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Published: Tuesday, 5/27/2003

Zoning bid under study for acreage near airport

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The shipping of fish, fruits, and flowers may have been replaced by car parts for the time being, but Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority officials say plans to develop land south of Toledo Express Airport are not dead.

The long-anticipated development of port authority-owned land adjacent to the airport has languished for years, but a zoning request the Lucas County Plan Commission will consider tomorrow is evidence the project is not dead, port authority officials say.

Ohio International Developers, lead developer for the project, is asking the plan commission to rezone 360 acres from agriculture and commercial to limited industrial.

The cold-storage warehouse idea that would allow for shipping of fresh fish, fruits, and flowers has been placed in, well, cold storage. Airport Director Paul Toth said the revised plan calls for developing the land as an international hub for shipping and receiving auto parts. The cold-storage plan is still on the drawing board but isn't likely to be the first business in the business park.

“Automotive is the primary driver,” Mr. Toth said. “We kind of see that as the low-hanging fruit, really helping to support the automotive industry and provide Toledo as the distribution point for those parts whether they're coming from Canada, Mexico, or here in the Midwest.”

In 1998, a consultant's report recommended a cold-storage facility be built for storing and shipping fresh flowers. At the time, a Port Authority official estimated that it would be four to six months before financing could be lined up.

Almost two years ago, Port Authority board members expressed frustration with its slow pace and talked of setting strict target dates for Ohio International Developers to meet certain goals.

Howard Moss of Ohio International Developers said the delay in making the proposal a reality is largely because of the weak economy. He said combining light manufacturing with shipping makes it even more challenging.

“This is a unique project,” Mr. Moss said. “It's not a run-of-the-mill industrial park. What we are creating here is a logistics and manufacturing hub.”

Jim Hartung, president of the Port Authority, said despite the delays, the rezoning is a positive sign that the project will be realized.

“We have always believed that the airport will be the anchor for economic growth in western Lucas County,” Mr. Hartung said. “Toledo has always been recognized for its strategic geography and we have one of the largest air-freight hubs in the country located in Toledo.”

Jerry Chabler, a member of the Port Authority board, said he hopes the project happens because it could create jobs, but he's put off by how long it has taken to develop.

“I would like to see the developer move a little faster on this thing,” Mr. Chabler said.

Mr. Toth said another shift in the plan calls for the Hudson, Ohio, development company to lease the land rather than buy it from the Port Authority.

Brian Schwartz, spokesman for the Port Authority, said the initial lease period is for 25 years. Ohio International Developers then has two 25-year options and a 15-year option to continue the lease. Land on the airport's apron near the runway would lease for $8,200 an acre, and the rest of the land would lease for $3,850 an acre, Mr. Schwartz said.

Port Authority officials are hesitant to be pinned down on a date when the development will begin, but Mr. Toth said the immediate goal is to find tenants to fill half the space of a 200,000-square-foot warehouse.

Mr. Hartung said once the first buildings go up, momentum could build and encourage other companies to set up shop in the area. “Those first developments are all-important because it's much easier for businesses to capture the vision of what we're looking toward by seeing something in the ground taking place,” he said.

Steve Herwat, executive director of the city and county plan commissions, said the rezoning request complies with Swanton Township's land use plan. It's also been recommended for approval by Mr. Herwat's staff.

A limited industrial designation would allow such things as nurseries, research labs, greenhouses, warehouses, and industrial plants that produce small items.

In unrelated business, the plan commission tomorrow will consider a revised set of regulations for county subdivisions.

Mr. Herwat said the rules and regulations haven't been updated since 1967. He said the new rules were based on model subdivision regulations prepared by the County Engineers Association of Ohio and the County Commissioners Association of Ohio. He said local home builders and developers were consulted, so no opposition is expected.

Changes include a requirement for connections to walkways and bikeways, street lighting for all subdivisions, and all-underground utilities.



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