Friday, September 12, 2008

Annexation of Bradley

On September 8, 2008 the City of Hilliard took its first formal steps to initiate the annexation and development of thousands of acres of land west of Alton-Darby Rd, in the Big Darby Accord area.

As I wrote in April 2007, there is much more to this story than is being reported in the local media (Columbus Dispatch; Hilliard Northwest News; ThisWeekHilliard). I have just submitted the following to the Hilliard Northwest News as a Letter to the Editor. It is longer than they like, but I hope they see merit in printing it anyway:

You reported that the Hilliard Planning, Projects and Services Committee introduced a resolution stating "it has the capacity to provide water and sewer services to Hilliard Bradley High School." I think you missed the key storyline.

The reason there is capacity to serve the high school and a potential new middle school is that the Hilliard City School District has already spent $834,000 of taxpayer money to construct mile long water and sewer pipelines from Alton-Darby Rd near Darby Creek Elementary School to the Bradley site.

These pipelines are in an easement obtained from Homewood Homes. This easement agreement is the story, and it was never disclosed to the public.

A key provision of the easement agreement is that Homewood is permitted to tap into these pipelines at no charge when it starts building houses. In other words, some of the money raised by our last bond levy is now being used to provide direct benefit to a developer.

Our School Board also agreed that if Homewood Homes requests annexation into the City of Hilliard, the School Board would request annexation as well. Why was this important enough to Homewood to put it in the easement agreement?

The approximately $5,000,000 in annual payroll that will be paid to the staff of Bradley would become subject to Hilliard City income taxes, generating approximately $100,000/yr of new income for the City. Could there be a "scratch-my-back, I'll scratch yours" arrangement between Homewood and the City: Homewood receives the benefits of friendly zoning policies, while the City gains a significant new revenue source? The pawn in this deal is the School Board, who was maneuvered into abandoning the land they already owned on Cosgray Rd (since sold to another developer) and purchasing a piece of land well away from water and sewer services.

This annexation request was not initiated by the School Board, with Homewood merely going along for the ride. It is Homewood and the other developers who are driving this annexation, evidenced by the fact that the adjacent Brown Elementary property is not included in the request. Why? Because the developer-friendly Ohio annexation laws provide a mechanism for 'expedited annexation' when the parcel is less than 500 acres. With the elementary parcel, this request would exceed that.

What's the advantage of expedited annexation? Ans: Neither the township nor county governments can object except for reasons specified in the law. In fact, no public hearings must be held, and the county commissioners are REQUIRED to approve the annexation. Appeals by the public are not permitted. As long as the developer and the city are in agreement, it's a done deal.

As noted in The Columbus Dispatch, this is the beginning of what could be a 2,000 home development. At the ratio of 0.8 school age kids per new home used by the school district, this means 1,600 new students – the equivalent of one more high school which all of us would pay to build and staff. This will not help our funding problem. Residential development is our funding problem.

Paul Lambert

It is also worth reading what the Darby Creek Association has to say about the way this land development effort has been carried out. Note that the Dan Nichter referenced in their newsletter is the same Dan Nichter who now sits on the Hilliard City Council. There is more maneuvering to be done, so it never hurts (the developers) to have another friendly face on the public body that controls land use policy, does it?

This link will produce the whole list of articles in this blog about development. It will take a little time to wade through it, but if you are new to this blog - these articles are necessary background for every member of our community.


  1. We all new this would happen sooner than later but the timing is what is so suprising. Why now? Why not wait 2 more months until after the election? This just adds more ammunition to those who oppose the levy. I just can not believe that the Board would do this at this time.

    By the way, what happened to the levy committee. Has anybody heard from them? It is less than 2 months away from the election. Everyone else has known for months that there is an election on Nov. 4th. There has been absolutely no talk about the importance of the levy except what comes out of the School Board meetings. You can't wait until the last week or 2 before the election to start the campaign.

    I am convinced that it is NOT the voting public that "just doesn't get it".

  2. Paul, thanks once again for shining a light on some shadowy subjects.

    I've got to admit, though - after re-reading this article several times, it's pretty hard for me to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

    Clearly, the developers are working the system to the best of their ability, and I suppose I wouldn't expect anything different from them. What's less clear to me is the intent of the school district and the City.

    I've got the disturbing impression that there are multiple hidden agendas at work here, and as a taxpayer, I wish those agendas to become materially transparent.

    I'm afraid I'm also not crystal clear on the short-term and long-term implications of this annexation. It sounds like there would actually be a short-term benefit to the City in the form of payroll taxes, but by including this new development in the annexation, we're also effectively signing up for yet another high school at some future point.

    So if I've got this right, we build a new high school for our existing population, but we build it outside of the City. Then, by annexing the land where we just built the school, we pick up a new development that's going to force the construction of a fourth high school at the point where the development is populated.

    And missing from this whole grand plan is the growth of the City's commercial tax basis to balance all of this residential growth.

    Am I anywhere near close on this?

  3. Great Letter Paul

    I have a question about the Homewood property and the Dispatch article. In one sentence, it said that the Darby Accord limits Homewood to 1 house per acre and in the next mentioned that the development could grow to 200 homes. If Homewood owns 256 acres, how can the development grow to 2000 homes if development is limited to one house per acre? I had intended to email the Dispatch reporter to clarify, but perhaps you know the answer. Thanks.

  4. The Bradley annexation is the smoking gun in the whole development-city coziness that has put us where we are today. I can't understand why this isn't a huge story in Hilliard. In fact, the biggest story here might be why this isn't a big story, since if this was reported ages ago in the Dispatch & Northwest News it's possible that Mayor Schonhardt might not be regarded as so politically invincible. (It's really, really frustrating that he ran unopposed last time.)

    The Bradley annex - not teacher salaries or administration stupiity or the other distractions - is a pristine example of the root cause of our problem. And until we address this sort of thing, we'll always be in this no-win position of either awarding ourselves large tax increases or burning down the school district.

    I, for one, am tired of bailing water on the Titanic.

  5. I was wondering the same thing as gs, as soon as read the article. The math did not seem to compute. The number I arrived at was '200', rather than '2000'. Did I misunderstand something?

  6. Sent a note to Mark Ferenchik at the dispatch and got an answer right away.

    My email to him:
    I am a Hilliard resident and read with interest your article yesterday about annexing the Homewood parcel at Alton Darby and Roberts Rd into the city of Hilliard. I have a question about the density numbers used that didn't make sense to me. You said that development in the Homewood parcel is limited to 1 house per acre by the Big Darby Accord, and that Homewood says they will comply with the guidelines of the Accord. You then said this development could grow to 2000 homes. If Homewood's parcel is 256 acres, and they follow the 1 house per acre guideline, how could that be 2000 homes?

    His Answer:
    I had a similar questions from another reader. I would have written than part more clearly. Hilliard can build up to 2,000 homes in what's called its expansion area -- basically the area it can annex and still receive water and sewer service. That goes beyond this specific property.

    So our exposure to more housing beyond the Homewood land is significant.

  7. I was the 'other' Hilliard resident to e-mail Mr. Ferenchik. I received the same reply.

  8. The City of Columbus said a couple of years ago that the sewer trunks to our part of the county had the capacity to support only 2,000 more homes. Since then, the scramble has been about who (which developers) would get those connections. For all we know it is an artificial scarcity created by Columbus to generate a developer bidding war.

    This was all part of the less-than-amicable negotiations between Mayor Schonhardt (on behalf of his developer buddies) and the City of Columbus relative to the Big Darby Accord. You can rest assured that the Mayor's decision to end his holdout on signing the BDA agreement came about because he got a commitment from Columbus to allocate those 2,000 taps to the land Hilliard would be annexing in this Bradley deal. Next on the agenda will be Dan O'Brien's property west of his Heritage Lakes development, which couldn't be in this annexation request due to the 500 acre limitation on expedited annexations.

    So does that mean these 2,000 taps are it for western Franklin County, and residential development is over?

    Of course not. The City has plans to extend a major sewer facility north from around Galloway, called the 'Big Run Connector.'

    Which brings into play another clause of the Homewood easement agreement with the School Board: if and when Columbus decides to run the Big Run Connector within range of Bradley High School, the School Board has agreed that it will abandon the sewer line it just had constructed, and spend the money necessary to connect into the Big Run Connector system.

    EdJr: The School Board did not initiate this action, Homewood Homes did. The School Board is required by the terms of the Homewood water/sewer line easement agreement to annex as well. The School District sold their soul to the devil when they bought the Bradley site without negotiating a satisfactory water deal then. In fact, the School District proceeded from letter of intent to closing by waiving their rights to back out of the deal if they weren't satisfied with the water/sewer arrangements. Whatever leverage they had evaporated at that point.

    Bobbi Mueller, who heads the levy committee, gave a report on their current status at the last Board meeting. They've been doing the behind the scenes, but are about ready to start the visible stage.

    I agree with you - it seems a little late. Early/Absentee voting begins in just 18 days, and the general election is only 53 days to the general election. I think a significant number of votes will be cast in the next 40 days.

    D.Lambert: Your conclusion is exactly right. The Mayor has no justification for doing this - it will cause economic harm both the schools and the City (i.e. the income taxes gained from the school payroll will not come close to paying the incremental cost of services to all those houses).

    eire: Exactly. That's why if you go back though my blog, you'll find that virtually everything I reported was about development and funding. It's only since the short-sighted negotiations with teachers' union that the spending side has received much attention in the blog.


  9. Anyone interested in changing leadership in Hilliard City Schools, review this blog

  10. At a recent "coffee shop" meeting with two school board members, those in attendance were told that the school board learned of this annexation decision by reading last week's article in the paper. If this is true, why were they not in on this conversation?

  11. Just to be clear, I don't endorse this blog to oust Superintendent Dale McVey, but if you want to engage in that dialog, there's a place to do it.

    I don't know squat about the art & science of education - I'm a business guy and so am qualified to be critical only of the business and fiscal operations of the district. I think I understand a little about leadership and customer/supplier relations as well.

    Whatever shortcomings Mr. McVey may have in those components of his role, we need to acknowledge that our district was just awarded the highest academic rating possible in our State. Somebody is doing something right.

    If I am fortunate enough to be elected by you to the School Board next November, an assessment of our execeutive leadership will be a priority. At that point we may decide that changes are needed.

    Until then, one of the things we have to remember is that our behavior as community members plays a part in the education of the kids and future leaders of our country too.

    We can show them how to behave with conviction yet civility, or turn them into future Jerry Springer fans.


  12. By the way, we're one of those who have been without power since 3pm Sunday (also no water since we have a well), so my access to the Internet will be spotty until it returns (on generator power right now). Please be patient for your comments to be released.

    By the way, the Bradley building, which I can see out my front window, has power. They have water too thanks to the water line we all paid for. I might like to hook into that water line, but they ran it down to through center of the developers' property over there, instead of down Roberts Rd where we taxpayers who paid for it could get access...


  13. KNM:

    Great question, and pretty disappointing to hear.

    I was at the School Board meeting when they passed the resolution giving authorization to the Superintendent to sign the easement agreement with Homewood. They passed the resolution 5-0 without any discussion.

    We have to wonder whether they ever read the easement agreement, or just rubber-stamped the Superintendent's recommendation. They may have discussed the agreement in Executive Session, but we'll never know. I suspect that they were asleep at the switch, because the other alternative is that they were an active part of the conspiracy to sign this deal without disclosing these crucial details to the public.

    By the way, this easement deal would have never been disclosed had I not asked for it. In fact, the first response of the Administration was to say that everything I needed to know was disclosed in the resolution. That just wasn't true and I knew it. So I asked again, and they made the actual agreement available.

    The Board membership at the time was Doug Maggied, Denise Bobbitt, Andy Teater, Cheryl Ryan, and Dick Hammond. Ryan has since resigned and has been replaced by Lisa Whiting. Dave Lundregan was newly elected Nov 08, defeating Hammond (and me). Doug Maggied was the top vote getter in his re-election.