City, township to consider merger


WESTERVILLE — The city and Harlem Township have announced their intent to merge during a conference call Tuesday with The Gazette. The announcement was made public Wednesday morning.

The announcement “gives us the ability to continue the public discussion, to engage with the public and to start legislative processes that lead us toward a merger agreement,” said Westerville spokeswoman Christa Dickey. “So, there’s lots of steps involved in the future.”

Harlem Township is in the southeast corner of Delaware County, and only a few miles away from the Intel construction site in Licking County. Its population is around 5,000 people. Harlem is separated from Westerville by Hoover Reservoir and Park, owned by the City of Columbus. Westerville is in southern Delaware and northern Franklin counties and has a population of around 40,000.

“We had a major change heading our way potentially with the Intel announcement and what it could do to our township,” said Carl Richison, Harlem Township trustee. “We decided to start talking to Westerville as a strategic partner, and recently the idea of the merger started coming to the front. We realized this would still allow the residents to have a say in what was going to happen to their township. … Westerville has a mindset a lot like what Harlem does.”

Since the two communities don’t have a common border, annexation isn’t possible. However, Ohio law does allow for a merger, which gives additional protection to a township.

“There’s five different municipalities on all four of our borders that will just inch closer to us over the coming years,” said Molly Snodgrass, a Harlem resident who is on the township’s Strategic Planning Committee. “We see this happening to other townships, like Jersey Township where the Intel project exists, thousands of acres was annexed out of their township, and they had no idea about it. And we don’t want Harlem Township to be in that position where we are blindsided by another municipality coming in, working their way up, and acquiring enough properties and start chipping away at our township.”

“Sometimes life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it, and good governments collaborate when things happen,” said Jason Bechtold, Westerville assistant city manager. “At the end of the day, this is a choice for the people of Westerville-Harlem to decide if they want to control the destiny of this area so that we can build a community in a thoughtful way instead of as a pass-through. This is a community that we’re going to build together.”

“I think the part that Westerville brings to the table is really that comprehensive thoughtful planning,” said Monica Dupee, Westerville city manager. “What we’ll be able to work with Harlem on is a full comprehensive plan — not just land use, but utilities and thoroughfares and parks and other amenities, and work together to create that vision for Harlem as it is today to become the Harlem of the future. I think the beautiful part of the merger is that it will be created by the residents of Westerville and the residents of Harlem.”

“Members of the Westerville City Council will discuss the issue on Tuesday, March 5 at 7 p.m.,” states the city’s press release. “Harlem Township will hold an informational meeting for its residents on Thursday, Feb. 29 at 6:30 p.m. at the Harlem Road Church, 5520 Harlem Road and again on Wednesday, March 6 at 6:30 p.m. Additional public meetings will be posted online at”

After the meetings, Westerville City Council and the Harlem Township Board of Trustees will vote on whether to proceed. If they do, both parties will work on writing up a required formal merger agreement. This agreement would go before the voters in November, and residents of both communities would have to approve of the merger by majority vote for it to go into effect.

“Please, get all the facts, don’t fold your arms and just say no,” Richison said of a possible future vote. “I know my residents are smart enough to do that.”

Assistant Editor Gary Budzak covers the eastern half of Delaware County and surrounding areas. He may be reached at [email protected].

No posts to display