Some Ohio cities want a referendum to stop the annexation reform bill awaiting the governor's signature.
By AMANDA C. DAVIS
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Eugene and Mary Lou Mahaffey say they have little control over the future of their North River Road property.
They've lived in their home 38 years and are being swept up in a zoning change they want no part of.
To head off further annexations from Howland Township into Warren, the township zoning board recently agreed to change zoning for 27 parcels along North River and North roads from residential to a designation that would allow for professional offices, libraries, government buildings and schools, but not retail and commercial developments.
The change was recommended to give property owners more flexibility to use their land because Warren would likely be willing to annex it and zone it commercially, officials said.
Though township trustees must still approve the measure, the Mahaffeys, whose property is among the 27, say they're sure it's a done deal.
They said they don't really want the zoning change and they don't want to be annexed into Warren. They just want to be left alone.
"We want to know who determines that this should be done," Eugene Mahaffey said.
Stronger voice: Mayor Hank Angelo and Mike Keys, director of Warren Redevelopment and Planning, are working with other cities to coordinate a statewide effort opposing a bill that would give townships a stronger voice in the annexation process.
Senate Bill 5, which would revise municipal annexation law, has passed the House and Senate.
Gov. Bob Taft is expected to sign the bill Friday. It would become law 90 days later, Howland Township Administrator John Emanuel said
The argument is simple.
Cities say the bill stifles growth. Townships say current law leaves them helpless in allowing cities to gobble up rural land.
The Mahaffeys said they don't want to see Howland lose land to Warren and zoning and annexation regulations should be revamped to give property owners more say in the process, not politicians.
"It isn't left up to us," Mary Lou Mahaffey said. "It's whatever they want."
The most recent Howland property to be annexed to Warren is the Sheetz gas station on state Route 46.
Emanuel said Howland would not adjust its zoning to accommodate the gas station because it would increase the volume of traffic in the area.
The property owner decided to annex when Warren agreed to the needed zoning change.
The proposed zone change for the 27 parcels is designed to prevent the same thing from happening along Howland's border with Warren.
Talking strategy: Angelo said Warren officials were in a statewide conference call July 6 in which mayors, city managers and economic development officials discussed strategy in stopping Senate Bill 5.
The cost of a referendum has been estimated at $30,000, Angelo said.
In a letter to officials from other cities, Angelo explained, "The members of the coalition feel very strongly that we must take this fight to the people in order to protect the property rights of all the citizens of Ohio."
Emanuel said the bill will level the playing field, giving county commissioners more criteria to consider and allowing cities and townships to pursue tax-sharing agreements.
Right now, commissioners weigh whether a proposed annexation would be unreasonably large and whether the property borders the municipality seeking to annex it.
It also takes into account whether an annexation would serve the common good.
Angelo has volunteered to head the local effort, drumming up support among officials in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
The city lobbying effort is not as strong as the townships', Angelo said, noting the goal is for each of Ohio's 88 counties to be represented by cities opposing the change.
The mayor said he contacted leaders in 12 communities, urging them to contribute $230 each toward the $3,000 Mahoning/Trumbull share of the referendum cost. It is recommended that donations be sought, instead of using public money.
Letters were sent to Campbell, Canfield, McDonald, Sebring, Lordstown, Cortland, Hubbard, Youngstown, Struthers, Niles, Newton Falls and Girard.
The bill: Under Senate Bill 5, cities would have to reimburse townships for property taxes lost through annexation and county commissioners would be required to look at the overall good of the area proposed for annexation, instead of considering only the wishes of the property owner filing an annexation petition.
"Annexation has always been a battle," Keys said. "This [bill] would tip the scales in the townships' favor."
He did not elaborate but said a controversial annexation is on the horizon and is sure to spur a major battle between Warren and Howland. A property owner he wouldn't name is preparing to file an application to annex a tract of undeveloped land.
Emanuel said he's not aware of any annexation petitions brewing.
If townships get their way, Angelo said, cities will be landlocked and their survival threatened.
"We need additional land to increase our tax base," he said.
Revising annexation law is a step in the right direction, Emanuel said, noting that the Ohio Townships Association in Columbus has been pushing for this for at least 10 years.