Many Madison County towns are changing and West Jefferson is no exception. With that change comes uncertainty and concern.
At Monday’s village council meeting, during the public comments portion, two people came forward with concerns about some of the development happening in the village.
Tony Murry, a Jefferson Township resident and landscape designer at an architecture firm in Columbus, shared his thoughts first, encouraging the village to work more with the community on better planning for growth.
“I have concerns over the lack of a master plan and the community engagement process around that master plan,” Murry said. “Anytime something’s going from 0 to 50 to 150 percent larger than what it is, I think that having a really good plan is important for everybody to consider.”
He added that he also wished the core area of West Jefferson, what is the downtown area along Main Street, would see growth rather than businesses going up outside of town.
“We need a venue, we need an opportunity and we need a process to look at a consensus-based master plan for the whole village that folks can come and participate in openly,” Murry said. “As a concerned member of the community, I just think we have an amazingly positive opportunity before us and I don’t want to miss it.”
The initial conversation lasted for nearly 30 minutes, at times turning contentious. Council maintained that plans have been in the works for a number of years, including a comprehensive plan dating back to 2007 and that no decisions are made without careful consideration.
Council president Steve Johnston explained to Murry that all aspects of the development process have been an ongoing part of council’s discussions for years.
“The discussion with the Kroger Company has been going on approximately three and a half years,” Johnston said. “And that information has been out in the community for three and a half years — to the point where the community keeps saying, ‘where is the Kroger?’” He went on to say that each topic has that same treatment and that council only moves forward once residents and council members have both been involved.
The two main topics of conversation for both speakers were the Kroger store and the proposed housing development along U.S. Route 40. How the running of utilities to the Kroger store will affect the environment — particularly the Darby Creek watershed — was the concern for the second speaker, Kelley Bower.
Bower is not a resident of West Jefferson or Jefferson Township but is part of the Phillips family who own Gay Chateau LLC, located in Jefferson Township.
“I speak for myself, but what has been very interesting in the past 10 days, is the number of people from the community that have reached out to us and said ‘we have no idea this was going on,’” Bower said. “We were trying to get ODNR and the Ohio EPA to ask questions. My thought, my opinion, which is also the opinion of a number of people within those organizations, is that drilling under the Little Darby, as well as the amount of possible, additional water and sewage and wastewater into the Big Darby will be detrimental to the creek.”
The topic had been brought up before in a previous meeting when council made reference to an attorney who had attended several council meetings, saying he was representing landowners in town with those same concerns.
Johnston expressed concerns in return that the opposition was not genuine and that the village has taken care of the creek in the past.
“We have been on this creek since 1890-something. Our water plant is on it and we have one of the cleanest plants in the state,” Johnston said. “We’ve been very good stewards of the creek.” Johnston added that he has not heard the variety of concern from others that Bower has suggested.
“To say that this project will dump gallons of waste into the water does not take into consideration the plans,” Johnston added.
Between the two speakers, the conversation went on for nearly an hour with Mayor Ray Martin and other council members joining in on the dialogue. Council member Mike Conway said that he agreed with Mr. Murry and even went on to revisit the need for a comprehensive plan later in the meeting. He also strongly urged council to put together some kind of open, community forum that residents could attend and voice their thoughts to village representatives.
Also at Monday’s meeting, council:
• Approved the promotion of Billie Leedy of the West Jefferson Police Department to full-time officer. Leedy had previously worked with the village on a part-time basis and worked as a correctional officer and deputy sheriff.
• Authorized the mayor to contract with Storm Dog Tactical for $15,500.
• Authorized the village to donate $3,000 to the village’s Fourth of July festival.
Council also went into executive session for a portion of the meeting to discuss the sale of property owned by the village.
Reach Michael Williamson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619.
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