mayor and development director of Hilliard are doing a great job of bringing businesses into our town. He has not been mayor for long, and I think he is doing things that are pointing our city in the right direction. If a finger is to be pointed, it should be in the direction of Mayor Coleman...

  5. "Politicians (who) have moved into Hilliard to harvest it." Boy have you hit the nail on the head, particularly with Schonhardt's ties to the land around Roberts and Alton Darby. Very insightful to recognize the "Villages of.." naming convention from Dominion Homes. I hope to heavens it is not so, otherwise the admin of Hilliard is really screwing us. Low end, high density, marginal quality construction, just swell.

    Tim Ward bucked the Hilliard Political Machine, and gave them a scare for their money too from what was done to him when he ran for re-election. No wonder no one wants to run as a Democrat here. They look after one another. They moved Bret Scioto into the Pres of the City Council to give him something to put on his political resume when he wants to run for state or nat'l office.

    I don't always agree with you Paul, but you are a bright, resourceful person and your efforts are much appreciated and admired. Move into Hilliard so you can run for Mayor or Council as a "cultivator" not a "harvester"!

  6. These links don't indicate either commercial or residential. To imply that they indicate no residential is an attempt at miss direction, leading one to question the motives for such postings in the first place. Likely this site will be a combination of both commercial and residential. The real discussion should be about what quantity and quality of commercial development will be proposed. Retirement or upscale residential should be encouraged with a majority of professional commercial.

  7. hhmmm - an interesting link:
    and this one:

    looks like First Industrial and Hilliard go way back :)

  8. Paul,
    Some further research on my part indicates that the company that owns this parcel has other commercial properties that use the "Village at" prefix. Thank you for doing due diligence. MANY folks use your site as justification for their positions, and I would hate to see them use incorrect or inaccurate information when formulating opinions. I am fairly certain we will find that it is intended for commercial use, although Joe disagrees with me. I see no inklings of residential in either of those links, or in any other mention of the property. As Paul said, the ONLY thing he was going on was the name, and if you google "Village at" you will find many shopping centers. No attempt at misdirection, it just seems that we all want to latch on to the negative things that organizations are doing. We NEVER talk about the good. You do, Paul, in your posts, but most who read here do not. Would it be bad to put residential there? Yes. Has the mayor, or the City of Hilliard, allowed residential to be put there? No.

    I am really nervous that people read the information you present, but do not digest it. They only choose to remember the information that seems to support their choice to vote no, even though that may not be the most logical/rational application of the information. These next two months will be VERY interesting...

  9. I would agree that we sometimes digest what we want to hear on any discussion point.

    I guess I would be suprised that we would end up with residential in that location when it would seem to at some point be an attractive commercial development. On the other hand we have plenty of strip centers allready available.

    I am sure we will see more residential and high density
    housing which will increase our school enrollment. Half of me wants to believe that the city has
    come to some sort of commitment
    to reduce the residential increases. However, the market could have a place in it as well as Paul has pointed out.

    The other issue that is the wild card in the next two months is how
    the community 'digests" the upcoming levy. The cuts have been laid out,but I think that there is so much consternation on the part of the public on how our public sector is being run, that it is tough to measure. The local papers
    struggle with getting accurate information out, to further complicate matters.

    The tough issue is to break into
    getting people elected to city council, board, etc that are not
    supported with huge financial war chests. Can you get elected to school board with out endorsement
    with all the local powers to be

    I think it would be healthy if one
    to two independent types were elected just to insure "the business as usual " stuff does not continue

  10. I was mulling this over wondering why anyone would want to put residential or live in the area of the old Dana property because their is so much light industrial all around. Then I realized that the extension of Britton Pkwy from Davidson makes a perfect feeder for quick access to 270 for commuters. With that thought, I think the housing developers are probably salivating over the chance to pack high density housing from Hickory Chase all the way down to Cemetery. I may have to eat this comment when you get the zoning info from the City, but I'm betting they want a high residential component.

  11. The comments made above were in reference to the first version of this posting. If anyone wishes to have their comment removed, please let me know by posting a comment to that effect (which will not be published).


  12. The current city administration has done a much better job than the two previous when it comes to commercial development. I found it interesting that past mayor Reynolds was quoted as saying that the commercial base begged his administration for residential development to support their investment; I guess he listened to them! Of course the current administration can't take all the credit as the housing market has tanked, but it DOES seem that Hilliard is headed in the right direction. Student population growth was next to nil last school year and that is a trend we can all live with; Trueman Blvd still has plenty of room for more commercial sites, and we have Erikson to look forward to. However, I do think we need to keep in mind that skyrocketing taxes due to school levies are eventually going to cause some commercial developers to
    look elsewhere, so we still need to do a better job controlling costs.

  13. Hillirdite:

    While I agree that Mayor Schonhardt and Development Director David Meeks have been doing a good job of recruiting new commercial entities to the I-270 corridor, we have to keep our eye on his actions relative to the thousands of acres of land west of Alton-Darby Rd, most of which is owned by developers who, if the housing market were hotter, would be clamoring to have their land annexed into Hilliard and zoned residential.

    All you need for evidence is the side deal built into the easement agreement the School District signed with Homewood Homes.


  14. It would be a real benefit for us if the new housing builds would stay low for a couple years. Let the "bubble" of kids they talked about before the last levy move up into the grades a bit. ( not quite sure where the bubble is currently) Perhaps our ELL population will be stable, and the kids will learn and move out of the special programs. There are a lot of relatively new, empty houses from foreclosures. Many people could not afford the homes they were in without goofy financing terms, they may be out of the home purchasing market for many years. I hate to see condos instead of businesses that could provide jobs as well as tax base, would be nice if it were a development that caters to empty nesters that can't afford Hickory Chase. Let's keep our eye out, especially around Alton Darby and the new HS.

  15. GS:

    Indeed, a period of no/slow population growth would remove one element of the compound equation: a) the growth in students which leads to a corresponding growth in 'direct labor'; times b) the growth in employee compensation and benefits costs.

    And by isolating the compensation and benefits element, it would make it clearer to the community the degree of impact our current compensation strategy has on the cost of running our schools.


  16. I moved into Hilliard just over 8 years ago, I believe just after Ward took over. I have to say I have been overall pleased with the changes I am seeing to infrastructure and visual appearance of Hilliard during this time, especially in the last few years. For this, I guess I can credit Schonhardt (although I could live without the funky Trueman/Cemetery intersection/UTurn that was enabled to ease traffic in front of his house), and feel it is moving in the right direction. I do not know enough of the (less visual) politiking to be able to add that to my impression of the Mayor.

    Given that the Mayor still has young children in HSD, I would certainly like to see him start putting more effort into a partnership with the District and the current issues. I certainly understand his position that "Hilliard" is only a minority membership of HSD, but given the brand name relationship alone, Hilliard MUST act more like it has a Majority say, responsibility and impact to the success of the District. Hopefully he will see a partnership with "the 9th largest school district in Ohio" will carry enough ego prestige as adding more industry and population to the City.

  17. Mark:

    The Mayor and his developer friends see the school district as live bait to lure in prospective homebuyers. And to push the analogy, all they care about the bait is that it remains alluring long enough to catch their limit.

    The battleline is Alton-Darby Rd, the western frontier of the City of Hilliard. Most of the land immediately west of Alton-Darby - part of Brown Township - is owned by developers. Those developers would like to see the City of Hilliard annex this land so they can take advantage of Hilliard's developer-friendly zoning and permitting process.

    The City of Columbus threw a wrench in this when they came up with the Big Darby Accord, and used their control of the water/sewer system as the muscle behind their rhetoric. For a long time, Mayor Schonhardt fought the BDA over control of this land west of Alton-Darby, and refused to sign the Accord until last year.

    Some concessions have been made to him - and we'll not likely find out what those were until development begins to unfold. It is no accident that the easement agreement between the school district and Homewood Homes contains a requirement that if Homewood annexes into Hilliard, the School District must apply for annexation as well.

    Why would that be? There is no benefit to Homewood in having the school district property annexed to Hilliard.

    Part of the answer is that the school district is now the largest employer in the City of Hilliard, and the 150 or so well-paying jobs of the teachers and staff at Bradley are a great source of income tax revenue for the City (which conversely means that if Bradley is left in Brown Twp, any teachers and staff who live outside an income-taxing municipality would pay zero city income tax - a savings of 2% or more).

    So why does an agreement between a private company and the school district have a provision that provides benefit to an entity which is not party to the agreement?

    And if the Mayor were really interested in controlling residential growth, why annex any more land at all? Annexation requests are initiated by the property owner, and the municipality has the right to deny the application.

    Might it have to do with the fact that if the developers can't get Hilliard to annex their land, the development of their land will be controlled by the Big Darby Accord, which demands much more environmentally-friendly (ie lower density, less profitable) development than does the City of Hilliard?

    Besides, the school district just sold their prime real estate on Cosgray Rd to a developer, and it's already been annexed into the City of Hilliard. Go ahead and stick a few hundred homes there first. Oh, that's right, that's a different developer...


  18. Sorry - the "Cosgray Rd" link in my comment above is incorrect. Here is the correct link.


  19. The Mayor and his developer friends see the school district as live bait to lure in prospective homebuyers. And to push the analogy, all they care about the bait is that it remains alluring long enough to catch their limit.

    The limit has already been caught - we're just behind in paying for it - which is why we needed you [Paul] a dozen years ago.

    Everything has already been set in motion. It's too late now unless the teacher's union agrees to salary cuts which is about as likely as snow in Columbus in July. There are two choices: exorbitant property taxes by 2012 or a destroyed HSD, although in the long run we'll have both anyway. I have a hard time figuring why I should vote for this levy since each passage only prolongs the liveliness of the bait.

    To draw an analogy, we can keep drilling for new oil, but that doesn't address the root problem since we'll be putting off the inevitable day of reckoning when oil runs out, as it will. Pumping more oil makes for lower prices which encourages a quicker depletion.

    Similarly, we can keep passing levies and it will only enable the further harvesting of Hilliard by developers, driving up our both our costs and our residential construction.

  20. The development battle is far from over. Approximately half the land area of the district is developable farmland, and a sizable fraction of it is already owned by the developers. In fact, the entire hunk between Alton-Darby Rd and the new Bradley High School is owned by Homewood Homes.

    I once drew some gasps from fellow Hilliard Education Foundation members when I declined to vote in favor of a resolution supporting some Hilliard levy on the basis that, because I am a township resident, a NO vote on the levy was the only vote I have that has any influence on development - meaning that only by making the schools suck and therefore killing the demand for new housing can I slow the development freight train down.

    The economy has taken care of that for us - temporarily - but at some point those developers will want to make some money off their land.

    I didn't vote against the levy - my kids were still in school, I could afford it, and I didn't want the schools to blow up before they graduated. Nor did I want to spend the time to get more deeply involved - my career was at a maximum effort point and I reserved my remaining time for my own family.

    I think that story is very typical for Hilliard taxpayers.

    The purpose of SaveHilliardSchools is to recognize this dynamic, and to do some of the heavy lifting on behalf of the people of the community who are working hard in their professions and only have a little precious time to devote to matters outside their own family. I'm motivated by the fact that I see and hear conversations from this blog repeated in other school discussions.

    We can't solve the problem by blowing up the school district - no one wins. Let's instead commit ourselves to a two-year period of intense involvement in which our goal is a sustainable solution.


  21. I'm reading "Getting Around Brown" online, and it's as one-sided as it comes. The first forty pages are a long editorial column masquerading as impartial research. Did the author even bother to talk to anybody he didn't agree with? If so why didn't he quote them?

    I'm not sure I should trust the author on any possible parallels to the Hilliard situation given the lack of impartiality he shows thus far.

  22. Jerry:

    Thanks for your comments. I'll be interested to hear what you think after reading the whole book.


  23. FYI - When offered an Issue 78 sticker at a recent elementary school function Mayor Schonhardt declined. I don't understand why the mayor of a community wouldn't be 100% behind its schools.

  24. Good question!

    He's pretty good at swaying with the wind. My guess is that he thinks the levy will be defeated, and doesn't want to be on the 'losing' side.