As controversy swirls around two asphalt plants proposed for the main entrances to the village of Alexandria, the community was hit with a proposal for more manufacturing: another concrete-mixing plant.
For those keeping count, if all were approved, the Village of Alexandria, home to 500 people, also would be home to two asphalt plants and three concrete-mixing plants.
The Licking County Planning Commission approved a non-binding resolution in favor of a zoning change – against the recommendation of its own planner and against its own support of a long-term development plan by the citizens of St. Albans Township, approved just months ago. The commission voted to approve rezoning agricultural land to manufacturing so that a concrete plant could be built near the junction of Rts. 37 and 161 – a short distance from an existing concrete plant and one of the two proposed asphalt plants.
“Our comprehensive plan has been completely undermined,” Jennifer Baer, an Alexandria resident, told the commission. “Your decision holds a ton of weight with our zoning commission and the (Board of Zoning Appeals). They are looking to you for guidance, and this is the guidance that you have given them: that we don’t matter.”
The commission’s resolution now goes to the St. Albans Township Zoning Commision for final decision. That meeting is set for Thursday, July 27, 7 p.m., at the Church of Christ in Alexandria, 5380 Moots Run Road.
Scioto Ready Mix already operates a concrete-mixing facility on the northwest side of Alexandria – at the Martin Trucking site where the second asphalt plant is proposed. Shelly Company has one on the southeast side of the village.
Now, Ernst Concrete Company is requesting a zoning change for 13 acres it seeks to purchase near the junction of Rts. 37 and 161. The land is currently zoned agricultural. In the long-term plan development approved only months ago, St. Albans Township residents indicated interest in seeing the land developed as commercial, meaning restaurants and shops.
At the Licking County Planning Commision meeting on July 24, Ernst Concrete was represented by an attorney and many workers in the industry who spoke in support of Ernst as a reputable company. Eight area residents were present to represent the interests of Alexandria and St. Albans Township.
Jay Fisher, Assistant Planning Manager/Special Projects Manager for Licking County Planning and Development, presented the proposed zoning amendment for a new Ernst Concrete plant near Alexandria.
“Opening this parcel … would certainly be contrary to the vision of the recently adopted comprehensive plan for St. Albans Township,” Fisher said.
Fisher explained that the site includes a Federal Emergency Management Agency designated floodplain and wetlands, which would result in environmental hurdles for Ernst Concrete. He said there are other places in the township that Ernst could buy that do not have the ecological concerns found in this area.
Speaking on behalf of the zoning staff, Fisher recommended a non-binding denial of the application.
Connie Klema, an attorney representing Ernst Concrete, said the company already has started its environmental study and will try to plan around the wetlands on the site. Klema pointed out that in the St. Albans comprehensive plan, there are 2,093 acres planned for commercial use, and Ernst is asking for an exception for 13 acres of the eastern section for manufacturing. Klema said that because of the plant’s proposed location, it would be located right next to Rt. 161, which would limit truck traffic through the Village of Alexandria.
Rick Robertson, an Alexandria resident, expressed concerns about another concrete plant coming to Alexandria along with two asphalt plants. He wants to see growth in St. Albans, he said, but believes that people will not want to move there in the future because they will see it being industrialized.
“When they come off of 161, what are they gonna see? Concrete plant; they’re gonna see an asphalt plant and another concrete plant,” said Robertson.
Ben Yost, an employee at Ernst Concrete, said that concrete plants have had a bad reputation, but Ernst has spent a lot of money to make the plants environmentally friendly. He said the majority of plants that Ernst has built are enclosed to limit dust and emissions.
Tony Ramos, founder of TFR Construction in Columbus, said that last year, his company had a big concrete shortage, and it hurt his business. Ernst Concrete sold them the majority of their concrete.
“With the Intel plant going in, you guys are going to have 15-20 years of growth out here. Those two concrete companies [the two concrete plants already located in Alexandria] will not be able to service everybody,” Ramos said.
“If you want to make an exception for someone, I would suggest doing it for someone who can provide the community with all your concrete needs,” said Mike Murphy, of Unlimited Contracting Solutions, a concrete construction company based in Lockbourne.
Bryan Kildoo, who runs a residential foundation and excavation company, said that the number of houses he has worked on has decreased in recent years. Another Ernst Concrete plant would help his business, because he would be able to serve growing areas such as Heath and Hebron in a timely manner.
“We already have two concrete plants within roughly a mile of each other and are staring down the barrel of two asphalt plants within that same rough mile,” said Jennifer Baer, the Alexandria resident, in her testimony to the commission.
Anne Lodder, an Alexandria resident, said that the proposed rezoning goes against St. Albans Township’s comprehensive plan, which was adopted in late 2022. Manufacturing is not a proper use of land that was planned for commercial businesses like it is shown in the comprehensive plan.
“The future enjoyment of nearby residential properties should be a primary consideration,” Lodder said, quoting the comprehensive plan.
Lodder said that her concerns are with truck traffic and possible accidents at the intersection of Rt. 37 and Moots Run Road, which runs parallel to Rt. 161 and runs into Rt. 37 very near Rt. 161 ramps to Rt. 37. At this point, she said, the intersection is not designed for that kind of traffic, and there are already many close calls there.
Klema also noted the issues with the intersection of Moots Run Road and Rt. 37 as mentioned in the comprehensive plan and said that Ernst is ready to participate in road improvements. Klema said that you will not be able to see the plant when you exit the highway because the trees and mounding will block it.
It was also revealed during the meeting that it takes about 30 gallons of water to make one cubic yard of cement. Ernst Concrete said it would dig a well and draw this water from the aquifer.
Elaine Robertson and Carol Marr also spoke to the board. Robertson, an Alexandria resident and active participant in the grassroots Clean Air and Water for Alexandria/St. Albans group, reminded the board that this plant would be on a flood plain. She believes that well water will not be able to sustain this plant, because the Geiger property on Tharp Road, where a Shelly concrete plant already is operating, is also using well water, along with the nearby Church of Christ.
“If we change the zoning [to manufacturing] for them, where does this stop? We’re setting a precedent where we are suddenly changing the zoning,” said Marr, a resident of Granville, where residents and officials have raised concerns about potential water pollution from industrial operations in St. Albans Township. Granville draws drinking water for its residents and residents of Alexandria from wells charged by an aquifer that includes Raccoon Creek, which runs through Alexandria and Granville.
“My biggest concern … is those asphalt plants that want to come in,” Marr said. “If we agree to do this, why wouldn’t they come forward and say, ‘Yeah, we need asphalt too with all the growth that is coming.”
After public comment, Tim Bubb, a Licking County Commissioner, said that the staff worked hard on this, and he moved that the commission deny this rezoning even though concrete is in demand and Ernst is a good company. Bubb said that St. Albans Township did the work recently to create a comprehensive plan for future development, and it did not plan for manufacturing operations at this site.
Randall Bishop, Licking County Planning Commission Chair, said that zoning is tied to an activity, not a company.
“I am really torn on this one,” said Bishop. “I think this is a good location for it; I really do. (With) access to 161, … you won’t have much traffic through town; you’ll be able to get raw materials in.”
The roll-call vote was tense and close. The final tally was 5-4 against the resolution to recommend denial of the request. The commission then voted on a motion to approve the request to change the zoning designation from agricultural to manufacturing, and this motion passed 6-3.
After residents of Alexandria pushed back on the commission for voting against their wishes, Planning Commission member Rick Black responded: “With what’s going to happen in Licking County – and I say as county commissioner, I have to look out for all of Licking County – with what’s coming down the road, I question why they did do their comp plan this way.”
After the meeting, Alexandria resident Baer said, “It’s so sad, because we are trying so hard to fight for our community – to keep it clean, to keep it a good place to live for all these brand new people coming to Licking County to settle here, and then this is what we get when we ask our planning commission for help.”
The final vote tally on a non-binding motion to approve rezoning the land from agricultural to manufacturing to allow Ernst Concrete to build a plant in Alexandria was this:
Kevin Black: Yes.
Randall Bishop: Yes
Rick Black: Yes.
Tim Bubb: Yes.
Hayley Feightner: No.
Joseph Robertson: No.
Ryan Badger: Yes.
Dave Lang: No.
Stephen Holloway: Yes.
Caroline Zollinger writes for TheReportingProject.org, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s journalism program, which is sponsored in part by the Mellon Foundation. firstname.lastname@example.org