Let’s say you have a big idea, enough land for your big idea and the money lined up to make your big idea happen.
This is America, so your big idea should happen quickly, right?
Not so fast, though. Not in Ohio. If your big idea might happen in a zoned township, you’ll have to run through the committee Olympics first, jumping over hurdle after hurdle of non-elected people if you need to change the zoning on the property.
First you’d have to run your plans through the developmental controls committee of the Regional Planning Commission. It’s there to make sure you’re not causing “adverse environmental or economic effects” with your development. It’s also supposed to check your plans against the area’s long range comprehensive plan.
Then, armed with your completely non-binding yes or no vote from that committee, you get to head to the township’s zoning board. This similarly non-elected group gets to hear your proposal and say yes or no to it. It’s also not required to give you feedback on why it might be saying yes or no. By the way, its “no” vote is similarly non-binding.
The real power stays with the township trustees. This three-person board, selected by the residents of the township during its elections, gets the chance to review the information, weigh the feedback of the community and ultimately decide if changing that piece of property’s intended purpose will help or hinder the community as a whole.
And, for added fun, the county commissioners get a vote too, although it’s uncommon for the commissioners to vote against the will of the trustees. It’s more administrative to accept the changes into the county’s plans.
Does this sound unnecessarily complicated to you? Us too.
We’re seeing this process unfold with a rezoning request in Bath Township. The zoning commission voted 3-1 to keep five parcels along Harding Highway residential instead of rezoning them commercial. It’s mostly a symbolic vote, as the Bath trustees have the ultimate decision at a future meeting. Columbus-based developer Joe Smiley waits to see whether his proposed $1.3 million investment can happen or not.
Rather than passing through all these unelected groups, and thus boards not necessarily representing the will of the majority, you’re giving too much power to people not representative of their communities.
Much of this process is spelled out in the Ohio Revised Code’s Chapter 519. Large chunks of it remain from being put into place in October 1953, with some minor changes to it in September 1957. It’s has some minor revisions in the last 15 years, but now is a good time for Ohio’s legislature to really review it and ask if it’s the most effective way to do business.
The five-member zoning commission likely made a lot of sense when townships began pondering how their area should look in the future. It’s mostly become an unnecessary step that, frankly, doesn’t have the authority to decide anything. The ultimate decision remains with the township trustees.
Don’t get us wrong, we enjoy watching the public turn out to zoning commission meetings. It’s highly informative and entertaining. (Sorry, Regional Planning Commissioners aren’t nearly as much fun.) But the public is better served when the township trustees review all the information and decide what to do after hearing from the people they represent without the perception they’re going against the recommendations of the zoning commission or the Regional Planning Commission.
We urge the Legislature to review and simplify the process for zoning changes. The public deserves a direct voice, and the trustees don’t need the recommendations of multiple boards on how to do the work they’re elected to do.