They thought it all along, but now it has become painfully clear. Residents are getting a raw deal out of the "advisory only" development plan for western Hamilton County, the Sierra Club and Concerned Citizens of Western Hamilton County say.
The Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission decided on July 1 that the Western Hamilton County Collaborative Plan, which was to help curb too much development from overtaking the area, would be only a framework for each local township and municipality to work from when planning development.
But those local decisions on development will not have true authority because the county has control over when, where and how the public sewer system will be extended. And that control over sewers ultimately dictates when, where and how development will occur.
"Not only have they taken the teeth out of the plan, they've taken the gums out as well," said Sierra Club spokesman Glen Brand, who has said in the past that the plan was only a smoke screen for aggressive development.
The Sierra Club has joined Concerned Citizens of Western Hamilton County, who are more than 500 members strong and have packed commissioners' meetings to fight the plan of high-density residential, industrial and infrastructure development.
Brand said that making the plan only a framework for local communities to work with is the worst decision the planning commission could have made.
Now, sewers, a major part of infrastructure, will be at the residents' expense and the developers' benefit, Brand said.
"The sad part is that for the first time, the Hamilton County commissioners made an attempt for a land use plan," Brand said. "It's now just like any other project for development that will promote sprawl."
But Hamilton County Administrator David Krings said the county's having control over sewer construction should not take any control away from each township, village or municipality in deciding where development should happen in their areas.
One of the ways communities can direct development is through zoning, he said.
"Development is going to happen whether sewers are going in or not," Krings said.
Putting sewers in when development starts will prevent environmental or health hazards, he said.
Krings said that when a decision comes up about development, townships and municipalities can refer back to the plan.
"If the plan says that one place is bad for sewers, then another place will have to be found," he said. "Each one is a separate decision, and we can't anticipate what will happen."
But any decision about whether a new sewer system will be put in place is up to the county, Krings said.
Right now, sewers are being planned where there is a "demonstrated need" because of health and environmental concerns, he said.
The Metropolitan Sewer District is planning for sewers on the basis of need, spokeswoman Ann Newsom said.
"We have preliminary plans for where sewers would go when sewers are needed," she said.
The Quality Upgrade for Effective Sewage Treatment (QUEST) is a preparedness plan that focuses not only on western Hamilton County but some communities on the east side of the county as well.
"We are ready should a developer start to build and needs it," Newsom said.
She said 35 percent of Hamilton County is without public sewers. The majority of that percentage is on the west side of the county, she said.
The QUEST plan also prepares for when health or other concerns dictate that a public sewer system is necessary, Newsom said.
One example, she said, is Valley Ridge Road in Green Township, where a public health hazard has been identified. There is a high level of pollution and disease-causing material because of private sewage systems in that area, which have a 20 percent failure rate, according to the Hamilton County General Health District.
The Sierra Club and residents understand the need for some new sewers, Brand said. But no longer having a land use plan makes it easier for sewers to be put in even where they are not needed, he said.
"What they have done is broken it down to a simple equation that means sewers and new roads added with no land use plans equals more sprawl," Brand said.
The county commissioners are expected to decide on the plan next month. ©