A popular anti-sprawl tool is gaining increasing popularity in Ohio. It’s a zoning voter initiative and referendum process that requires rezoning votes to be passed by the voters. In many Ohio communities, the ordinance also requires that the rezoning vote must also pass by a majority in the precinct or ward in which the project is located. In North Olmsted, voters soundly defeated a developer who wanted to build a Home Depot in town on land that was zoned office park. The developer gathered signatures, put the rezoning on the ballot, and proceeded to get walloped at the polls. Now the Mayor and the City Council of North Olmsted and proposing to the voters an amendment to the City Charter that would require every issue involving rezoning to be approved not only by a majority of the voters in the city, but also by a majority of the voters living in the ward targeted for rezoning. Such an amendment would require developers to spend a lot more time negotiating with local residents for their support, and meeting residents half way or more to mitigate negative impacts. The charter amendment in North Olmstead will go before the voters at the May 4th election. Unlike some towns, the North Olmsted charter change would only affect “every Initiative or Referendum measure submitted to the voters”. In other words, the City Council would vote first, and then, if their vote was challenged by the voters, it would go on the ballot with the majority vote required citywide and in the local ward. Many towns in Ohio now put all matters of rezoning on the ballot to be passed by voters and local wards.
Residents in other states should consult with their land use attorneys about whether such a local town ordinance would conform with local police powers in their state. The North Olmsted amendment states: “Shall a new section 5 be added to Article X (Initiative, Referendum and Recall) of the City Charter to require that every Initiative or Referendum measure submitted to the voters, which involves the rezoning of any parcel or parcels of land in the city, be approved by a majority of the voters residing in the ward or wards of the City in which any part of the parcel or parcels is located?”