Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings, left, addresses city council as safety and service director Dick Donley (right) looks on. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings, left, addresses city council as safety and service director Dick Donley (right) looks on. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Hillsboro administration gave an update on the status of various uptown buildings as well as a report on a proposed hotel and restaurant development in the city of Hillsboro during Hillsboro city council’s Sept. 9 meeting.

Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings and safety and service director Dick Donley spoke about several buildings in the city limits, including the Parker House and three uptown buildings awaiting demolition.

Council member Ann Morris asked for an update on the Parker House, which is in her committee (the property maintenance and restoration committee). Hastings said dealings with the Parker House have “taken a turn for the weird.”

“We decided we weren’t going to just take the building and pay for its demolition,” Hastings said. “We backed off on that and told them [the Hope family] that a while back.


“They prepared a deed, signed it over to us without anybody accepting it, took it to the county and had it recorded and had it put in our name. I have a feeling we’ll definitely be in court over this. It just took a very odd turn.”

According to the Highland County Recorder’s website, the document filed is a quit-claim deed releasing the property at 137 West Main Street to the Hillsboro Area Economic Development Corporation. The document was prepared by Taylor Trout of Keating Muething & Klekamp PLL. It was recorded Aug. 26.

As previously reported, another attorney with that firm, Joseph L. Trauth, Jr., sent a letter, dated July 23, on behalf of Linda Hope Doerger that was given to council ahead of their August meeting.

“My client has an agreement with the City and the Mayor, which we expect to be honored,” Trauth wrote. “In that agreement, signed April 29, 2019, by the Mayor, and notarized, the Parker House is to be donated to the City of Hillsboro. A deed to that effect has been delivered to the City. The Parker House property will be demolished by the City, at its expense. All six of the provisions of that agreement have been fulfilled, and we would expect to receive a written notice from the City immediately stating that the City will honor that agreement as of July 10, 2019, when the deed was delivered to the City.”

The letter said that if the city does not provide “written acknowledgment … we will take all legal action necessary to enforce that agreement and hold the City responsible for any costs associated with that action.”

Morris also asked about barricades blocking the Parker House and some West Main Street businesses, including Momma’s West Main Cafe, which has been closed since a building on West Main partially collapsed June 3.

Donley told council that city officials met with the Southern Ohio Historic Preservation Investment Group to do a “walk-through” of their properties (125 through 135 West Main) with engineers and are awaiting the results of that meeting.

“We had a very nice, relaxed discussion,” Donley said. “We can maybe get Momma’s going soon.

“We should know by Wednesday or Thursday. They’re supposed to get a report back to us, and that report is going to inform us what their engineer feels about the safety of the building. If he is able to sign off on that and put his signature and stamp on it, it can open soon thereafter.”

Donley said the city will likely be able to move some of the barricades “to give Momma’s more parking space” once the restaurant can reopen, although they will “probably have to leave the ones up by the Parker House” as well as by the soon-to-be demolition site.

Donley said that the city is “getting extremely close” to an agreement on the demolition of the three buildings on West Main Street, pending confirmation from the owners of two of the buildings. As previously reported, the city will likely be filing a quit-claim deed for the former Slow & Low building and paying for its demolition.

“I think the city is willing to bite off that chunk to see this get cleaned up,” Donley said. “I’m hoping by this time next month, we have got some progress made.”

As previously reported, a tentative agreement has been reached to accept a total bid of $62,275 from Evans Landscaping to demolish three buildings at 119 W. Main, 117 W. Main and 115 W. Main. Donley spoke about the benefits of using that contractor.

“They said they would do all projects at one time while they’re here, rather than doing them in steps,” Donley said. “I think they’re even considering [installing] the fountain [at the Highland County courthouse] while they’re in town.”

In other building discussion, Hastings updated council on properties acquired by the Hillsboro Area Economic Development Corporation. The former BP station on West Main Street was recently purchased by the HAEDC.

“The CIC will shortly be entertaining offers to purchase that property,” Hastings said. “I do know that they would like to see somewhat of a plan for development because they would like to see what a possible buyer may want to do with the property. Any interested parties should probably contact the city, and we’ll put them in touch with the CIC [Community Improvement Corporation].”

Hastings also discussed the Gross Feibel property, which he said the HAEDC previously acquired in 2017. The mayor told council that bids for the building’s demolition were requested in conjunction with bids for the demolition of three West Main Street properties.

“The CIC is awaiting bids this week for demolition,” Hastings said. “We kind of took advantage of the fact that bidders were here on the uptown West Main Street properties and asked them to kind of, you know, at the same time do a bid for Gross Feibel and maybe save a little money on that.

“It’s a large site, and we need to find the funds to get the site down and cleared for development.”

• • •

Also during the mayor’s report, Hastings told city council that the fate of a proposed hotel development at state Route 73 and Harry Sauner Road rests largely with the Hillsboro City Schools Board of Education’s approval of a TIF [Tax Increment Financing] district.

“Talks have been going on for over a year, and Mr. Donley and I had a conference call with the developer just last week,” Hastings said. “Only one hurdle remains, I’m happy to say, to get the developer to commit to this hotel and restaurant project also, and that is getting the Hillsboro school board to approve a TIF agreement specific to that property.”

Hastings said the TIF would be “an incentive for the developer, offsetting some of their infrastructure costs, like curbs, sidewalks, sewer lines, etc., prior to the building going up.”

If the city, school board and the developer can agree to these terms, Hastings said the development could bring a hotel and two chain restaurants to Hillsboro.

“In summary, this project is to be an 83-room Marriott hotel property with two franchise sit-down restaurants on site as well,” Hastings said. “The total market value of this project should be about $23 million. This would generate a lodging tax — just a lodging tax — of over $2 million a year and employ 25 to 35 employees. (As previously reported, a 2015 state audit of the Highland County Convention and Visitors Bureau stated the city’s lodging tax "should not have been levied.")

“We are confident that the Hillsboro school board sees the benefit of a class-A hotel in Hillsboro, which has long been needed here, and that they will approve this agreement for the benefit of all of Highland County,” Hastings said.

Council member Mary Stanforth asked if the school district’s attorneys have met to discuss the TIF district yet.

“They had been talking,” Hastings said. “Apparently, the way that they prefer to do this is that the attorney who would represent the city for the TIF and then the attorney that the Hillsboro school board retains for TIF matters — they like them to talk and kind of work it out as opposed to us getting in the picture, which is fine. I do know that they have been talking, but ultimately, it will be a school board vote that determines what happens.”

Hastings said that he did not think the school board was going to vote on the TIF district at their next meeting, which will be held Sept. 16.

“We’re hoping they will act quickly because the developer we’re dealing with really has indicated if something doesn’t happen in the next 30 days, he’s out,” Hastings said. “It’s out of our hands at this point.”

Donley said in his report that he planned to meet with Hillsboro City Schools superintendent Tim Davis Tuesday, Sept. 10 to discuss the proposed project.

“When you plan a building such as this, it’s going to benefit not just Hillsboro but the whole southern Ohio, Highland County and surrounding county,” Donley said. “We’ve got to plan for the future.”

Donley pointed out that other area cities, including Wilmington and Chillicothe, have similar hotel developments.

“If Hillsboro doesn’t do that, we’re kind of shirking our responsibility in trying to better our community,” Donley said. “People want to come here, relax and have an establishment where they can feel comfortable. I think this is best for our area, so we’ll see what happens.”

Council president Tom Eichinger asked what the developer is seeking. “TIFs have different lengths of time. You don’t have to go to the school board for shorter ones,” he said. “What is being asked by the developer?”

“I think to do the necessary infrastructure work, he’s asking — the developer’s asking for either a 20- or 30-year TIF,” Hastings said.

Donley and Hastings then clarified that the developer would “prefer a 30-year” TIF.

“That’s negotiable,” Hastings said. “That’s the part that they [attorneys] haggle out. I do know 10 isn’t really enough to do this project, and that’s why they need longer and need their [school board] approval.”

“What came to my mind when I heard about that is are there some other incentives the city could provide over a second 10 years, other than a TIF?” Eichinger said.

Hastings responded that “the problem is you’re looking at a fairly decent chunk of money, and frankly, the city would have to do something like issue a bond, which … I’m not sure we want to go that route.”

“With the TIF, it’s all contingent,” Hastings said. “No money is released until certain thresholds are met. It’s expensive to do a bond.

“I’m not comfortable doing a bond for a lot of money, for a developer, when the same thing is accomplished all over the U.S. by TIFs.”

Morris asked if they could break it up into three different 10-year TIFs.

“I don’t think that works with a developer because they need their commitment from a bank,” Hastings said. “They need to know that they have their infrastructure funds approved in advance.”

As previously reported, council voted in June to suspend the three-reading rule and to approve and adopt an ordinance “declaring improvements to parcels of real property located in the City of Hillsboro to be a public purpose under Section 5709.40 of the Ohio Revised Code, exempting such improvements from real property taxation and establishing a tax increment equivalent fund” in relation to this proposed project.

In May, council passed a resolution to commit $200,000 of currently held TIFF (Tax Increment Financing Funds) money to the drainage infrastructure at Harry Sauner Road and state Route 73 for “a proposed project for construction of a facility beneficial to the commercial development of the city of Hillsboro.”

• • •

During Monday night’s meeting, administration and council members discussed a recent letter they received from citizens concerned about water safety. The letter discussed various cases of childhood leukemia in Highland County and alleged that water sources could be a cause.

Hastings said “a number of Highland County officials and departments” received the letter.

“I had a meeting just last week with Jason Bernard, our water treatment plant manager, regarding this issue,” Hastings said. “He assures me that the city does all required testing for contaminants and water purity and that we have no issues.”

Council member Claudia Klein added that she also spoke to Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner about the letter’s allegation that there could be a “cancer cluster” in the area, which the CDC defines as “as a greater-than-expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a geographic area over a period of time.” Klein said that Warner spoke to other area health officials “and they found no clusters of leukemia happening.”

“The doctors have determined that they can find absolutely no cause why leukemia happens in certain people,” Klein said. “As for the water department, that would have nothing to do with it.”

Bernard also attended Monday night’s council meeting, at Hastings’ request. Bernard told council that he is available to speak with any concerned citizens.

“Any time, any day, I can be reached at the plant if anyone has questions or concerns,” Bernard said. “Rumors — I can squash or confirm any kind, about any time.

“We just wanted to get this out there because it was kind of a blast email that must have went to 50 people — lots of people at the EPA and Department of Health, all the city council members, the city administration and myself.”

Bernard added that they have had “good results” on tests for the city’s water and they have “no concerns.”

“If there are any questions or if anyone wants to know certain contaminants we test for, I can get them the current results,” Bernard said.

• • •

Council voted 6-0 to approve an emergency ordinance to provide for additional duties assigned to the chief of police and to declare an emergency.

Hillsboro police chief Eric Daniels is also the city’s longtime systems administrator, providing IT support to the city since 2005.

According to the ordinance, “the City has obtained its labor counsel's opinion that it is not improper or unusual for municipalities to assign additional duties to the Chief of Police outside of regular chief's duties. The Safety and Service Director finds that it is in the best interests of the City to keep Eric Daniels in both positions and that it is not a conflict and that, based upon the past several months’ experience, the Chief of Police can perform both functions adequately.”

“He’ll make no more, no less,” Donley said. “It’s just the fact we need to put it in the code so it covers us. It can be eliminated at any time. It’s not a permanent type of ordinance.”

“Basically, he’s doing two jobs, and he’s being properly recognized in various payment programs so it’s handled properly,” Eichinger said.

Donley said the city has also gotten approval from the Fraternal Order of Police to pass the legislation.

Before voting, council member Patty Day asked what the “additional duties” were. The ordinance says that “Notwithstanding any other ordinance of the City, the Safety and Service Director is authorized to assign the additional function of IT responsibilities to the position of Police Chief and compensate the individual for the additional functions and responsibilities.” Donley said this ordinance provides for Daniels to be compensated with “the pay we’ve agreed upon, in addition to his police salary.”

“So that was previously a full-time job, but now we’re making it a part-time job?” Day asked.

“Correct,” Donley said.

• • •

In other discussion:

• During his report, Hastings commended the Highland County Historical Society for their recent Pioneer Day event at the Scott House and “welcomed back” police officer Betsy Bryant, who returned to the Hillsboro police department after working for a different agency.

In his report from the Hillsboro planning commission, Hastings said that Paul Worley has been appointed to fill the unexpired term of commission member Rob Holt.

The commission also heard a presentation on digital billboards; approved a variance for an adjoining driveway on North East Street; heard an update on the land bank; and discussed the city’s master plan.

“There will be a joint meeting with council and the planning commission to discuss the draft of the master plan up for adoption,” Hastings said. “The planning commission will meet at 5 p.m., with the joint meeting to follow. That’s coming up on September 16.”

That meeting will be held in the Highland County Administration Building’s basement meeting room.

• Council voted 6-0 to approve and adopt two similar resolutions:

• A resolution authorizing the safety and service director to prepare and submit an application to participate in the Ohio Public Works Commission State Capital Improvement and/or Local Transportation Improvement Program(s) and to execute contracts as required for North East Street improvements phase III; and

• A resolution authorizing the safety and service director to prepare and submit an application to participate in the Ohio Public Works Commission State Capital Improvement and/or Local Transportation Improvement Program(s) and to execute contracts as required for the Selph Road reservoir walkway.

• Council voted 6-0 to approve an emergency ordinance for the city to adopt the 2019-2023 County-Wide All Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan. As previously reported, the plan, as presented by Highland County Emergency Management Director Dave Bushelman, has already been approved by Highland County commissioners.

Donley recommended that council pass the legislation Monday so Bushelman can “notify the Department of Homeland Security” that area municipalities have approved the plan.

• Council member Adam Wilkin reported on a recent meeting of the street and safety committee. Wilkin said that the committee finalized changes to the city’s code of ordinances, which will be brought before full council for consideration. Their next meeting will focus on charging stations for electric vehicles.

• Eichinger appointed Day as chair and Justin Harsha and Stanforth as members of “a 2020 Census ad hoc committee.”

• Council member Brandon Leeth was absent from Monday night’s meeting. Council voted 6-0 to excuse his absence.