The controversial planned overlay district (POD) proposed in Liberty Township has officially been approved following another lengthy meeting of the Liberty Township Board of Trustees held Monday. A slew of changes to the proposal was presented by the development team during the meeting following comments received from both the trustees and residents during and after last month’s six-hour trustees meeting.
Board Chairwoman Shyra Eichhorn and Trustee Bryan Newell both voted in favor of the POD, while Trustee Mike Gemperline voted to uphold the Liberty Township Zoning Commission’s previous recommendation to deny approval of the proposal; the commission voted against recommending approval of the overlay with a 4-1 vote in January.
Approved is a roughly 190-acre zoning overlay between Hyatts and Clark-Shaw roads, extending along both Sawmill Parkway and Liberty Road. The POD proposal includes a mixture of future uses ranging from commercial buildings to a medical facility and multifamily housing.
Among the changes made by the development group since the last meeting is removing apartments from Subarea E, reducing the total number of apartments that can be constructed in the POD to 208 units.
In addition to confining the apartments to Subarea A, landscaping and buffering have been increased, and an architecture review board has been proposed by the developers to ensure the construction to come fits within the area.
“The benefit of a POD is to have uniformity, to have a shared planning compass so we’re all moving in the same direction,” attorney Steve Cuckler said during Monday’s meeting. “We believe the architectural review board, along with the heightened architectural standards, will incorporate that. All the architecture within the POD will be harmonious and be supportive of one another.”
Some residents have speculated on the possibility of larger retailers coming to the site. However, Cuckler said on Monday there is a 65,000-square-foot limit that will prohibit many retailers from constructing large buildings in the POD. Cuckler identified the Liberty Crossing strip just southeast of Powell Road as more in line with what can be expected of the retail space in the POD.
“At the end of the day, we feel really good about these changes,” Cuckler went on to say. “We think this is a win-win, not only for the township, the schools, but also what I believe is a state-of-the-art type of planning and future development that we will see in Delaware County.”
Regarding potential road improvements the POD may necessitate, Cuckler said a traffic study can’t be conducted until the development team understands what has been approved. Moving forward, he said their traffic engineers will meet with county engineers for a traffic study that the township and its residents will be included in, something Cuckler said is not necessarily typical.
Gemperline lamented the lack of time allotted for reviewing the changes proposed to the POD, as well as the comments made by trustees during the meeting itself. In light of the new information and comments to be considered, Gemperline suggested postponing a vote for further consideration of the proposal.
“I don’t see any advantage to the township to rush to approve this tonight,” he said. “There’ll be no difference than doing it in a couple of weeks. As I said, we’ve had this in our hands — the latest version — for less than 12 business hours. That’s, I think, really out of order to expect a vote on this tonight.”
Eichhorn and Newell expressed their comfort in voting on the proposal that night, however, with each stating they have had ample time to do a deep dive into the proposed changes. Eichhorn said she has spent “countless hours” reviewing the proposal and making sure the requested changes have been made, and Monday’s dialogue during the meeting served to reinforce her comfortability with moving forward.
The approval comes despite a large contingency of township residents vehemently opposing the proposal from the jump. Many of those in opposition have pointed out the POD strays away from the Liberty Township Comprehensive Plan, which was most recently updated in 2018. According to Newell, however, the POD represents the best plan forward for the entire township.
“I think we’ve got to consider the folks that live here, and we’re trying our best within the process we were given,” Newell said prior to the vote. “And I know everybody has been submitting their constructive comments in the last month. It’s been very helpful. A lot of changes have been made. But in the end, we’ve got to do what is best for the township as a whole, and that’s what we were elected to do, is to represent all 30,000 people.”
Following the vote, Gemperline moved to put the POD on an upcoming ballot to allow the residents to ultimately decide its fate. Asked by Eichhorn for his thought process on wanting to send it to the ballot, Gemperline pointed out the large outcry from residents regarding the POD, adding “they are the community we all work for.”
Eichhorn and Newell challenged the idea and what it would mean for all future POD proposals having to go to the ballot, also pointing the previous POD approved in the township was not put on the ballot.
“This is a hard one for me because I think it is important that the residents constantly have a voice,” Eichhorn said of the motion. “That’s why we meet with the residents … but I think there is a process in place that we have for how we do our zoning, and once you start opening the gate up, voting on every single one, then, to me, that’s not even sustainable.”
Ultimately, Gemperline’s motion did not receive a second, and a vote was not taken. John Hartman, who lives on Clark-Shaw Road and has been one of the more outspoken residents on the proposal, said support for a referendum is “likely.”
“We citizens now have 30 days to collect signatures (8% of the vote for governor in 2018 in the unincorporated part of Liberty Township or approximately 725 signatures) and place a referendum on the ballot,” Hartman wrote in an email to The Gazette.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.