Land-Use Speech

October 13, 2006   

Land-use has long been a major issue for my Batavia, Ohio family. Ever since my father moved to Perelandra Farm in 1976 - and even before then - developers have seen the fertile farmlands of Clermont County as prime for multi-family housing, light industrial development, and strip commercial buildings. When Governor Rhodes (yes, the man responsible for the Kent State shootings) constructed St. Rt. 32 to connect several of his properties to Cincinnati's 275 beltway, the pressures for development increased by several orders of magnitude. Now, we are threatened on a yearly basis as neighbors sell their land to make a quick buck or politicians place our property in the line of fire for sewage and road projects, whacking away the forest with a big stick of eminent domain. The tranquil and free life of country living has been thoroughly corrupted by people who have forgetten the values that made Clermont County a place where its long-time residents wanted to live in the first place. On this subject, my father presented the following speech to the County Commissioners over 10 years again. It saddens me to think that the issues he speaks of here have only gotten worse, while the reasons we love our Batavia, Ohio farm have only become clearer:

Clermont County Commissioner's Meeting - Batavia, Ohio - May 1996 Speech by Richard Westheimer Where would you rather live: An integrated land use community with a balance of residential and rural tracts -- quiet and safe -- a few miles distant from a thriving county seat where citizens still feel enfranchised; or by a busy four lane road connecting your home with fast food joints, strip malls, hotels, and six hundred car per hour intersections?

If you think about it, no one actually residing within a mile radius of the proposed development will have a better life if you grant this zoning change. None of us will find liberty enhanced by this development. Only a few will find happiness and these few only because they will profit financially when they choose to no longer actually be residents of our community. They will instead have chosen to sell something they do not own: the rest of our community’s way of life.

We all (or most all) choose to live here to leave behind the urban and ex-urban life. We chose a community with a seemingly sane balance of land use. We chose the blessings of integrated, carefully planned, and reasonable priced residential land interspersed with working farm land. We chose a county where opportunistic development had not made this fair county look like so many other commercial wastelands. Some of us, when we moved here, knew of a few developer’s registered plans to “develop” the Olive Branch area. Yet in the intervening years, people have managed, with little disruption to their neighbors’ lives, to develop our community into a lovely place to live. We have rendered the 1960’s industrial plan void by warrant of the fact that we have chosen to live in a way not foreseen by the developers.

Development was poorly understood in the 1960s. For some reason, educated planners saw farm land as unproductive and incompatible with “modern” living. We know differently now -- or at least we should. Farms and families go very well together. Balanced land use -- while not as financially profitable -- makes for balanced citizens. The sole reason to approve this development would be if it would improve the quality of life in the area. Would 600 more cars per hour improve our lives? Would appropriating land for feeder roads make us happier? Would a few hundred more minimum wage "employment opportunities" for non-residents serve to make this a better place to raise children.

I'd like to end with a little story: Occasionally, I walk some of our small farm with my children imagining where, if the opportunity arises when they are adults, they might choose to build a home for their families. The younger ones feel our back yard might be appropriate; my older children long for homesites overlooking the creek or in the woodlot. When I told my son, Nathan, about the possible encroachment of "development" in the Olive Branch vicinity, he mused, "Can you imagine a developer walking our land with us? Instead of dreaming about garden or home sites, he'd only see strip malls. 'Here's a good place for a McDonalds,' he might say."

Nathan's right. We, those of us sitting out here and living in Olive Branch, see our community as an opportunity for good living. We see the vicinity of our homes and farms as a place to raise children. Those asking to develop around our homes and farms see something else, something incompatible with the health of a community or of its residents. If we want the kind of ungrounded, valueless life that comes with ex-urban development, we can move there. Let's not make the irrevocable mistake of moving it here. We won't be able to recover what we've lost.

This past summer I walked the farm again with my father and imagined the same thing. Developers who do not know the land, its history, and what it means to its people, cannot make anything good out of their Wal-Marts and McDonnalds -- they will succeed in creating more minimum wage jobs and pollutants, however.

I'll end this post with a question to be explored later: As we lose more and more of our wonderful land in Clermont County, is the side-effect of Cincinnati losing population and business, creating a vacuum at the heart of all of this sprawl, a bigger danger to society than my family and other families like mine loosing their way of life? Are these two things intrinsically connected? Should we spend more energy getting people to re-populate Cincinnati, and less energy fighting people away from our rural space? To be explored...

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