Ross County, population 74,000, is centered on the county seat of Chillicothe in south-central Ohio. As County Planner Devon Shoemaker described in our conversation, the most pressing problems include rural sprawl and improving the road network.
Devon showed me a GIS-based map which indicated the extent to which rural sprawl has been happening. This map shows one mile intervals out from the center of Chillicothe. Each brown dot represents new development between 1988 and 2005. It may not be too visible at the resolution of this photo, but believe me, the map clearly supports Devon's concern.
The County has placed emphasis on improving the road network -- viewed as vital to the county economy. Several major employers are in the county, the largest being the Adena Hospital. There's also a large Kenworth plant near the hospital that employs about 1,000. Both of these are along Route 159 north of Chillicothe.
And that makes for an interesting story about transportation, development, and zoning. Or, I should say, the lack of zoning.
The County has done much in the way of transportation planning. A major 2 1/2 mile long connector (State Route 207) has opened, and there are plans to extend it to provide an important link between two arterials -- State Route 159 and U.S. 23 -- that run roughly parallel (just about a mile or so apart) for several miles north of downtown Chillicothe.
The County is also investing in commercial growth in the Route 150/U.S. 23 corridor -- to strengthen the county's employment base. Devon pointed, as an example, to the Riffle Machine Shop -- a supplier to Kenworth. It's growing and needs a new facility.
Here's the rub. There's no zoning in place.
The problem of not having zoning -- as Devon explained -- is that this puts at risk the county's desire to promote commerce and industry along this corridor. Any use can come in -- residential development, or even a church. This can throw a monkey wrench into what the County would like to see in this corridor.
I spoke with Charlie Scherer, the Chair of the Ross County Planning Commission (he's on the right in the photo; Marvin Jones of the Chamber of Commerce is on the left -- more from him in a separate post).
Charlie runs an electrical contracting business, and used to be a volunteer fire chief. He's worked hard to convince his township (Union Township) to adopt zoning. In Ohio, zoning is adopted township by township by public vote.
To this point, proposed zoning for Union Township has lost in tight votes. To Charlie, this is due, in part, to fears some have about government control. Not everyone has appreciated the powerful benefits that zoning can bring to property values -- and to planning.
So for now, Ross County planners are proceeding with their work and trying to improve the transportation network and local economic base. But they're hamstrung by the lack of zoning -- a basic tool that can help direct growth and development in ways that will benefit the local economy.