Franklin Township residents voice concerns over proposed annexation

Meranda Watling

County commissioners held a special meeting yesterday to facilitate a discussion – not necessarily between the community and the commissioners, but among the community itself.

Yesterday’s meeting dealt with the proposed annexation of nearly 50 acres of Franklin Township to the city of Kent. In order to go ahead with the annexation, it must have the approval of the Portage County Commissioners.

If no letter opposing the annexation is received by Monday, the commissioners will vote at their meeting Tuesday. If a letter is received, they will decide at their meeting Feb. 16.

“The law doesn’t allow us to have any more of a public hearing, so we decided to have a public forum,” County Commissioner Chuck Keiper said.

Throughout the meeting, the commissioners reiterated that current annexation laws do not permit them to deny the annexation if the property owner seeking annexation does everything properly.

“Ohio gives the land owner the choice to be under whichever jurisdiction it wants to be,” County Commissioner Chris Smeiles said. “Once all is said and done, the law says we must approve (the annexation).”

Concerned about the impact the annexation and, more importantly, the potential development could have on the surrounding area, community members attended the meeting to discuss it.

Franklin Township resident Delbert Stewart voiced concerns about the negative effect the proposed development of the annexed land would have on his property. Stewart was concerned especially about the potential water run-off, which in the past had been a problem.

“If he (Bob Heimann) goes through with this process, and something does happen, who’s going to take responsibility?” Stewart said.

Heimann, who owns the property and has overseen other area developments in the past, said the city of Kent will look after the residents.

Heimann said he’d previously filed for annexation, but the city required him to spend a year studying the possible impacts, including the water run-off issues.

“I don’t have a track record of flooding,” he said. “I have a track record of not flooding.”

Denise Smith, civil division chief for the Portage County Prosecutor’s Office, said the commissioners can’t take these issues into consideration because “the state does not give us authority to address storm water; therefore, we have no authority to address storm water.”

Keiper said although residents’ concerns were valid, the commissioners’ hands are tied. He also noted the annexation will not directly cause the negative effects Stewart and others are concerned about.

“Simply redrawing a property line won’t have those impacts,” Keiper said, expressing regret that the law doesn’t allow them consideration of such potential impacts.

Smith said the annexation only determines whose laws the property owner must obey.

Zoning laws come into play on some economic issues raised, including how the developments would affect the value of neighboring homes, Smeiles said.

Franklin Township will continue to maintain the section of Newcomer Road originally included in the annexation proposal, Franklin Township Trustee Mark Beckwith said. Beckwith also said the three trustees were unanimous in their disapproval of the annexation and may write a letter to the commissioners.

Despite the issues raised at the meeting, the commissioners would need a legal reason for denying annexation.

“The property owner wants to be in Kent city jurisdiction apparently,” Smeiles said. “If they cross the t’s and dot the i’s we have to, by law, give that to them.”

The point of the meeting was to get stakeholders together to discuss the issues at hand, Smeiles said. Heimann volunteered to meet with others to discuss concerns.

“A lot of your issues I’m sure Bob (Heimann) is going to work on with you,” Smeiles said.

Contact public affairs reporter Meranda Watling at [email protected]