Share

Local Senator: Act NOW to Preserve Township Zoning Rights

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Help Fortify Geauga fight to save Township zoning authority in Ohio.
Join us for Citizen Training on Monday, June 24.
Please click here to register

There was an important and lively meeting of the Geauga County Planning Commission on Tuesday, May 14th.  The main topic of the meeting, which drew an audience of a few dozen residents, was to discuss recent threats to township zoning authority coming from the Ohio Senate.  Senator Sandra O’Brien (R-32) was in attendance and fielded several questions from the Planning Commission and the audience.  Her message was straightforward:  NOW is the time for residents to let the Ohio Senate know we will not support any zoning changes from the state.

Background

Last year, Senate President Matt Huffman directed the Senate to form a Select Committee on Housing. Chaired by Senator Michele Reynolds (R-03),

“The goal of the Senate Select Committee on Housing is to learn more about what barriers currently exist and identify potential solutions to ensure that we have available, accessible, and affordable housing options for our growing Ohio Workforce and communities. From August 2023 to January 2024, the Committee held hearings around the state to gain a deeper understanding of Ohio’s housing crisis. We have also conducted site tours to get a first-hand look at existing housing inventory, models that offer solutions, and opportunity areas for housing revitalization.”

Ohio Senate Select Committee on Housing Report: “Housing Reimagined: Building a Solid Foundation for Ohio’s Future,” 2024

After their fact finding, the Select Committee determined township zoning rights are an impediment to Ohio’s housing development. Statewide, 38% of Ohioans reside in townships. Here in Geauga County, it’s 87%, which means our county has a great deal to lose if this committee targets township zoning authority.

Some parts of Ohio do appear to need more housing stock to keep up with development, notably the areas near Columbus, which are struggling to accommodate the new Intel plant awaiting construction and other impending projects. But many are sounding the alarm that the findings and future actions of the Select Committee on Housing will seek to apply broad regulations to the whole state that are neither necessary nor appropriate for every area. Attendees at the Planning Commission meeting expressed concern that the local government of 87% of our county’s residents might be stripped of zoning authority to help solve a problem in Columbus.

In an interview last month with Fortify Geauga, local Zoning Inspector, Chris Alusheff, described several downsides to replacing township zoning authority with a one-size-fits all plan mandated by the state. Most notably, it will be difficult or impossible to retain the individual character of townships if residents cannot shape their own zoning policies and development, as one plan applied to all townships cannot address the individual needs in each area. Another consideration is that state control of these issues will invite intrusive federal influence as well (see our post and interview with Mr. Alusheff).

In 2022, residents of Chester Township were reminded of the power of township zoning authority when developers sought to change zoning regulations to allow for high-density housing. There was a groundswell of citizen opposition to the proposed zoning amendment and the developer’s plans were defeated. Mr. Alusheff and others now warn the Senate Committee may be poised to threaten our ability to affect these outcomes by altering or abolishing township zoning rights.

The Committee’s Findings and Legislation

The report published by the Senate Select Committee on Housing lists 23 recommendations, at least 6 of which would alter township zoning authority and impede the rights of citizens in townships to put housing referenda on their ballots. (See “Housing Reimagined: Building a Solid Foundation for Ohio’s Future,” 2024 pages 84-87, items 2, 10, 12, 17, 18, 23). Indeed, the Committee has introduced legislation, Senate Bill 243, titled “Declare intent to address local zoning that impedes housing.” The language of the bill has not yet been released, but the threat to local zoning is clear.

This legislation and more was discussed at the May 14th Geauga County Planning Commission meeting. In fact, seven different bills were discussed in a very detailed report delivered by Planning Director Linda Crombie. At the request of citizens present, Ms. Crombie’s Memorandum was shared with the public.

Danger to Zoning Authority Confirmed by Senator O’Brien, Geauga County officials

Ohio Senator Sandra O’Brien attended as a special guest of the Planning Commission. She reiterated that the Senate Select Committee on Housing’s report and the trajectory of their legislation does indeed pose a threat to township zoning authority throughout Ohio. While some of the Select Committee’s recommendations might seem trivial, Senator O’Brien emphasized, “If you let them nitpick, they’re going to keep nitpicking. Be careful.” Senator O’Brien reported she has discussed the Committee’s work with Committee Chair, Senator Michele Reynolds. Senator O’Brien told Senator Reynolds, “My district is not for ANY zoning changes.”

Also in attendance were Johnathan Tiber, President of the Geauga County Township Association and Chris Alusheff, Zoning Inspector for Claridon and Chester Townships. (See our post and interview with Mr. Alusheff here.) Mr. Tiber related that all the Township Trustees in Geauga County are aware of this issue and, according to his conversations, they all seem to be firmly against allowing any statewide zoning changes. On behalf of the GCTA, Mr. Tiber is preparing a letter to the Senate stating opposition to any statewide zoning changes. He anticipates all Township Trustees and Fiscal Officers will sign the letter, sending a powerful statement to the Senate on our county’s willingness to fight these maneuvers from the Senate. Reportedly, Logan, Union, and Champaign counties have drafted similar letters.

Citizen Action Vehemently Encouraged

Senator O’Brien stated several times that citizens need to act now to safeguard our township zoning authority, “You need to be vocal now saying you are totally against zoning changes.” She outlined several specific steps and offered helpful tips. For instance, she strongly encourages constituents to email their legislators, rather than calling or sending handwritten notes. Even though Senators and Representatives do not usually have time to read every email, their Legislative Aides do read them and they keep count of the number of constituents who write in opposition or support of legislation. (Note: All emails sent to government officials become part of the public record.) She urged Geauga County residents to do all of the following:

  • Contact your own Senator and Representative (even though Senator O’Brien already knows many Geaugans are against this zoning takeover, it’s still useful for her office to receive emails so they can be counted)
  • Contact Senate President, Matt Huffman
  • Contact Speaker of the House, Jason Stephens
  • Contact Governor DeWine
  • In all communications, be direct and respectful. Let your legislators know you are against any statewide changes to township zoning rights.
  • When pertinent legislation receives hearings, travel to Columbus to testify in opposition or submit written testimony to the Committee ahead of the hearing (Check back on www.FortifyGeauga.org for updates and instructions, and sign up for our weekly Newsletter.)

Whole-Community Effort is Needed

Here at Fortify Geauga, we believe in the power of citizen action to safeguard our rights and protect our county. More of our neighbors need to be aware of this threat to the zoning rights that allow us to shape the development of our townships. In addition to the steps above, please do all you can to make your friends and neighbors aware of this issue:

  • Share this post via email, text and social media
  • Write letters to local newspapers alerting our community to this issue (feel free to mention our website, www.FortifyGeauga.org for more information)
  • Join us as we alert the community – if you would like to help us go door-to-door to alert neighbors to this issue, please contact us at FortifyGeauga@proton.me.
  • Join us on Monday, May 20th for a Patriot Potluck where we will have updates on this issue from local Zoning Inspector, Chris Alusheff. The event is free but registration is required.

2 Responses

  1. 05/17/2024

    […] the time for residents to let the Ohio Senate know where we stand on this issue.  Please read Local Senator: Act NOW to Preserve Township Zoning Rights for details on her comments and exactly who should be contacted.  Your voice is needed!  […]

  2. 06/05/2024

    […] on this issue. Please see a detailed description of her comments and suggestions in our post, Local Senator: Act NOW to Preserve Township Zoning Rights. Her suggestions […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *