Thursday, September 25, 2008


In the September 24, 2008 issue of the Hilliard Northwest News, Hilliard Mayor Don Schonhardt is quoted as accusing someone – and I think it was me – of "'misinformation and outright distortion' concerning the annexation" of the Homewood and Hilliard School District property west of Alton-Darby Rd. The story reports the Mayor as saying:

"The annexation will not add to the number of students because the 494 acres to be annexed is already in the school district."

Yes, that's true. I never said it wasn't – I've been reporting just the opposite in fact. The question is how that land will be developed, and how that affects the economics of our school district.

The question the Mayor is ducking is this: If it is to be developed exactly as specified in the Big Darby Accord, how exactly does the City of Hilliard benefit from the annexation? This development just becomes more houses that have to be patrolled by Hilliard police officers and streets that have to be maintained. Why not just leave this land in the township and let someone else deal with those costs?

I suspect the answer is that the developers want a higher net density than the Big Darby Accord (BDA) allows, because there are subtle differences in the language the BDA uses versus what the mayor has proposed in his own development design. And the Mayor likes to please developers.

The Mayor is quoted as saying "Residential units, if any, built on the Homewood acreage … will be consistent with the Darby Accord plans that call for density of one unit per acre."

Take a look at the BDA Land Use Map. Notice that some of the parcels of land to be annexed (top center of the map - the blue block with the * in the middle is the Bradley site) are marked as "Residential Rural: 0.2 – 0.5 DU/ac." A "DU" is a dwelling unit, or a house in this case. Turned around, a density factor of 0.2 DU/ac is the same thing as one house every 5 acres, while 0.5 DU/ac means one house every two acres. None of this acreage is designated to have one unit per acre as the Mayor claims. In other words, on this basis alone, the Mayor intends to put double the number of houses on this parcel as is allowed by the BDA. That's one distortion.

About half of the annexation parcel (other than the school property), is designated as either "Protected" or "Tier 1" conservation zones. The BDA defines Tier 1 zones this way: "Land within Tier 1 is considered the primary priority for protection through land acquisition and other programs. Encompassing about 5,800 acres, resources within Tier 1 are significant in maintaining the overall health of the watershed. Resources in Tier 1 include the 100 year floodplain, wetlands, critical groundwater recharge and pollution potential zones."

In other words, a good deal of this parcel is not supposed to be developed at all, but rather is to be allowed to remain a zone in which Hamilton Run is left in - or restored to - a natural state.

Here's where a technicality comes into play – what acreage is counted in the denominator of this density ratio? Some would say it is the 'gross acreage' whether developable or not. In the Brown Township Comprehensive Plan, which serves as a basis for the BDA, another approach is used, and was spelled out clearly by saying "Maximum of 1.0 net DUs per acre" and an "Open Space ratio of at least 50% of the development tract after removal of floodplains and rights of way."

For example, if you have a 100 acre parcel, but 20 acres of it is a floodplain, you have only 80 acres which enters into the density calculation. On those 80 acres, you can build to an average density of one house per acre, or 80 houses, but you have to leave 50%, or 40 acres as open space. So the houses, and all the streets and utilities have to sit on 40 acres, meaning the average lot size will be less than a half-acre. Overall, you can put 80 houses on the 100 acre parcel, and they have to be clustered into 40 of those acres, away from the conservation zones.

There's one more technicality. Both the Brown Twp plan and the BDA plans define "50% open space" to mean that half of a parcel must be left undeveloped. Mayor Schonhardt uses different arithmetic. To him it means that for every acre that is developed, one-half acre is left open: develop two acres, leave one open. On a 100 acre parcel, the Mayor's arithmetic leads to 100 dwellings on 66 acres with 33 acres of open space. If 20 of those acres are floodplain as in the example above, he would have them included in the 33 acres of open space. In the end, his way results in 20% more houses (100 vs 80), and 18% less open space.

Second distortion.

The Mayor goes on to take credit that there were only 17 residential building permits issued in Hilliard this year, due to his administration's diligent control of residential growth. I guess the nationwide collapse of the housing market has nothing to do with it. Then he dumped blame on the 'previous administration' by noting that in 2002, Hilliard issued 324 permits, leaving out the fact that he was the President of City Council at the time, and was fighting then-Mayor Tim Ward, who was truly trying to bring residential growth under control.

The Mayor is not to blame for the housing crisis, but the drop off in residential building permits isn't his doing either. I'd bet the City approved each and every residential building permit brought to it by a developer. Third distortion.

His parting shot was this: "Had some other communities in the school district, like Columbus, followed our lead, we might not have needed a third high school."

Let's bring some other facts to bear on this one as well. First of all, residential development is not necessarily a bad thing for our schools, but it has to be balanced with a corresponding amount of commercial development, otherwise an ever-increasing fraction of the cost of running our schools transfers to the existing property owners in the district – both homeowners and businesses. This has been my primary message since the beginning of

Indeed, there have been lots of dwelling units built within the part of the school district which lies within the city limits of Columbus. The question is whether there has been commensurate commercial development to share the school funding burden created by those new homes. So I went to the Franklin County Auditor's website, and compiled a list of the Hilliard school tax paid by just the Columbus businesses along Rome-Hilliard Rd between Roberts and I-70, which is also where most of the residential expansion in question took place.

What I found is that of the 54 businesses I looked up, a total of $2.4 million per year is paid to Hilliard Schools, with seven of those businesses paying over $100,000/yr each.

The average Hilliard homeowner pays about $3,500/yr in school property tax, so these businesses pay about the same as nearly 700 homes. Given that, I'd have to say that Columbus is doing a pretty good job of backing up residential development with commercial development. I don't know how well managed or controlled it is, but the point is that I don't think it's been harmful to our school district, and may in fact have produced positive financial impact.

Will the Mayor produce the same kind of balance when developers are allowed to start building house on this annexed land? If the Mayor intends to allow 500 houses to be built there, then he needs to recruit businesses that will pay about $1.75 million/yr in school tax. To do so, they will need to construct new buildings valued at more than $125 million. The new Verizon building gets us maybe 20% of the way there. Those kinds of deals are few and far between.

But we need those first – before more houses are built.


  1. Paul,

    Great data... thanks for looking up and crunching the numbers. Good thing I wasn't drinking coffee when I read the claim about single-handily controlling residential growth! I figured you would have a retort for this.

    Also left out of the discussion of the annexation is how the school district footed the bill for water/sewer. I'm surprised I havn't seen that in any of the articles outside of your Letter to the Editor.

  2. The Dispatch reporter on the story called the school district and was told that there's no way Homewood can get enough capacity from those water/sewer lines, and that they'd have to build their own. He then called me to get a reaction.

    I said that if there was was no way Homewood could get any value out of those water lines, why did they bother putting the clause granting them tap rights in the easement agreement? No further investigation by the Dispatch to my knowledge.

    I also asked school officials why a 16" water main was installed to the school. That's a big pipe which can carry a lot of water. It's probably the size of the water mains running down any residential street.

    Their answer is that this is what the City of Columbus Division of Water required.

    Okay, so why did the City of Columbus require a water main of that size? There might be some valid reasons, so why not disclose them?

    There should be some sort of written explanation or policy statement from Columbus why they would have required a line of that size.

    This goes to the lack of transparency in our school leadership...


  3. On the issue of Columbus vs. Hilliard development, it seems like a lot of young, childless people live in dwellings downtown and in the Brewery District and such. Certainly there is a high gay population in many areas such as Victorian Village.

    This makes sense because if you don't have children then you don't worry about the fact that Columbus is perceived as a weak school district.

    I think it's likely Columbus can develop more and not have it impact the school system as much simply because the number of children per dwelling is likely higher in Hilliard.

  4. Paul,
    Most residential streets only have 8" water lines running down them. A 16" line is a main feeder line. For example, Scioto Darby Rd has a 16" line running west beyond Hoffman Farms and Cosgray Rd. Darby HS is fed from a 12" line that continues north along Leppert Rd. This information can be found on the City of Hilliard web site under the Engineering Dept. section.

    A 16" water line will provide much more water than Bradley HS would ever need.

  5. Edjr:

    Thanks for the information!


  6. Eire:

    The demographics of Hilliard Schools were changed dramatically when many of the multi-family housing units (e.g. apartments) came to be occupied by immigrant families with lots of kids. Many (but not all) of these housing units are in the City of Columbus.

    Apartments and condos are more typically occupied by singles, young couples and empty nesters - mostly without kids. So yes, you can say that Columbus allowed the construction of housing which had an expensive impact on our district.

    But, as I point out above, there is also nearly $2 million in school funding coming from the businesses in those same areas.

    It would be interesting to do a ten year analysis of incremental kids from the City of Hilliard vs the incremental tax revenue from businesses (not attributible to levy increases) in the City of Hilliard, and compare that to the same numbers from the part of the school district in the City of Columbus.

    We might find that it is the City of Hilliard which is falling short in this regard.