Coke plant opponents seek charter change

By Ed Richter Middletown Journal Staff Writer Wednesday, July 09, 2008 MIDDLETOWN — Notice was given late Tuesday afternoon to the city of Middletown that an initiative petition will be filed to amend the city charter to require a 2,000-foot setback between any coke-rendering related facility and any existing homes, schools, churches, nursing homes and health-care facilities. Shane Craycraft, administrator of Garden Manor Retirement Village, said Tuesday, July 8, that Garden Manor and other adjacent residents are still concerned about the future of the proposed 157-acre parcel between Ohio 4 and Yankee Road where a proposed $350 million coke-making and electric generation plant is to be constructed by SunCoke Energy of Knoxville, Tenn. Craycraft said he and other residents, who live inside Monroe's city borders "continue to be concerned about the consistency and integrity of (Middletown) City Council is managing this process to re-zone the land. Council approved the re-zoning through an emergency ordinance on May 6. However, Garden Manor challenged the process in Butler County Common Pleas Court citing four procedural deficiencies. Last month, SunCoke asked the city to re-enact the zoning request as well as amend the zoning code to address the deficiencies rather than go through litigation. The zoning request and zoning code amendment, which would change the setback requirement from 600 feet to zero, is slated for a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. today, July 9, before the Middletown Planning Commission at the Middletown City Building. The Planning Commission hearing is the first step in the re-enactment process. Until the re-enactment is completed, the May 6 decision will remain in effect, according to city officials. Craycraft said he and the neighboring residents are not against the project. He said they are against the process used and that the best location would be on AK Steel Corp.'s property. Following council's May 6 decision, opponents collected signatures of more than 2,000 Middletown residents seeking a referendum on the issue. City Law Director Les Landen he will instruct the city finance director not to send those petitions to the Butler County Board of Elections because council's action is not subject to a referendum vote according to Ohio law. Landen said the Ohio Constitution sets the procedure on how a charter change can be done through an initiative petition. Article 18, Section 18.09 says amendments can be submitted to voters upon a two-thirds vote of the legislative authority (council) and upon petitions signed by 10 percent of the city's electors or about 5,129 signatures of registered city voters. If there are no defects in the initiative petition, Landen said council would have an obligation to forward them to the board of elections. "This is not normally a good idea to amend the charter to stop a project," Landen said. City Manager Judy Gilleland could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.