Liberty Township residents will have their say after all on the controversial planned overlay district (POD) that was approved by the township trustees in March. This week, the Delaware County Board of Elections voted to certify a referendum that will now be placed on the November ballot, leaving the fate of the POD in the hands of the residents.
On March 15, by a 2-1 vote, township trustees approved POD 18, which would create an approximately 190-acre zoning overlay between Liberty Road and Sawmill Parkway, north of Hyatts Road. The approved POD proposal includes a mixture of future uses ranging from commercial buildings to a medical facility and multifamily housing.
Throughout the process, much of the outspokenness from residents came in opposition to the POD. Many who attended the meetings pointed to the fact the Liberty Township Zoning Commission’s recommendation to the trustees, by a 4-1 vote, was to not approve the overlay. Others claimed the POD proposal flew directly in the face of the Liberty Township Comprehensive Plan, which was most recently approved in 2018.
A total of 713 signatures — 8% of the vote for governor in 2018 in the unincorporated part of Liberty Township — were needed to submit the petition, but more than 1,300 signatures were collected. The BOE validated 1,134 of the signatures prior to voting on the petition for a referendum. Organizers of the petition had 30 days from the date of the POD’s approval to collect the signatures and submit the request for a referendum.
“I consider it a Herculean effort because the circulators had less than 30 days (to collect the required signatures), we were still in a socially distancing pandemic, and the weather was dicey at best,” said township resident John Hartman of the referendum. “I think it is fair to point out that the trustees had the option to place the measure on the ballot to be voted on by the residents of unincorporated Liberty Township and refused. Clearly, they were not listening to nor doing the will of the public as the overwhelming success of the petition drive shows.”
Following the vote to approve the POD in March, Trustee Mike Gemperline, who was the lone vote against the POD, made a motion to send the proposal to the ballot in order to let residents be the final decision-makers. Gemperline cited the considerable lack of support residents had shown for the proposal, saying, “They are the community we all work for.”
Gemperline’s motion was not seconded by either of his fellow trustees, Shyra Eichhorn and Bryan Newell, who questioned the precedent sending the proposal to the ballot might create.
“This is a hard one for me because I think it is important that the residents constantly have a voice,” Eichhorn said of Gemperline’s 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.”
Later, Eichhorn informed The Gazette that the trustees didn’t have the legal authority to vote to send the zoning amendment to the ballot, although there was no discussion on the legality of a vote at the time of Gemperline’s motion.
There remains the possibility the development team could file a protest against the referendum, although Delaware County Board of Elections Director Karla Herron said no such protest has yet been filed. However, in anticipation of a protest, a tentative date for the hearing has been set for Thursday, June 3, at 9 a.m.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.