Housing development screeches to halt

By Rob Treynor

February 27, 2014

What took so much of the village’s time and effort, seems to have ended with a mumble.

Reporting to Plain City Village Council Monday evening on the planning & zoning (P&Z) meeting, councilwoman Colleen Davis, offered a sentence, almost as an afterthought, about the Oak Grove development coming to a halt.

Oak Grove was conceived as an approximately 220-home development, to be located on a 100-acre tract in the south end of town, on the west side of U.S. Route 42 near Lovejoy’s Plaza.

After the council meeting on Monday, Feb. 24, Mayor Sandra Adkins explained what had transpired between the village and Allen Shepherd, the Oak Grove developer.

According to Adkins, the P&Z chairman, Darren Lee, had asked Terry Andrews of Evergreen Land Company to compile the culmination of compromises and report back to the committee.

The following morning, Thursday, Feb. 20, Andrews called to alert the village that Evergreen Land Company was ceasing work on Oak Grove indefinitely, according to village administrator Kevin Vaughn.

“It’s a shame. A lot of people have put in a lot of time on this project,” Adkins said.

Allen Shepherd, in a telephone interview, confirmed that the project was put on hold.

“Plain City had taken all of the incentives off of the table,” Shepherd said. “We’re not going to start at the beginning or from eight months ago. That’s just not proper.”

Shepherd said he did not understand why the village was asking Evergreen to “start from scratch.”

“We’re not giving Plain City an ultimatum, but we need to make the $250,000 goal on the homes,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd says with the compromises formerly negotiated now off the table, the developer would not be able to meet that $250,000 per home sales target.

“We’re not going back to the beginning and starting the whole negotiation over. Everything, including the capacity fees, were taken away from us,” Shepherd said.

The village remains hopeful. “We still very much want this project to occur. We don’t think we were far off. We think we can work through the minor sticking points. However, we weren’t the ones to end negotiations,” Vaughn said.

A primary sticking point was the 10 percent discount on tap fees on the entire project. The village contends that the discount was agreed to, but tied to the developer installing a 10 inch water line from Village Boulevard to Alcott Drive.

Shepherd contends that the 10 percent discount on tap fees was not tied to any such installation.

Shepherd told the Press that the Oak Grove project had about $1 million in “extraordinary expenses” that typically don’t come with development projects, including bolstering an almost non-existent water and sewer line for the property.

Most recently, the EPA informed Evergreen that the whole development needed to shift 50 feet to the south due to a Bidwell Ditch riparian setback.

“When you have a million dollar handicap, you need to find every way to save money,” Shepherd said.

In 2013, the village asked Shepherd what it could do to encourage him to begin the development and purchase taps, which generate revenue for the village.

This is not the first time that work on the Oak Grove development has come to a halt.

In August of 2012, Shepard sent a letter to council which read, “We have made the decision to use the funds earmarked for this project, for other projects that are viable. Should you sometime in the future wish to look at this project again, we would be happy to talk with you.”

Speaking to the Press at the time, Shepard said he was not optimistic that the project would be revisited by Evergreen Land Company. “The hope is slim-to-none for the next five years,” Shepherd said in 2012. “We spent a lot of time on this project, but we can’t build a project to lose money on.”

Over the past seven years, the village considered a numerous incentives to jump-start the Oak Grove project, including a 10 percent discount on tap fees for water and sewer service.

In 2013, the village asked Shepherd what it could do to encourage him to begin the development and purchase taps, which generate revenue for the village.

Renewed negotiations between the village and developer dominated P&Z meetings for much of 2013 and into this year.

Evergreen Land Company purchased the 100-acre tract about a decade ago for $1.486 million. Over the course of the past decade, the developer has accrued an additional $450,000 in expenses in the Oak Grove development.

Rob Treynor may be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 19 or on Twitter @robtreynor.