|Commissioners: law permits assembly hall in commercial park|
|Written by Joe Awad|
|Thursday, November 15, 2012 9:08 PM|
Hamilton County commissioners Wednesday, Nov. 14, overturned a decision by the county’s Rural Zoning Board that now paves the way for Jehovah’s Witnesses to build an assembly hall and worship center in the Harrison Township/Harrison Joint Economic Development District, wedged between Simonson and Dry Fork roads in the township.
A unanimous vote was required to overturn the county’s rural zoning board’s decision, made this past summer. The RZB said the assembly hall was not suited for the 165-acre Harrison Commerce Park because it would produce no jobs, income tax revenue, or property tax revenue for the township, city, county or state.
Moreover, the majority of RZB members agreed with township trustees, city officials, and JEDD business owners that a worship center of any kind would thwart or kill business growth in the industrial park, that weekly weekend assemblies would create a traffic cluster on Dry Fork Road, and that the religious-based group would spend little money in the area.
In essence, the RZB denied structural zoning modifications that stopped the project in its tracks.
On Wednesday, township attorney William Keating argued that JEDD state law “trumped” county zoning laws. Commissioners rejected that argument, cutting Keating short and voting with no discussion.
Commissioners, in a six-page resolution, stressed the RZB gave no consideration to the Religious Land Use and Industrialized Persons Act, the foundation of the Jehovah Witnesses’ argument that the assembly hall legally is permitted in a JEDD.
The three-member board said there is no “compelling” government interest to bar the assembly hall from the industrial park based on RULPA and federal constitutional law.
“The evidence is insufficient to treat the applicant’s use on less than equal terms with other non-religious uses that have been approved. …” said commissioners.
“The evidence of a negative impact from the Jehovah’s Witness assembly hall on other property and/or businesses within the PUD is limited, anecdotal and based merely upon personal subjective opinion testimony,” they said.
PUD refers to Planned Unit Development, a regulatory process designed to group varied and compatible land use within a contained development.
In addition, commissioners gave considerable weight to whether the assembly hall would jeopardize repayment of bonds for the site, which also is a Tax Increment Financing District, a public financing method that subsidizes redevelopment, infrastructure, and other community-improvement projects.
Commissioners ruled payments on the bonds exceed the necessary amount, and the property owner has guaranteed the bonds.
Meanwhile, more than 50 members of the Jehovah Witness organization waited in a nearby conference room for the decision. Philip King, legal counsel for the Southwest Ohio Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses was among them. King said the organization will provide economic benefits to Harrison and nearby communities.
He said the thousands of temple members who will attend weekend assemblies throughout the year will spend money at local restaurants, gas stations and other retailers.
The assembly hall is planned for construction on 32 acres in two stages. The first building would accommodate 3,000 people and include 1,100 parking spaces. The second-phase structure would add 578 parking spaces.
There is no timetable for construction, said King.
|Last Updated on Thursday, November 15, 2012 9:11 PM|