Middletown development remains uncertain more than four months after first proposal

·4 min read

Aug. 9—Four months after a developer and Middletown residents spoke during a public hearing regarding a housing project on land previously owned by Middletown Regional Hospital, no City Council votes have been cast regarding the legislation.

The third public hearing was held last week after the developer, D.R. Horton, submitted its second alternate design for the 16.64 acres owned by Oaks Community Church, which purchased the land from the hospital for $500,000 in 2016, according to the Butler County Auditor's Office.

Like the previous public hearings, this one was well attended and people on both sides expressed their views passionately. The public hearing lasted one hour, 40 minutes and included comments from the developer, a pastor from the church and residents.

If approved, as a part of the Planned Development process, the Hill Property would be rezoned to "Planned Development District" to acknowledge there is a development plan associated with the property, according to the city. If that happens, the final development plan will require review by the Planning Commission through the public hearing process.

At the June 21 meeting City Council voted 3-1 to give D.R. Horton additional time to make another presentation. Mayor Nicole Condrey voted no and council member Tal Moon, who is affiliated with the church, abstained as he has throughout the process.

If Moon doesn't vote on the ordinance, three of the four other council members would have to vote for it to pass. It's unclear whether legislation will be placed on the agenda for the next City Council meeting set for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 16 in City Council Chambers.

Representatives from D.R. Horton first proposed a 53 single-family development, but after receiving negative feedback from residents of the neighboring historic district, another plan was proposed. This one featured 50 homes.

Then last week, Rob Smith from D.R. Horton, who earlier said the development had to be at least 50 homes to make it financially feasible because converting the former hospital property will be "an expensive site to develop," presented a plan that included 44 homes built on larger lots.

"A good plan," Smith said.

Those in favor of the project said Middletown needs high-end residential housing — Hill Property homes are expected to sell for $350,000 to $400,000 — to attract younger professionals and increase nearby property values.

Rob Chambers, 35, a member of Oaks Community Church, said local businesses are always looking for local talent to fill jobs.

"We are missing opportunities," he said.

David Bender, who works at Procter and Gamble in Mason and served on the city's Master Plan Commission, said City Council has the "opportunity to do good for the city" and the plan was the "best for Middletown."

Those against the plan said they understand the property will eventually be developed, but they don't like the density of the project. They want the development to look more like the larger homes in the historic district.

"We want the right plan," said Chris Lacy, one of those who spoke against the project. He wants "what's best for Middletown and that shouldn't be lost."

He's also concerned about the lack of available parking for residents and their guests.

"Scrap this idea," he told council. "This is a shiny penny."

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TIMELINE FOR PROPOSED HILL PROJECT

Jan. 4, 2016: Oaks Community Church purchases four parcels that include 16.64 acres from Middletown Regional Hospital for $500,000.

Feb. 9, 2022: Middletown Planning Commission votes to table the vote on the project.

March 9: Planning Commission approves the Hill Preliminary Development Plan and Map Amendment for a new subdivision that proposes 50 single-family homes with public streets.

April 19: City Council holds first public hearing. Pastors from the church, a representative from D.R. Horton and a Middletown attorney speak in support of the project, while 10 residents voice their concerns about the project due to its density and potential problems it could create near the historic district.

May 3: The legislation is pulled from the City Council agenda to give the developers and city leaders more time to "evaluate," according to a city official. Council was scheduled to hear the second reading, then vote on the legislation.

June 7: City Council holds second public hearing regarding the first alternate design. Representatives from D.R. Horton present three options for the property. Nine Middletown residents, including two Realtors, say they're against the plan and no one speaks in support.

June 21: Developer asks City Council to pull legislation from agenda to give more time to create another plan.

Aug. 2: City Council holds third public hearing regarding second alternate design. Many residents speak in favor of and against the plan.

SOURCES: Journal-News archives, city of Middletown records, Butler County Auditor's Office records