The controversial Planned Overlay District (POD) 18 in Liberty Township remains on track to move forward following the removal of a referendum regarding the POD on the November ballot.
POD 18 was approved by the Liberty Township Board of Trustees on March 15 and 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.
Following the trustees’ vote for approval in March, township residents opposing the POD rallied to file a petition for a referendum to the Delaware County Board of Elections, which was certified by the board in May. 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.
However, after the developers filed a protest against the referendum, a hearing on June 28 led to a 3-0 vote by the board to uphold the protest and remove the referendum; Steve Cuckler, who sits on the board but is also providing legal representation for the developers of the POD, has recused himself throughout the process.
Delaware County Board of Elections Director Karla Herron said the board ultimately decided the language of the referendum was not adequate in explaining the critical details of the referendum to those in Liberty Township who would ultimately decide its fate.
“(The board) felt that the summary on the ballot, the average voter just wouldn’t really understand it,” Herron told The Gazette. “During the meeting, it was noted there weren’t really words on the summary that said what it was zoned currently and what it would be changed to. It also didn’t have an address point or parcel numbers. For several reasons (Board of Elections member) Peg (Watkins) listed, they just felt it was not complete or accurate enough for a voter to understand what they are voting on.”
John Hartman, a township resident who lives in the area and has been among the most vocal in speaking out against the POD, questioned the board’s decision to evaluate the ability of residents to comprehend the referendum.
“This was peculiar because the residents of the unincorporated part of Liberty Township have one of the highest education levels in the country, and most were already aware of the issue because of significant media coverage and social media coverage and debate,” he said, adding that the language on the referendum was “a direct copy of the trustees’ resolution.”
Asked if there is any recourse for the residents to still get the referendum on the ballot in November, Herron said those residents could seek litigation on the issue with the Ohio Supreme Court.
Hartman said of the path forward for residents, “The matter is almost certain to be appealed by the neighbors’ legal counsel to the Ohio Supreme Court, which handles all election-related disputes … My experience is that the Ohio Supreme Court tends to uphold the right of citizens to petition their government for the opportunity to vote on local zoning matters, and I believe that the high court will overrule the board of elections and order it to place the matter on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.