Miller Lane compared to The Greene: Development by chance or choice

Miller Lane didn’t kill the Salem Mall, but it sure cost the taxpayers a ton of money. The Greene didn’t kill the Fairfield Commons Mall, or the Dayton Mall- but it also has cost the taxpayers a ton of money. The question is, which one gave us something worthy of the expense? And, why are the two developments in former farm land so different?

It comes down to jurisdictional differences for the most part- Miller Lane was built in an urban township and the Greene was built in a city which requires different zoning and regulations. We have different playing fields in the same competitive landscape, which create grossly different outcomes. Comparing the two a few years out, we find both have added costs to government in terms of police and fire response. At Miller Lane, they’ve talked about taxing workers to pay for police protection, and at the Greene, neighboring Kettering, which gets no revenue from the jobs or even the sales tax- has had to increase police responses to a small city built on its front doorstep.

Miller Lane started out as an outpost for WalMart with a new Sam’s Club. If you notice, it’s WalMart’s preference to move into unincorporated areas where zoning rules are much different than in cities. It’s been proven that the company is not above paying bribes to governments (in Mexico clearly, here- not as clear) to have their way in terms of transforming the landscape. We’ve also seen that these locations can just be temporary stops along the way- look at the empty former WalMart in Trotwood, or in Xenia, where communities are promised the world, but are only best friends until after the doors open. No master plan, no sidewalks, nothing resembling anything other than dropping buildings from the sky on streets not built for the kind of traffic that would come, so of course, to subsidize all this, the taxpayers had to fund the new highway interchange. Now, we’re looking at diverting more tax revenue to build the things that should have been required to begin:

And starting this summer, visitors will start to see other improvements to the area, including new sidewalks and lights to encourage more pedestrian traffic.

The sidewalks and lights are part of a 75-page report and recommendation from Jacobs Engineering of Cincinnati that creates a vision for the area that includes improved branding, bike paths, a community park and better-positioned RTA bus stops. Butler Twp. trustees commissioned the long-range plan last year that includes information and suggestions to develop, redevelop and connect the 552-acre area near the intersections of Interstates 70 and 75.

The report was shared with business people in the area this week, and though it has not been formally presented at a council meeting, all the trustees have seen it. It will be presented to the zoning board in March and the trustees in April. The report cost the township $50,000, which came out of TIF funds.

“Having a master plan is always a good thing,” Kolodesh said. His company has developed several areas along Miller Lane and is working on more. “We’re still working on plans with the township, and we purchased the bonds for York Commons Boulevard. We want to maintain our commitment to the area.” York Commons Boulevard is an east-west artery in the area.

All parties involved — from township officials to Jacobs Engineering to developers such as Singer — said no cost estimate or future job availability has been determined related to the plan. But they agree that as the area is made more attractive with sidewalks, improved lighting, foliage and street furniture, more businesses will sign on.

“I think it’s important for us to have an idea — and the township to guide — what we want that to look like,” said township trustee Mike Lang. “It could change along the way. This gives us a sort of cohesive vision about how to tie all that together.”

The area’s first development was Sam’s Club, in 1994, by Singer Properties, on the west side of Miller Lane. WalMart followed, then smaller businesses, restaurants and hotels.

Other than a township zoning board, no one guided the process, and parcels of land are owned by several different entities. There are very few sidewalks and plenty of parking lots. It’s mostly vehicle-driven. Even people who stay overnight in hotels might have to use their cars just to cross the street to a restaurant. Trustees want to make it a more pedestrian-friendly area.

“The most immediate concern is for the people who come and stay (in hotels) have an ability to get around,” Lang said.

The sidewalks will cost about $200,000 and be paid for by the area’s TIF fund. Future development will be paid out of the township’s general fund, state funds, grants and possible levies.

Outlined in the report are several items to enhance the area, including:

  • Sidewalks will be laid this summer on Commerce Center Drive from Benchwood to the Sam’s parking lot.
  • Signage will be erected at the northern and southern ends of the development.
  • RTA bus stops will be repositioned for better access, and cutouts will enable buses to pull over and not block traffic.

Trustees also are considering creating a park or gathering place for events that would be surrounded by businesses and condominium-type housing, which would require some rezoning.

Paul Cutler, director of community planning for Jacobs, said there has been no plan for the area until now.

“That all happened through chance,” Cutler said. The township wants to play off the positives and carry through in subsequent developments.”

via Miller Lane seeing more growth.

And while The Greene also has a TIF and a JEDD and a bunch of diverted tax improvements for the benefits of the owners, the entire process did a few things very different with a very different value outcome. The Greene provided for pedestrians from the start, and also included housing. Its mixed use has attracted a live-work-play ecosystem that efficiently utilizes a much smaller footprint and an existing highway exit (yes, roads had to be widened). And while there was some shuffling of business into The Greene from other locations, it also brought genuinely new businesses to the area.

At the root of this comparison is the question of the value of zoning laws- do they have value to the community or not? While some argue that Houston Texas style no zoning is a driver of growth, we can look at these two developments and analyze which approach gave us more for our bucks. I’m pretty sure that in the long run, The Greene will show a much more effective investment for the taxpayers due to it’s holistic approach and focus on the human experience over Miller Lane’s focus on business bottom lines.

It’s time Ohio addresses the lameness of the urban township existence in a modern world. By leveling the playing field, simplifying jurisdictions and reducing the number of different jurisdictions we will see our tax dollars invested in better designed and thought out developments that return real value for our increasingly limited tax dollars.

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