Their property has bordered lush, green farmland since they moved to Gahanna seven years ago and if Mick and Joyce Rings had a choice, they would keep it that way.
Beyond their backyard fence, towering Jefferson Township trees provide shade, security and a scenic view. Lucy, the neighbor's spotted horse, trots over to munch apples. They pet Boo, their black cat, and enjoy the silence on their patio.
Recently, their backyard border has become a point of contention. Gahanna officials are in the preliminary stages of annexing the adjacent township land, where a developer would build nearly 100 homes. The project would abut many existing homes, including properties in the Village at Hannah Farms, where the Rings live.
It's a complicated topic for the Rings: Their Heritage Street home sits on former township property that was annexed, after all, and development means the city is growing.
But many area residents say the project is too dense for their rural oasis. A change.org petition opposing it has netted nearly 500 signatures. The plan has also sparked animosity between the city and Jefferson Township, whose elected officials have issued a public statement against it.
"We're not against development, if it's done responsibly," Mick Rings said. "But this has caused a lot of ill will. You have to wonder if it's worth it."
M/I Homes, the project's developer, originally offered the project to township trustees but the plans fizzled over density, they said.
The 63-acre proposal, if approved, would be built south of the Village at Hannah Farms, near Clark State, Reynoldsburg-New Albany and Darling roads. The entrance would be off Reynoldsburg-New Albany Road.
M/I Homes hopes to offer ranch houses aimed at "empty-nesters," each costing about $450,000, said Kevin Zeppernick, vice president of land. Each home, an estimated 2,500 to 4,000 square feet, would sit on about two-thirds of an acre, requiring zoning changes. Current zoning in the area permits one home per 5 acres.
The plan is a work in progress with no settled details, Gahanna City Council President Stephen Renner said.
The first step: Council members must OK a pre-annexation agreement. The document outlines requirements a developer must follow but doesn't approve the project.
If council members approve the agreement, the five owners of the property to be annexed and M/I Homes would then petition Franklin County to begin the annexation process, which could take several months, Zeppernick said.
A pre-annexation agreement was introduced to council members July 5. They were scheduled to vote on it July 18 but pushed the vote to today after a handful of city and township residents spoke out against the project, voicing concerns about its density and the impact on nearby roads, public services and schools.
It's anticipated the development would add 45 new students to the Gahanna-Jefferson school district, according to interim Superintendent Scott Schmidt. Freshman Eric Cox, who created the change.org petition, said he's concerned about overcrowding already full school buildings.
Despite public opposition, Renner said the project would be a positive addition to Gahanna. M/I Homes officials have renegotiated several aspects of the project such as construction materials and green space requirements, and are reconsidering whether to turn part of Darling Road into a restricted emergency access for the development. Road improvements could be forthcoming, based on the results of traffic studies and discussions with engineers.
A new community authority, a separate public body governed by a board of trustees, would oversee the development and levy a 7-mill "community-development" tax on its properties. The taxes would maintain the development, while also generating about $32,000 in yearly revenue for the city, Renner said.
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