Sunday, November 9, 2008

Affordable Growth

I have long been mystified about why Hilliard Mayor Don Schonhardt seems so intent to push the Hilliard city limits westward into Brown Township. His own Master Plan (page 163-164) says this:

A review of the Land Use Plan concluded that the City's existing and future employment areas are appropriately planned but there is little potential for a significant amount of additional revenue producing property to be incorporated into the plan. This raises a concern that there may not be a fiscal balance between residential and commercial development over the long term. The lack of additional revenue producing property may require the municipality to increase the employment densities of the designated commercial sites or, on the other hand, slow the rate of residential growth and development.


The October 28, 2008 edition of the Hilliard Northwest News ran a story titled "City Struggles to establish balanced 2009 Budget," in which it was said:

Some of the additional expenses in the street construction, maintenance and repair budget is because of additional land and roads for which the city is responsible as it annexes and grows, officials said.

So don't grow. Don't grow!! It is entirely optional. There is no benefit whatsoever to the City of Hilliard to annex additional land for residential development.

When it harms both your City and our school district, why are you so eager to help the developers Mr. Mayor?


  1. While it may seem that this response to your question comes entirely "out of left field", I would ask you to finish the entire statement and then reflect on this history of our current Mayor, the administration and their collective past action.

    Ever since becoming part of Hilliard City Council and continuing up to his current position as Mayor, Donald Schonhardt has based his actions and that of Hilliard City Council acted on a fear that the City of Hilliard would become boxed in by the cities of Columbus and Dublin. That fear manifested itself in a drive to expand the cities boundaries through annexation.

    Unfortunately, at the same time, under Mr. Schonhardt's direction as City Council President and now as Mayor, completely inadequate controls have been used on residential development inside the city's boundaries resulting in a continually growing strain on the school district and eventually the taxpayers as well. This lack of control, coupled with allowing far too much prime business real estate to be re-zoned in to residential use land would have never taken place under a city government focused on truly balanced city growth or a city government desiring to work together with a completely separate yet strategically interconnected school district.

    Under the direction of Mayor Schonhardt, the annexation of Brown Township land that is not suited to the high employee count commercial development Hilliard desparately needs will only result in more residential development adding to the existing overcrowding in the school district and financial burden to taxpayers.

  2. Thanks for your comments.

    I really don't understand this argument Hilliard officials have about being 'boxed in.' Hilliard is already boxed in. The annexations going on right now (Homewood et al for 500 acres, soon to be following by Planned Development et al for another 500 acres), will grab up most of the developable land within the limits of the water/sewer contract. The City of Hilliard can expand no further west.

    A small number of large developers will get to build another couple thousand houses, and drive the need for Hilliard schools to build another couple of buildings and educate 1000+ more kids. Those of us who now live in the Hilliard school district, or operate a business in the Hilliard school district, will bear most of the cost.

    How do I answer the question I posed? Certainly one possible answer is that someone is getting paid off. I have no proof of such a thing, nor do I wish to invite a lawsuit claiming libel.

    What other reasons are there for this seemingly harmful behavior by the Mayor and Council? I'd certainly like to hear some possibilities...

  3. It was reported in the Hilliard Northwest News this week that Mayor Schonhardt is asking the Hilliard City Council to approve $1.2 million to update the city's Comprehensive Development Plan.

    "Development opportunities will come back and when they do, we want to be ready ... (so) when a developer comes to our city we can point to 10 places for the developer to consider," Schonhardt said.

    I hope you're talking about commercial developers Mayor. We sure don't need any more residential developers, do we?

  4. Copy of an e-mail I sent to the City Planner after that article:

    Mr. Talentino,
    I am writing to express my concern regarding residential growth and the impact it has on the Hilliard City School District. It seems that the city is actively courting residential development, and I must ask Why? We have just passed a school levy, after one failed attempt, and the projections are that we will face another school levy in two years. Based on the current averages, each new home is going to cost the taxpayers $7000 per year in education costs above and beyond what the property tax from that new home will generate. So while the developers are getting richer, the current residents of Hilliard are getting poorer. This has got to stop! I fail to see any benefit to the City from residential growth - it only increases demand for services and infrastructure which is not covered by the income it produces. We need to focus on commercial development, and commercial development only, at least until our commercial tax base has caught up to generate the revenues needed to maintain our current demand.
    The school board throws up their hands at their meetings and blames the city for the out-of-control increases in the operating budget of our schools, and while they have to share the blame due to their overly-generous contract agreement with the teachers, they have a point. They are stuck with having to fund the increased student population event though they have absolutely no control over it. The City of Hilliard government does have control over it, and it must do everything in it's power to serve the current citizens of Hilliard and the Hilliard schools, not the developers. The current downturn in the housing market should be looked upon as an opportunity to change your way of thinking and putting a permanent policy in place that, at a minimum, requires impact fees for new development that will soften the blow to the current residents. Allowing the developers to line their pockets at our expense is a policy that should never have been allowed in the first place, and must not be allowed to continue.
    I ask that you share this letter with Mayor Schonhardt and the members of City Council. If someone can explain to me what benefits our current population is going to receive from increased residential development, I will be all ears.

  5. Hillirdite:

    Your letter is spot-on.

    John Talentino is a talented city planner, and it was he who put the language about the need for balanced growth in the Hilliard Master Plan.

    But John serves as a staff member rather than a decision maker. This stuff is Don Schonhardt's doing, with the support of the City Council.

  6. So the Northwest News confirmed that the Board has sold the Bradley site to developers for residential housing. Yet another short sighted move on their behalf. The money will cover education costs for 450 students for one year at the current rate of $10,000 per student. Now granted, the 90 acres may only support 180 homes, maybe less, but maybe more since it is to include condos and apartments. Regardless, it will increase the load on the taxpayers forever. They would have been better off leasing the entire site to the farmer who sold it originally or turning it into a park, anything to keep from increasing the load on the schools. Speaking of that lease, what a great deal for the farmer. He gets paid $4.5 million for the land, can invest that at, say a conservative 5% which returns $225,000 a year, and then pay out $19,000 a year to lease the land and carry on farming as before. I wish I could sell my house at the auditors appraised value and then lease it back for such a pittance.
    Something about this entire deal just does not make sense. The only thing that does make sense is retaining the 34 acres as a site for a future school, because all indications are, they are going to need it!

  7. Hillirdite:

    I wrote a piece about this transaction back in May, which is when the Board actually made this decision.

    Remember that capital funds are different than operating funds. The $4.5 million we'll get back via the sale of this property is not available to be used to fund operating expenses.

    It would be nice if this money could be used to retire some of the bonds the district has sold to building all these buildings, but to my knowledge none of these bonds are 'callable' meaning they cannot be paid off early. We just have to keep paying the interest on those bond until they mature, which will be years.

    It is also possible that this $4.5 million could be used for a planned purpose that would otherwise require the sale of new bonds.

    I don't know enough about farm economics to judge whether the Grener family was getting a good deal on their lease-back arrangement, but one could argue that any money the school district gets renting the land beats having it sit idle and grow weeds. If the rental rate was set by a fair public auction - then the price is by definition the right one.

    We'll be be watching to see what kind of development emerges on the property.


  8. Now that Dan O'Brien has added his 400+ acres west of Alton-Darby Rd to the 500 already annexed by Homewood Homes, the game is already at least half over. There is perhaps only a few hundred acres left of the area which Hilliard can annex and Columbus has already agreed to provide water/sewer service.

    Taking out the 110 acres owned by Hilliard City Schools, there are now over 800 new developable acres in the city.

    Construction may not begin soon, but begin it will, and we can count on having around 400 new kids to house in our schools.

    Had this land be allowed to stay under control of the Big Darby Accord, the number of homes would have been much less. Saying how much less is difficult, because the Darby Accord Plan designated much of this area to be flood plains and conservation zones.

    However, the Darby Accord process allows the 'density rights' to be sold and shifted to another hunk of land, so potentially a good fraction of those houses would have been somewhere in the Darby Accord area anyway, and still within our school district.

    But why the rush to annex into Hilliard? Could it be that Mayor Schonhardt doesn't intend to follow Accord principles after all, and will allow developers to crowd in 4-5 houses/acre just as they have in many of their other new developments.

    It likely depends on what segment of the housing market revives first. If it's the $300,000+ executive homes on 1 acre lots the Mayor has always promised for these tracts, then perhaps the impact won't be so much.

    But if it's the $125,000 home market, like the new development on Cosgray north of Hayden Run, we could be talking thousands of houses and thousands of kids.

    All is not lost, but people - we have to hold the Mayor accountable to protect both the city and the school district.