Prison land sale jolts planning in Warren County

2,000 acres of state land among 6,500 under study between Dayton, Cincinnati.

A committee planning the future of more than 6,500 mostly undeveloped acres in Warren County faces more urgency now after news that Ohio will sell thousands of acres of unused prison farm land.

The advisory committee’s work includes a large chunk of the vacant land remaining between Dayton and Cincinnati.

“Dayton and Cincinnati are merging right here. It’s happening,” said Matt Obringer, a planner for the Warren County Regional Planning Commission.

The committee was formed to help Warren County officials complete the Crossroads at Union Village plan. Members already knew about plans by Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices for a 1,400-acre community, including a sports complex, along Ohio 741 and across from Otterbein’s existing senior living campus.

Formation of the committee, which started its planning process in June, was also motivated by growth along the Interstate 75 corridor between Dayton and Cincinnati. Even before additional development, traffic is a problem within the 6,550-acre planning area east of I-75 along Ohio 73 and Ohio 63.

Only in recent months, however, have plans to sell off prison farm land — including 2,000 acres within the plan area — come out.

“This is probably the biggest shock to the system I’ve ever seen in the area,” said Dan Cunningham, a resident and land owner on Ohio 63 appointed to the committee. “It’s as if we found out we had land on the moon.”

Prison farm land for sale

Last week, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) officials indicated they had tentatively narrowed down the estimate of land that could be sold, subject to review by the Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS).

On Friday, Marty Berkowitz, the DAS media manager, said the roughly 7,000 acres potentially for sale are “in Allen, Fairfield, Lorain, Madison, Marion, Pickaway, Richland, Scioto and Warren counties.”

“The land offering in Warren County could be approximately 2,000 acres with nearly 550 acres located north of Ohio 63 and the remaining acreage situated south of the roadway,” Berkowitz said in an email.

Crossroads of concern

Even before the state land sale became public, Warren County officials knew they needed a plan for the section of undeveloped land along the Dayton-Cincinnati corridor.

Previous plans have mapped out other areas east of I-75 along the corridor north of Ohio 63. The Miami Valley Gaming racino, Cincinnati Premium Outlets Mall and other commercial development have already transformed the land along Ohio 63 east of I-75.

On May 31, the Warren County Transportation Improvement District applied for $5.2 million in federal highway funds. This, plus a $1.3 million local share, is expected to pay for widening of Ohio 63 for 2,200 feet east from Union Road, the road at the racino property’s western boundary.

“We will know in September how the project ranks among other applicants in Warren, Butler, Clermont and Hamilton counties,” Warren County Engineer Neil Tunison said in an email.

The county plans to use property taxes set aside from the racino development to pay its share of this roadwork, but is otherwise so far unclear how it will pay to improve the rest of Ohio 63 leading into Lebanon or Ohio 741 south from Ohio 63 into Mason and north past the Union Village development in Turtlecreek Twp.

“This process could 10 years or more,” Tunison said.

Tunison added that his office was working with state officials “so they can effectively plan for sale or lease of the land north of Ohio 63 and along 741 no longer needed for prison farming activities.”

Planning for growth

The state land is less than a third of the acreage under study.

Along Ohio 741, in addition to the Union Village area, more than 2,240 acres are expected to be up for development in coming years. More than 600 acres between Ohio 741 and the Lebanon city limits are already facing development pressures, as well as traffic backups.

“It’s going to grow. It’s the last place between Cincinnati and Dayton,” said Cunningham, a business owner who recently completed a master’s degree in public administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

The committee and staff met for the first time on June 16 and plans monthly sessions, at least through the end of the year. The meetings are open to the public. In addition, a special workshop for public input is to be held in August.

The group is also seeking comments at

The on-line survey asks for preferences on buildings, road improvements and land uses. For example, several roundabouts are proposed along the stretch of Ohio 741 in the Union Village area.

“We already have over 100 responses,” Obringer said.

A trail network is also planned in the area. Traffic issues at other key intersections, including Greentree Road, are also under discussion.

Even home builders associations from Dayton and Cincinnati have begun regional meetings.

“This area is not going to look the same five years from now,” Obringer said.

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