Pictured is the most recent version of a map by DLZ detailing the proposed extension of Fenner Avenue and Roberts Lane. (Map image courtesy of the City of Hillsboro)
Pictured is the most recent version of a map by DLZ detailing the proposed extension of Fenner Avenue and Roberts Lane. (Map image courtesy of the City of Hillsboro)
Members of the Hillsboro Planning Commission and Hillsboro Mayor Justin Harsha fielded comments and questions from concerned citizens about a proposed extension of Fenner Avenue and Roberts Lane during a public hearing Monday, Oct. 18.

As previously reported, Harsha discussed initial plans for the proposed extension during the Tuesday, Oct. 12 Hillsboro city council meeting.

“We’ve been working at the city building, planning and trying to get things moving on the Roberts Lane/Fenner Avenue extension,” Harsha told council. “It’s always been a possibility of backing behind the hospital and coming down Roberts Lane in front of the urgent care and Mexican restaurant.

“We need some more room for commercial land. We’re kind of running out. We’re working on some plans. We’ve got some preliminary drawings, but nothing solid. We will be presenting that to the planning commission and having a public hearing on that to get some comments on it.”

In addition to four planning commission members and the mayor, there were over 20 other residents in the audience Monday at the former Hillsboro firehouse, including neighboring property owners as well as some city council members. Also present, and available to answer questions, were Hillsboro public works superintendent Shawn Adkins and engineer Gary Silcott of DLZ.

Harsha began the hearing by explaining the city’s vision for the extension, including announcing a proposal for eventually converting U.S. Route 62 and state Route 73 to one-way routes through town.

“The idea is we’re running out of commercial land for expansion, and I know it’s always been a plan to extend Roberts Lane and Fenner Avenue,” Harsha said. “Basically, what we’re doing here is trying to open up some commercial property and then extend this on down Fairground Road to create more thoroughfare, because another thing we’ve been tossing around is the idea of one-way streets in town to alleviate the traffic problem.”

Implementing one-way routes is still an idea very early in the stages of development, as Harsha said the city still has to “complete a traffic study” first. However, he said they are “in the process of starting that” through the Ohio Department of Transportation.

“The one-ways we’re projecting, or we’re thinking, are from basically Main Street to Harry Sauner Road would be one way going north on 62, and then one way coming back south on 73,” Harsha said. “One thing we’ve been doing to create some of these crossroads is Springlake Avenue is being worked on right now and widened to create another thoroughfare between the two points.”

One of the major issues early in the meeting was confusion over the preliminary design for the extension, which the city said has changed several times. There were numerous questions and explanations to determine the most recent version.

“There may have been a map going around that showed this connecting in through Te-Mar and Sherwood subdivision,” Harsha said. “That has been modified to show a cul-de-sac there.”

A Te-Mar Way resident asked if the city wanted “any of this property at this time.”

“We do not,” Harsha said. “We do have some easement agreements in place with the Hauke property owners and the Shaw property owners for construction easement and right-of-way.

“Only the property that you see on the projected road [is affected]. All that will remain with the property owners.”

The Te-Mar Way resident also expressed concern that the extension will bring “a lot of traffic through” that subdivision.

“We have a lot of families in there, a lot of young kids,” he said. “That really concerns me.”

Harsha again pointed out that the revised map show a “cul-de-sac” — not a “roundabout” as the originally proposed — in the Te-Mar neighborhood. “It does not go through,” Harsha said.

“Sorry,” planning commission chair Rob Holt said. “There’s two different versions [of the map]. If it shows a road coming out of the roundabout and heading east toward Te-Mar Way, it does not intersect with Te-Mar Way or that subdivision. There’s a cul-de-sac that is proposed.”

Two other residents said they were concerned the cul-de-sac would be “an area for drug deals” in the Te-Mar area and would also encourage more people to cut through the area on foot. One of them gave Harsha a copy of a petition with signatures from people in “48 homes in the subdivision who don’t want any road in or around the subdivision.”

Planning commission member Bill Sims asked, “What’s the definition of ‘in or around?’”

“We want to maintain the peacefulness of the subdivision,” the resident said. “That should be the first duty of the city.”

Harsha repeated that the designs are “preliminary,” and “things can change.”

“My goal is to keep the peace,” the man said.

At that point, there were several different conversations occurring in different parts of the room, and Holt asked the public to speak one at a time “so everybody stays on the same page and everybody can hear what’s being said.”

"This is not a thoroughfare," Harsha told the resident with the petition. "It was the easiest way to split up the land to make the most commercial expansion, but it's not going to go through Te-Mar, so you're not going to see any more traffic from this whatsoever in your neighborhood, at least as far as cars go."

The resident added that he was concerned with the original map that showed the connection at the subdivision, but he also thought the cul-de-sac was "too close" to homes in the area where "the drug deal of the century" could be held.

Another resident asked, “What’s the point of doing the cul-de-sac anyway?”

Several of the subdivision representatives debated back and forth about the placement of the cul-de-sac before Holt again stopped them.

“There won’t be any decisions made here tonight, but we are taking the public’s input,” Holt said. “We’re not going to go back and forth and say ‘we should do this,’ ‘we should do that.’ Please just give us your input, and we’ll take those into consideration as the city moves forward.”

A subdivision resident asked if the extension was only for “commercial” development and not residential.

“Again, all we’re proposing here is the city is trying to develop the road,” Harsha said. “Right now, this is zoned commercial.

“The only thing we’re proposing is extension of the road and making more thoroughfare within the city limits.”

Several residents asked about the “end goal” and whether the city already had developers lined up for this additional space, also asking about the specific businesses that would be built there.

“We hope to see commercial development back there,” Harsha said. “As far as what that is, that would have nothing to do with us. Our goal is to just get this built — infrastructure, road, lighting, all that sort of thing — so there would be opportunity for growth.”

There were various related questions about the zoning in this area. Planning commission member and city safety and service director Brianne Abbott said that the area is not zoned for industrial, as someone asked, but could be for commercial properties or multi-family developments.

As a followup, several residents asked if low-income housing was being considered for the area. Some individuals said that condos or other housing units are “needed” in that area, while another resident asked the city to avoid low-income housing units.

“We’re not looking for anything specific,” Abbott said. “It’ll be the property owners who choose what development, as long as it coincides with how it’s currently zoned.”

Another resident asked why the city couldn’t use “the space on Hobart Drive and Careytown Road” for development.

“Those are industrial spaces,” Holt said. “Factories, plants, manufacturing, distributions, warehouses.”

The resident asked why the city didn’t “change the zoning” for that area. Holt replied that the proposed extension is “already zoned commercial, and the city has done nothing to rezone this area. It’s already zoned as commercial as it sits currently.”

“To be honest, that area out there, I think it’s very important to keep industrial for the possibility of bringing a manufacturer to town to benefit the city of Hillsboro,” Harsha added. “When you start looking out at a map and you take a development like Hobart and see how much of a footprint that one manufacturer needs, it doesn’t take long to fill up a lot of property. That strip along Carl Smith Drive — if you had two manufacturers, three manufacturers there, it would take up a good bit of land.

“Our thought is that area out there needs to stay industrial for the possibility of that in the future, and this [extension] to be the commercial expansion.”

One of the residents asked how the expansion proposal “got started” and whether it was the city’s idea or the property owners’ idea.

“Roberts Lane was a vision quite some time ago when these developments were starting, back here where Kroger and everything was,” Harsha said. “It’s not necessarily a new idea. We approached the property owners.”

The resident also asked “what other areas” were considered aside from the Fenner/Roberts expansion.

“This is the only area that we’ve looked at for commercial development to this scale,” Harsha said.

One resident asked why they didn’t “expand the city limits” to open up more space instead.

“We already have this inside of the city limits, and it would make sense,” Holt said. “It’s contiguous to our commercial development area already, as it sits. It makes a whole lot more sense to develop what we currently have rather than going to get something else.”

Abbott added that “additional incorporation is in our vision” for the city, “but that takes some time too.”

“You see Carl Smith Drive — obviously, we would love to have that incorporated, but that’s going to take some time as well,” Abbott said. “The other thing is we don’t have a lot of space for industry.

“Right now, we’re talking about commercial development. Like the chair said, we have this space that has been intended for commercial development for a long time. We’re not changing the zoning.”

Abbott said they were “holding true to the vision” the city has had for the area since the 1990s and “hopefully bringing some additional development to town.”

Former Highland County commissioner Tom Horst, who was among the residents in attendance, pointed out that Harry Sauner Road is “built out.”

“There’s no other lots up there to be filled,” Horst said. “It’s time for the city to look for new land.”

Abbott said she was aware of “three vacant commercial lots in the entire city right now, and they’re small.”

“There’s just not a lot of opportunity for new growth,” she said.

A resident asked if the city had “commercial entities right now that are asking for properties within the city limits” and whether any were already “lined up.”

“Not anything lined up, but we get calls regularly from commercial developments looking for vacant commercial property, yes,” Abbott said.

After a follow-up question, Abbott estimated that the city received approximately 20 such calls in the past year.

“We actually have 16 commercial developments either in the process of construction or we have the documents where they’re getting ready,” Abbott said. “There’s a lot of development taking place. We want to just keep the ball rolling.

“We’re hoping to not only help create commercial developments, but as mentioned, we need homes for families.”

In other discussion, one resident asked if access to Pea Ridge Road would be impacted by the proposed Fenner/Roberts extension.

“As of right now, no, but if the one-ways happen, Pea Ridge would end up turning into a right-turn-only lane,” Harsha said. “So yes, that could definitely be impacted.

“There is an access from the Roberts extension that's going to come out to 73, cross over and then kind of loop over to Fairground Road.”

The resident also asked what “the footage between my driveway and this road” would be. Adkins said it would be enough space “for a roadway and sidewalks,” and Silcott said it would be “probably at least a couple hundred feet.”

The commission was also asked if the entire extension was contingent upon SR 73 and US 62 being one-way routes. Harsha said, “No,” and Holt said, “It works either way.”

“I think you’ve got big problems if it’s not one-way,” the resident said. He also asked about traffic light placement.

Silcott said that all of the plans are “just a sketch at this point,” and that they have not yet done “anything with the terrain, any traffic studies,” etc. to give a definite answer on that.

“As has been stated, this is kind of preliminary stages,” Silcott said. “There is a need for commercial space in the city of Hillsboro. We have a property owner who’s interested in doing that, creating more opportunity for jobs and bringing stuff into the city that may make it more attractive for folks to move in.

“This is basically just an idea of what to start to get the road infrastructure in there.”

Silcott added that they will be “very cognizant” of ensuring infrastructure, such as lights, will not interfere with neighboring properties, and will work at considering topography that “addresses some of your concerns.”

“This is a lot of work,” Silcott said. “This is about $8 million worth of work just to build these roads and put in the infrastructure. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. As it develops, there’ll be more public meetings, more discussions with developers.

“I’m going to tell you: I’ve done this for almost 30 years, and we’re not going to make everybody happy.”

In response to that $8 million estimate, one resident asked if property owners would be responsible for funding the extension.

“The city will be searching out funding for this to make it happen,” Harsha said.

A resident asked if the proposed extension would include curbs and gutters.

“We’re talking about all infrastructure,” Harsha said, as he, Adkins and Holt said that will include sidewalks, curbs, gutters, lighting, drainage and the like.

Another resident asked if the corner of Pea Ridge and Fairground roads were “involved in any of this” expansion.

“There would be an intersection there where this new proposed road would come down and intersect with Pea Ridge,” Holt said. “It would come to the intersection of Pea Ridge and Fairground Road and create a four-way intersection right there, as it is proposed right now.”

The resident asked if the city would be “taking houses” to build the intersection. Harsha said there is “absolutely” no eminent domain being proposed at this point.

“Everything that you see on this map, we’ve talked to the property owners that own every piece of this,” he said. “There won’t be anything with any other property owners at all.

“This projected loop here on the west side of 73, that’s all one property, and we’ve talked with them. That will just come down to Pea Ridge and then stop there, right where Fairground Road stops. That will just extend across the road and loop out to 73.”

The city administration was also asked if there will be “a bypass in the center of town where you have all your traffic jams.”

“Not necessarily,” Harsha said. “We’re hoping to do one-ways, and that’s going to be a whole other conversation, but we need to alleviate some of the traffic issues.”

There were several questions about the “timeline” of the proposed development. “It’s not going to be anything that happens quick,” Harsha said.

A resident also asked if the city will include sidewalk accessibility along Route 73 for pedestrians in that area.

“That’s our hope for all of town,” Harsha said. “In the last three or four years, there’s been a tremendous increase in the amount of sidewalks for people to use, but we can only do so much at a time.”

Several residents also said that they did not receive notification of the meeting and heard about it from neighbors. One person asked to be included in future notifications.

“We had intended to notify everyone within 200 feet of the development,” Abbott said. “If it didn’t happen, I apologize. That’s typically our intention.”

After approximately 45 minutes, Holt concluded the hearing and encouraged everyone to participate in future discussions “as the project progresses.”

“The city’s ready to work with everybody and do what makes sense for the majority of people,” he said.