VALLEY CITY, Ohio – A Medina County community is the latest in a growing number of municipalities to wrestle with protecting its natural resources through zoned riparian setbacks.
Located 20 miles south of Cleveland, Liverpool Township is a rapidly growing region and is home to Medina County’s largest industrial park of more than 900 acres. Residential developments are popping up all over the place.
But Liverpool Township is also home to numerous creeks and waterways, with approximately 2,250 acres of floodplain. The West Branch of the Rocky River runs through Valley City, its main city. And it’s with that natural resource in mind that Liverpool Township trustees are considering a riparian setback zoning ordinance along eight waterways.
“We’re getting developers and homeowners who want to build in the floodplain area and that leads to nothing but trouble,” said trustee Mel Tolsma.
“We’re not taking any land, we’re just trying to stop the filling in of the floodplain.”
A riparian setback proposal is now before the township’s zoning commission, which will hold a public hearing June 7 before making a final recommendation to the trustees.
Ag uses exempt.
Basically, the ordinance states that the setbacks be preserved in their natural state. Agricultural land is exempt, as are recreational areas.
Minimum riparian setbacks in the current proposal cover eight waterways. The recommended setback, for either side of the waterway, is 75 feet on Cosset Creek, Plum Creek, Mallert Creek, Willow Creek, and tributaries 9, 12 and 13 to the West Branch of the Rocky River. The recommended setback on the West Branch of the river itself is 120 feet on either side.
The issue came to a head when township officials found they were helpless to prevent a construction debris landfill or a housing development from being built next to the river.
“Right now we can’t stop them from building there,” said township trustee and ordinance proponent Dave Jilbert.
He said the riparian setbacks will help reduce property damage and reduce threats to public health and safety.
“More and more water is coming down through Liverpool Township,” Jilbert said, “and the more we let construction restrict the river, the more intense that water flow will be.”
The proposal prohibits structures, driveways, parking lots, dredging and filling, and the construction of sewage disposal or treatment areas. Accessory buildings to existing structures, as well as patios and decks, are permitted.
State regulations governing floodplains were created to protect structures, not necessarily the floodplain itself and its function, said Alicia Ackens, urban streams specialist with the Medina Soil and Water Conservation District.
“As you fill in the floodplain, there’s definitely a response,” Ackens said, “but it’s hard to predict what that response will be. The floodplain is a phenomenal stormwater basin that’s very difficult to recreate once you fill it in.”
Landowner Pat Dohoda knows full well the ramifications of altering the natural flow of water. Part of her 48 acres borders Plum Creek. “I’ve got everybody else’s water coming across my land to get to the creek.”
But Dohoda, a Valley City realtor, thinks other avenues should be explored before establishing the riparian ordinance. “If it’s a stormwater management issue, then they need to dredge waterways, or create storm ditches or storm sewers like the cities do,” Dohoda said. “I don’t think they’ve done much to alleviate some of these problems.”
Like Dohoda, landowner Paul Lampert sees the proposal as infringing on his private property rights. “This is an unnecessary, ugly form of eminent domain that takes land use rights away from responsible and meticulous township landowners,” Lampert said.
He suggests a better alternative might be a voluntary landowner program supported by the township and coordinated by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and local Soil and Water Conservation District.
“A mandatory program could be considered in areas where land use change comes into effect,” Lampert said.
“It’s a very touchy matter,” acknowledges James Kamps, chairman of the Medina Soil and Water Conservation District board of supervisors. “They feel they have the right to do what they want to do on their land, but they’re not looking at the overall scheme of things.”
The district’s technical staff offered recommendations for the setback proposal.
“We do have a concern over maintaining the quality of our streams,” Kamps said.
The Medina County township is not the only community to have the riparian setback issue on their table. The Chagrin River area east of Cleveland has been at the forefront of the movement and has a riparian setback requirement in place, as does Bath Township in Summit County.
A plan to require streamside buffers in unincorporated areas of Trumbull County got to the draft stage last spring, but has gone nowhere since then.
“Other townships are definitely watching to see what happens,” said Aaron Otto, with the Medina County Planning Services Department.
“The concept stays constant, but each ordinance is unique to a community,” Otto said.
The township zoning public hearing on the proposed riparian setbacks is June 7 at 8 p.m. at the township hall, 6703 Center Road, Valley City.