A pitched battle is now raging—again—to save Central Ohio’s best-known wildlife refuge. You could help make the difference.

As many of you may recall, a huge victory was won by environmental forces on the west (Columbus) side of Pickerington Ponds late last century. Columbus City Council attempted to pave the way for M/I Homes to slap a thousand or more houses and apartments on a 242-acre parcel northwest of the Ponds. Five Council Democrats (Habash, O’Shaughnessy, Tavares, Sensenbrenner and Mentel) voted unanimously to re-zone the land from agricultural to residential so the developers could walk away with a bundle of cash, leaving behind a parcel of trash.

That’s when the enviros mobilized. About a dozen activists took to the streets and gathered more than 12,000 signatures in less than a month. With tremendous media fanfare, it became clear central Ohio voters would be able to decide whether or not to rescind the rezoning, thus making it impossible to destroy the land. It was also clear that Columbus voters would have done just that by an overwhelming margin.

So as push came to shove, M/I pulled out of the project. And then the owner of the land asked Council to rescind the rezoning. He didn’t want to risk losing the vote and thus the ability to develop at a later time. But in fact, the political uproar made it clear no developer was going to touch that land.

Finally, after more than a year of negotiation, the landowner caved. Metro Parks, which had said it wasn’t interested in the land, and had appeared to be on the side of the developers, forked over $2.9 million for it. A crucial third of a square mile was added to the park. The land was saved. And a whole new era of high profile green activism opened up in central Ohio.

Now the fight has gone to the east. A full square mile of land is in the developers’ sites in Violet Township, which is being eyed greedily by the city of Pickerington. Dominion Homes and Homewood Estates are the key aggressors on two large parcels to the east and southeast of the park. Another piece remains in the hands of the original farmers, but is obviously in the crosshairs of the big sprawl mongers.

Dominion is up first, with about 240 acres it wants to carpet with suburban ticky-tacky. Ironically, the land is even more crucial to the survival of the wildlife refuge than was the parcel to the west. The proposed development sits between the ponds and the Pickerington wellfield, which feed the aquifer on which the ponds depend. Any development there could seriously threaten the vital water flow into the eco-system.

The city of Pickerington is pushing hard to make the development happen. It wants to annex the land from Violet Township and let Dominion and Homewood run wild. As usual, tax and other benefits are at stake. As usual, the city says “no harm” will come to the ponds from this massive new development.

Violet Township is not so sure. Its development restrictions are more severe. Density requirements, for example, are more stringent, as are the regulations for sewage systems. Many Violet residents are tired of seeing their land swallowed up by the sprawl-infested Pickerington.

On the other hand, Pickerington says it provides services to Violet without being compensated by tax revenues. And it has taken its case to the Fairfield County Commissioners, demanding the right to annex and develop that land.

Such annexation fights are now raging throughout the state and country. In rural areas all over, aggressive sprawl-bound cities and towns are using pro-developer laws to confiscate ecologically sensitive land and turn it into private suburban profit centers. Legislation had been put before the Ohio Legislature this past term to try to curb this plague, but it was killed at the last minute by House Speaker Joan Lawrence, largely due to pressure from sprawl lobbyists paid by Pickerington, among others.

Thus the Fairfield Commissioners’ options may be somewhat limited by the usual constrictions of cynical laws designed to serve rich developers. But those who would protect the ponds and the park are working desperately to stop the annexation and keep Violet Township’s restrictions in place on that vital land. Among other things, it could be annexed into the park. It could be used as open space and playing fields for the Pickerington Community. Or it could stay as farm land, or even be developed with low-density housing.

But massive development of the kind being proposed by Dominion and Homewood could doom the refuge and the park. Aside from the catastrophic impact on the water supply, the influx of traffic, noise, lights, trash, pets and other pollution could spell the end of an eco-system on which more than 250 species of birds and other wildlife depend.

The odds on winning this fight are far better now than they were when things first arose on the west side of the ponds. Local folks are energized and ready. They are concerned not only about the ecology of the place but about the higher taxes that come with sprawl and the increased pressure on the local school systems in an area that’s become totally saturated with uncontrolled development.

The key pressure points are the water issues and the annexation, though others will surely arise as the fight escalates. Metro Parks is playing a cautious game, as usual. But when push comes to shove, it would like a revenue stream from Pickerington/Violet taxpayers, and would surely take in the land if offered, or if circumstances arose to buy it reasonably.

The ultimate green goal is to have the land added to the park, or at least preserved as open space. It can be done. We need your help.

Contact: Pickerington Taxpayers Association at, or call Bob Harding at 614-755-2464. The park you save will be your own.

Harvey Wasserman was a leader in the previous fight to save Pickerington Ponds, a Senior Nuclear Advisor for Greenpeace and a columnist for Columbus Alive.

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