York Township trustees feel slighted over not being included in discussions regarding the Nature Fresh Farms project outside of Delta and the proposed annexation to the village of 158 acres owned by the company.
That was the message delivered to the Fulton County Commissioners during a hearing last Thursday on the township’s objection to Type III Expedited Annexation.
Trustee Robert Trowbridge told the hearing, attended by Delta and county officials, that he believes York Township has been excluded from the proceedings by several local officials “who knew better.” He did not identify the officials.
Trowbridge said, “From day one, the township not being involved was not in the best interest of anyone in this room.”
County Administrator Vond Hall opened the hearing at 10 a.m. by informing those in attendance that the commissioners have 30 days beyond the hearing date to render a decision on the annexation. He said, according to Ohio Revised Code (ORC) Statute 709.024, the commissioners must approve the annexation if the following conditions are met:
• The petition to annex meets the requirements as described in the statute.
• The persons signing the petition own real estate in the territory targeted for annexation, and constitute all of the property owners in that territory.
• No highway or street will be divided or segmented as a result of the annexation.
• The municipal corporation where the annexation is proposed has adopted an ordinance or resolution.
• The state’s director of development has certified the project qualifies as a significant economic development project.
Fulton County Engineer Frank Onweller certified the proposed property is contiguous to the the village. The Delta Village Council approved the annexation in a vote held July 6.
Reading from a prepared statement, Trowbridge said he discovered private meetings about the Nature Fresh project have been held in the county’s administration building in Wauseon, where the commissioners’ chambers are located. He said the meetings were discontinued only after he was invited to attend.
During a Jan. 21 meeting with Fulton County Auditor Brett Kolb and Fulton County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC) Executive Director Matt Gilroy, the township trustees said they would approve tax abatements for Nature Fresh but not annexation. Trowbridge said Delta Administrator Brad Peebles then presented a proposal to approve annexation at a special meeting held Feb. 4, a meeting neither the trustees nor Gilroy knew about at the time.
Following subsequent meetings that included various groupings of the trustees, Commissioners Bill Rufenacht and Jeff Rupp, Delta Mayor Dan Miller, Peebles, and Rupp-Rosebrock Vice President and former county commissioner Perry Rupp, the trustees’ stance on annexation was not favorable, Trowbridge said.
After investigation and research, York Township developed a proposal thought to benefit everyone. Delta’s village council unanimously rejected it.
“We tried to reach out to Nature Fresh Farms, but they stated they did not want to get involved in politics,” Trowbridge said. “The fact that they are out of the country, and not knowledgeable of (local) things is a very poor excuse, in my mind.”
The company is based in Leamington, Ontario, Canada.
Trowbridge asked the commissioners to “look hard” at the trustees’ objections to the annexation, which claim: the territory cannot be considered contiguous to the Village of Delta when only 670 feet of land attach the properties; public records they requested from the state show certification was based on a single document, the Community Investing Area, drafted Dec. 30, 2014; the State of Ohio asserts the annexation petition and documentation are for Nature Fresh Farms, when the property is owned by Quiring Delta Real Estate 1, a name never before mentioned.
“I feel the township has had the best interests of everyone involved. It is very unfortunate that this will affect all of us in the end,” Trowbridge said. He said the trustees are attempting reach an agreement with the village, “but it looks questionable.”
Lane Williamson, an attorney with Eastman and Smith Ltd. representing Nature Fresh, told the gathering because the project involves greenhouses, water is a significant issue. He said water agreements the company has with the Village of Delta include a request that Nature Fresh cooperate with annexing the roughly 158 acres of property associated with Phase One of the project.
“From the company’s perspective, it’s simply a project issue that has been dealt with, and we believe it’s been dealt with according to the law,” Williamson said.
He said he’s confident that all legal conditions Nature Fresh has met for the project and annexation satisfy ORC requirements, including the issue of contiguity. He said the project’s state certification shows it to be a significant economic development.
“In our view, the fact that it’s being done in phases is irrelevant to the certification process,” Williamson said.
He also explained that the owner and controller of Quiring Delta Real Estate 1, a holding company, is Nature Fresh Farms President Peter Quiring. “We’re not aware that that’s a problem under the statute,” he said.
Rufenacht questioned whether Williamson had ever advised Quiring of the existence of the township trustees and the importance of their involvement in the project.
Williamson said Quiring was apprised of the trustees but viewed the FCEDC as the project’s local coordinator, and dealt exclusively with them and Delta administrators.
“There was a fair amount of reliance placed on those local officials in terms of the communication to and among the local officials,” he said. “There was no specific instruction or intent to avoid communication with necessary parties in the different development aspects of the project as it proceeded.”
Before the hearing adjourned, Commissioner Jeff Rupp encouraged the village and the township to continue their discussions about annexation and reach a mutual agreement.
“I don’t see this as being real beneficial to the relationships that are going on amongst the political entities,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.