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Environmental Balance:
Undesirable New Neighbors

by John W. Norton, P.E., B.C.E.E.

Observation: Few people seem to want any new process or facility near where they are living.

Thus, many newly proposed facilities are met with a chorus of negative claims. Many claims are outrageous.

During the author's career, he served for twelve years as Chairman of a Township Board of Zoning Appeals in Southwest Ohio. One case that came before the 5 person board was that of an unimproved thirty acre property bounded on its long side by Interstate-75 and having access on only one side, from a popular through street. It was also located next to a regional international airport. The 30 acre site was owned by a congregation that was saving to build a church. This case illustrates that many do not want "An Undesirable New Neighbor," even if it is a new church.

Before the congregation got around to building its new church, the Ohio Department of Transportation came to the pastor and asked permission to buy a small triangle of land off the corner of this church property near the intersection of the Interstate highway and the popular through street. The highway department was building a new access road to the nearby airport and its policies required that a wide "right of way" be purchased, if possible. The highway department noted that the new access road itself would not even touch the church property, that the right of way would be vacant and the church could still landscape the triangle. Or, so it seemed when the pastor complied with the wishes of the State Department of Highways.

Two or three years later, when the congregation finally saved up the necessary funds and approached the township for its church construction permit, they were dismayed to discover that the sale of the triangle of property (only 15 feet of length on the popular street) had reduced the only road frontage to less than the 150 feet required by the zoning regulations. Now, these good citizens would need to bring their case before the Board of Zoning Appeals. Well, they reasoned, it shouldn't be hard to convince the board that the reduction of 15 feet (which they could even landscape as part of their frontage) was inconsequential.

Not so! When it came time for the hearing, the room was packed with naysayers that painted a picture of loud, late evening ball games, death and destruction from increased traffic, and illegal hunting by the "questionable" pastor. Only a very few citizens that thought the project had merit bothered to come to the meeting. The vote, I am ashamed to say, went against the church by a vote of three to two.

If it is not possible to build a church on 30 acres next to an interstate highway and a major airport, how can one expect to site a new environmental facility such as a recycling center, a transfer station, or an incinerator?

Three or four years later, the church returned with a capable property development specialist in its congregation, and managed to get the ruling changed. This time they came loaded for bear with proof that the children could already play ball on the property without a building permit (and were not likely to be all that noisy), that there had not been any significant accidents on that stretch of road where the church crowd would exit, and with proof that the pastor was not an illegal, or careless, hunter. It was also shown that the construction of the church and its new entrance drive would actually reduce the likelihood of accidents at that point due to grade changes in the existing driveway that the neighbors were already using to access their homes.

In fact, the neighbors had been happily using the church property for years not only for access to their own home driveways, but for hunting and for disposing of their lawn debris; they simply did not want to see the situation changed.

The ruling was overturned after the second hearing, a happy conclusion; but the fact remains: it took an awful lot of time and work to get this church built on 30 acres near an Interstate highway and a major airport. This is not reasonable. How much more difficult it must be to site an environmental facility.

How is "the system" going wrong? What could we (society) do differently in order to get the outcomes that obviously make more sense for more people? Perhaps there is some way to site facilities, even churches(?), so that such negativism and selfishness is not so encouraged.

The author's intent is offering the best environmental balance advice available; the user is free to use it, although no guarantee can be implied. All user circumstances are unique and require individual analysis.

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