Grassroots effort defeats developer to allow conservation of green space in Loveland

Grailville protest group

When an upscale developer in Cincinnati seized an opportunity to buy 109 acres with a diverse mixture of woods and farmland to build 209 homes on it, local people took action. The Grail, an ecumenical religious order of women with deep attachment to the land, had sustainably farmed and managed this land, known as Grailville, since 1944 in Loveland, Ohio an outlying suburb of Cincinnati. When The Grail could no longer afford to maintain the property, they reluctantly decided to sell a large portion of it to a developer. Fortunately, Loveland citizens and people from across the region who greatly value the public access and unique spiritual history of Grailville, visualized a different future.

To allow the housing development to proceed, the Grail property needed to be annexed into the City of Loveland, which the City enthusiastically supported. The City Council and administration had been meeting with the developer for months prior to the annexation in January of 2022. However, many residents felt that the proposed housing development was of questionable financial benefit to Loveland and posed other issues, including traffic congestion, impact to schools, destruction of open green spaces, and lack of adequate sewer service to the property. Though the developer issued a press release in March 2021, almost a full year before the land was annexed, describing in detail their plans for the development, they still needed a zoning change. Upon annexation, the Grailville property defaulted to the zoning designation of Residential Low Density with a minimum lot-size of one acre. The developer’s plan called for higher density housing; therefore, a zoning change was required which allowed residents to step in and oppose it. The strong opposition turned the tide from what many felt was a fait accompli into a victory for land conservation.

What would have normally been a quiet, invisible proceeding by the Planning and Zoning Committee turned into a standing-room-only meeting full of polite, energized and vocal citizens opposing the zoning change. At this well-attended meeting the Planning and Zoning Committee tabled the issue -– for two months -– but this did not diminish the fervor of the citizens involved. At the follow-up meeting on May 4, 2022, many citizens with diverse perspectives again presented near unanimous and passionate testimony in support of conservation of the Grail land. The motion to alter the zoning was denied by a vote of three opposed, one in favor and one absent. This grassroots effort to defeat a huge, national housing developer is a rare victory.

Meanwhile, activist residents began looking for an alternative that would preserve the Grailville property. The four-person Conservation Subcommittee of the newly-formed Grailville Land Preservation Group (GLPG) researched various possibilities. A local land trust, Cardinal Land Conservancy, headquartered in the neighboring town of Milford, agreed to partner with the GLPG to acquire the property. After considerable consultation and investigation, Cardinal crafted a plan which aligned with the values of the Grail and the GLPG to conserve this spiritual green space in perpetuity. Cardinal identified possible funding for the land purchase from the Green Space Conservation Program of Clean Ohio (a state agency), and applied for a grant with The Grail putting up 25% of the purchase price. The funding application required resolutions to be passed by every governmental entity having jurisdiction over the Grail property. In this case, resolutions needed to be passed by Loveland City Council, Miami Township Trustees, and the Clermont County Commissioners. All three entities passed the resolution unanimously, paving the way for the application to be submitted. During this entire campaign, the online local weekly Loveland Magazine, was a strong supporter, greatly aiding the Conservation Subcommittee’s work.

On Thursday, September 28, the Cardinal Land Conservancy announced that their grant application for $4.9 million to purchase 89 acres is being recommended for funding by the Ohio Public Works Commission. The Grailville preservation campaign’s resounding success is another story about people organizing to preserve important green space, even in the face of impending development.

— Miami Group Conservation Committee

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