Columbus Council Poised to Vote on Big Darby Issue

The Columbus City Council is scheduled to vote tonight whether to continue a controversial moratorium that limits the rights of some local landowners. The property owners live in the Big Darby Watershed, and they’ve been temporarily prohibited from selling or developing their property while ten Franklin County jurisdictions work on a plan that balances growth with environmental protection.

The Big Darby flows from headwaters near Marysville, 88 miles to where it joins the Scioto River near Circleville. In southwestern Franklin County you can get an unspoiled view of the Big Darby at the Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park. “Big Darby Creek is a dedicated state and national scenic river.” Says Park Naturalist Tim Taylor. He continues: “It’s dedicated because of the biodiversity of the stream. There’s 100 different species of fish, 38 different species of mussels. More species of mussels than in Australia and Europe combined. Many animals in the creek are threatened or endangered spices – many are habitat specific.” Says Taylor.

In 2002 an organization known as PEER – Progress with Economic and Environmental Responsibility – started a campaign to protect the Darby. Phil Harmon is PEER’s general counsel. “There’s no question that the Darby Watershed was being overrun with development and there were so many jurisdictions that had land use control that developers were picking and choosing whichever sites were available, and it was necessary to have a comprehensive regulatory plan to protect the Darby and provide for a reasonable growth pattern in that area.” Says Harmon.

Ten Franklin County jurisdictions got together and commissioned a development plan from consulting company – but that plan is not yet complete. Which is one of the reasons the city is voting to extend its development moratorium.

But the extension does not sit well with Darby landowners. Columbus Attorney Bruce Ingram says, “The landowners would like the moratoria to be lifted. I represent a number of landowners who are in their mid-70s who frankly are no longer capable of farming their land and they need the revenue from the sale of their land to retire. They just want to be able to use their land just like everybody else in Franklin County can use their land. And the rest of Franklin County, of course, is not laboring under a moratorium.” Adds Ingram.

Nor are they dealing with 10 jurisdictions, which City Council President Matt Habash calls a monumental undertaking. Habash, who says he knows landowners are frustrated, supports the moratorium’s extension, but only for six months.

The plan under consideration restricts development to land between Route 40 and Interstate 70 west of Amity Road in Franklin County. But Bruce Ingram, the attorney for the landowners group, wonders how protecting Franklin County’s small portion of watershed would benefit the entire system

But the president of the Darby Creek Association, John Tetzloff, disagrees. Tetzloff says,”The most imminent threat of urban sprawl is coming from Columbus. That’s where the highest pressure is coming from. That’s why we’ve targeted this area as our top priority. Secondly if we can pull this off, we’ll have a strong case to take to other communities.”

The Columbus City Council votes Monday night whether to extend the Darby Creek moratorium.