Power plant courts town

LORDSTOWN – A company representative called the initial public hearing about rezoning a 57-acre plot for an industrial power plant a “first date” – opinions among residents are mixed on whether they desire a second.

“I’m going to open my front door and see this big power plant,” resident James Gavin said. “There are other places they could put it if they really wanted to.”

Gavin moved into his new home on Mary Drive in 2007 with intentions of living in a pleasant residential area. Half the homes in his neighborhood were built in the last six to seven years he said, and while in the past several he has seen property values drop, he is still concerned that having a large industrial plot only a block away from his home could be detrimental to property values.

He was among several residents who attended the initial meeting Monday where Bill Siderewicz, president of Clean Energy Future, gave a presentation on the need to rezone the large plot at 1107 Carson Salt Springs Road. The location is next to high voltage power lines that run energy between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. It is zoned for residential and commercial business and is surrounded mainly by agricultural fields.

Siderewicz said he has not seen any studies where natural gas power plants have decreased property values since they are quiet and odorless facilities. This one would also be surrounded by trees as a “natural buffer.”

He said immediately thinking property values will decrease is a “knee-jerk reaction,” since the opposite has been true at other plant developments.

“The plant will be a tax-paying entity, making continuous payments to the school and village of $1.5 million and upward per year guaranteed,” he said.

This influx of funds for the schools he said often increases property values since the school systems are able to flourish. Members of the Lordstown Board of Education are already in support of the facility.

“I tell people it’s like having a lot of really good candy and giving it to the children next door,” said Roberta Hiller, BOE president. “No one will build a house there anyway.”

Hiller said if Lordstown follows suit behind Freemont and Oregon, Ohio, where recent plants were built, the school would be in for a huge influx of funding through the plant. Additionally, the plant has promised to fund a $30,000 per year scholarship for high school students for 15 years.

Hiller said Lordstown residents are invited to a meeting 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the high school to discuss the pros of adding a power plant.

Many residents aren’t quite as keen about the zone change that will need to take place for the plant to be built.

“The power plant is a good idea, the problem is the spot zoning,” said Stanley Zoldan, former council member. “Once you spot zone you really put yourself in a hard position.”

This is because only a land owner can put in a request for the zoning to be changed.

“I see the positives and the negatives. My only concern is if they rezone it to industrial and then this factory doesn’t come, they couldn’t change it back,” said police Chief Brent Milhoan, who lives near the proposed site. “Property values have been dropping pretty steadily anyway … It falls into spot zoning and I’m not for that.”

Spot zoning when random zoning types are placed next to one another in a patchwork of developments is commonly discouraged by planning and zoning commissions. Siderewicz said he thinks they can strike a balance.

“The compromise solution we see is to have re-zoning if and only if the proposed energy facility is built otherwise the current zoning is retained,” he said.

No votes on the issue have been made by the village planning and zoning commission. Mayor Arno Hill is filling in as planning and zoning director until one is hired to replace recently retired Dave Harrison.

Hill said the commission has 30 days to make a decision on the issue. Their next meeting is set for May 12.

“We’re not trying to ram this thing through,” Hill said. “If it’s not passed, that’s it. If it is passed by the planning commission, it goes to council as a recommendation and we will hold a public hearing. Zone changes are never passed as emergency either, it will have three readings.”

For now, though, Hill said the commission is in “information-gathering mode” and will be exploring impacts on other communities where plants have been built.