Licking County residents are concerned that a bill proposed in the Ohio Senate — written and proposed to address the ongoing housing crisis — will restrict local zoning regulations and threaten the identity of rural communities. 

Ohio Senate Bill 243, introduced by senators Michele Reynolds (R-Canal Winchester) and Hearcel F. Craig (D-Columbus), intends to increase housing development in Ohio. Reynolds is the Chair of the Ohio Senate Select Committee on Housing, and Craig serves on the housing committee.

The proposed legislation would allow the state’s General Assembly to “enact legislation addressing local zoning regulations that impede the development of housing in this state,” though some residents in rural communities like Liberty Township, near Johnstown, fear the legislation could override local zoning decisions. 

Bill Bogantz, a Liberty Township Trustee, spoke out against Senate Bill 243 in a Clean Air and Water for Alexandria/ St. Albans Township Meeting on June 17. Bogantz said the bill is threatening townships’ control over their own zoning and could give the power to the state. 

Bogantz is worried Senate Bill 243 could give the state the power to put multi-family housing anywhere — without regard for planning already done by local officials — because the language in the bill is “vague.” 

“The state could put an asphalt plant wherever they want,” Bogantz said, concerned the state could “disregard” local comprehensive plans and zoning regulations. 

Two proposed asphalt plants in Licking County — particularly in Alexandria and St. Albans Township — have created a firestorm in recent months. While one of the proposed plants has already been canceled after public outcry, the Shelly Company is still pursuing plans to build an asphalt-mixing plant in the community. 

“Whatever we’ve planned and put money towards to create this thing can basically just blow up,” Rick Robertson, an active member of Clean Air and Water, said during the meeting. 

Liberty Township Trustees wrote a letter to representatives Thaddeus Claggett (R-Newark) and Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) and senators Reynolds and Craig in opposition to Senate Bill 243, because of its ability to strip the township’s control over zoning. The letter says the bill is “Short and Sweet, but wide open!”

“We strongly believe that the residents of the township, the ones who live there, work there, farm there, invest in their homes there, who raise their families there, should have the right to govern how their community develops and grows! Not politicians whose only goal appears to be GROW AT ALL COSTS!” Liberty Township Trustees wrote. 

As Intel builds a $28 billion computer-chip manufacturing campus in western Licking County, additional industrial growth is coming with it, and zoning has become crucial to communities like Liberty and St. Albans townships, which are hoping to remain rural. Many Licking County local governments value the control of their own zoning, so they can decide how they grow with Intel next door. 

Licking County is planning for significant development and growth.

Matt Hill, technical study director for the Licking County Area Transportation study office, presented a plan to the Licking County Planning Commission on May 20 that would preserve farmland in the county while addressing the need for more housing. Hill suggested new housing should be in high-density buildings in more densely populated areas; Licking County should build up, not out. 

Although the intention of the zoning bill is for housing development, the language is unclear about whether the state will control local zoning and have the ability to determine the future of municipalities. 

The bill did not make it out of the senate committee this legislative session before senators left for the summer, but a spokesperson for Reynolds said it was never supposed to advance this year. 

Theresea Varrasso, Deputy Press Secretary at the Ohio Senate, said that Senate Bill 243 is a placeholder, meaning the bill was introduced to save a place for future amendments. Varrasso said this bill is a conversation starter. 

“She’s (Senator Reynolds) a former township trustee, so she wants to elicit feedback, start conversations to inform a good piece of legislation that makes the most sense for Ohio,” Varrasso said. 

Caroline Zollinger writes for, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is supported by generous donations from readers. Sign up for The Reporting Project newsletter here.