But Hamilton County planners say that they are not promoting sprawl because their plan focuses on western Hamilton County as opposed to, for example, development strewn all the way into Indiana.
"The first thing you're going to try to do if you're trying to combat sprawl, is that you're trying to keep it contained," said Caroline Andrews, county planning services administrator.
But Glen Brand, director of the Sierra Club's local office, said that by choosing an aggressive growth option, the county's plan, "threatens the unique rural character of the community, endangers farmland, fragile hillsides and precious green space. It will also increase traffic congestion, worsen air and water quality, raise taxes for new infrastructure and result in a glut of undesired retail and commercial development."
The Sierra Club's report, SPARE America's Wildlands: The Sierra Club Plan to Protect Our National and Neighborhood Wild Places and Open Spaces, is part of a national campaign. It details threats to 52 neighborhoods, including western Hamilton County, and six national landscapes, including the Everglades, Northern Rockies and Sierra Nevada.
The report calls for the preservation of western Hamilton County's "unique qualities" -- slopes and hillsides, almost all of the county's remaining farmland, the Great Miami River and the extensive Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer system.
The county's Western Hamilton County Collaborative Plan calls for bringing sewer, water and utility lines, new roads and high-density residential and industrial zoning to the west side. It outlines proposed growth and infrastructure through 2020 for Colerain, Green, Crosby, Whitewater, Miami and Harrison townships, the city of Harrison and the villages of Addyston, North Bend and Cleves.
The Sierra Club and others are pushing for "smart growth" strategies that do not involve the taxpayer footing the bill for infrastructure improvements while developers go on an out-of-control building spree that results in endless sprawl, Brand said.
Last year, the national Sierra Club ranked Greater Cincinnati as the fourth most sprawl-threatened major metropolitan area in the country.
County officials have pushed for the development plan, saying that such planning is needed to prevent traffic congestion and other problems that will accompany inevitable growth. They also want development to draw tax-generating industry as well as residents who might otherwise leave the county, or settle in a neighboring county, in search of satisfactory housing and neighborhood services.
Brand said the Sierra Club wanted county planners to incorporate "smart growth" strategies that would provide safeguards. They include:
· Prohibiting development on hillsides with a slope greater than 12 degrees.
· Protecting all existing farmland through a conservation plan that could include buying the development rights so farmers would not be enticed to sell to developers.
· Prohibiting development in the Great Miami River corridors.
· No widening of roads, except for safety reasons, new roads or new bridges across the Ohio River until a "smart growth" land use plan is adopted.
· Charging developers fees to cover the complete cost of development.
County commissioners soon are expected to set a public hearing and vote on the plan's goals and maps, such as those the plan contains outlining sewer expansion.
"They will set the pace," Andrews said.
From there, elected officials in the 10 cities, villages and townships affected will be asked to pass resolutions outlining their support for the plans goals, sub-goals and maps, Andrews said.
After that, each local government will be asked to choose among the growth options the plan outlines as well as recommend their own, which then can be negotiated and revised with county planners, she said.
"We'll work with those local communities ...," Andrews said. "I know no communities are going to pick all 60 strategies (outlined in the plan)."
Andrews said the Sierra Club as well as residents who last year organized Concerned Citizens of Western Hamilton County in opposition to the plan, also needed to realize that because of the lack of provisions in state law, the county did not have as options some of the "smart growth" measures being used in other states such as Maryland. An example of such a measure is an urban growth boundary -- a designated area in which growth must stay.
"We can't do that ...," she said. "We're limited to what the Ohio Revised Code allows us to do."
Clare Johnson, Concerned Citizens of Western Hamilton County spokeswoman, said that the county certainly was allowed to preserve the environment and that a number of elected officials in western Hamilton County did not support the county's development plan. Still, she said that, unfortunately, there also were many who were pro-development, including officials in Green Township. As for them, the citizens would do exactly what they were allowed to do, said Johnson, who estimated her group's current membership at about 500 and growing every day.
"Our next step is to vote them out of office," she said. ©