Cemex wins zoning battle
- Published: August 27, 2015
The five-year effort by the international cement company Cemex to expand its mining operation in Greene County came to a conclusion favorable to Cemex but unfavorable to the company’s neighbors Monday night, Aug. 17, when the Fairborn City Council unanimously voted to rezone 450 acres of land from agriculture to mining, overturning an earlier ruling by that city’s planning board.
“There are no guarantees in life,” said Council member Tim Steininger, in explaining his yes vote. “I believe this is the best decision I can make for the city of Fairborn.”
About 150 people overflowed the tense, five-hour meeting at the Fairborn City Building, with about one-third of the crowd, mainly those who live near the land in question, standing outside Council chambers because the room was already filled when they arrived. Most of the room’s occupants were Cemex employees or advocates, identifiable by identical white shirts bearing the company logo. The neighbors’ group, which stood for the entire meeting, watched the proceedings on a video monitor. However, all who wanted to speak were allowed to do so, and about 20 out of the 30-some neighbors of the land addressed Council.
All neighbors who spoke opposed the rezoning, stating that mining is incompatible with residential zoning. Neighbors expressed concerns about the effects of noise, vibrations, dust and the potential of flyrock during blasts. The new zoning allows blasting within several hundred feet of a house.
“Residential homes are compatible with farms, parks and some businesses, but not those that have to blow up the ground,” said Stephen Grey, who lives on West Enon Road.
However, representatives and advocates for Cemex emphasized the safety of the industry and the probability that the Fairborn operation would close within several years if the zoning request is denied. The rezoning is necessary because minerals required for the company’s cement product have diminished in its current mining locations, with enough remaining for only seven more years of mining, company officials said. With the rezoning, the company will have adequate resources for 40 more years, during which they’ll continue to provide income tax to Fairborn and good jobs to its citizens, according to Plant Manager John Miller.
“We offer opportunity,” he said.
In question were two parcels of land southwest of Yellow Springs, bordered by State Route 235 on the west, Hyde Road on the north and West Enon Road on the east. Formerly a part of Xenia Township, whose commissioners ruled in 2011 and in 2014 against the Cemex request, the land was annexed by Fairborn this spring, after a request from Cemex, which has been headquartered in or near that city for the past 90 years. However, the Fairborn planning board turned down the Cemex request for rezoning earlier this summer, so the Council action Monday night overturned that ruling.
But the Fairborn planners had been inappropriately affected by “extremely unacceptable” photos of blasting, according to Cemex official Rusty Strader during opening statements. Strader emphasized the tight regulations that Cemex works under, and that the company only uses licensed and experienced blast operators.
During citizens’ comments, Cemex neighbors stated that they understand that most blasts go safely, but that no one can guarantee that accidents won’t happen, such as a 2002 incident when a blast launched a rock into a neighbor’s property, a situation that could have been deadly had anyone been in the vicinity.
“All it takes is one bad day, one mistake,” Grey said in his statement. “We all know those things happen and when it does, citizens bear the risk.”
Some neighbors also urged Council members to take more time, and to encourage Cemex to negotiate more mutually acceptable guidelines with the neighbors.
“Fairborn could be a model community,” said Hyde Road resident Richard Stockton. “It’s getting harder for companies to rezone land. We need to come together.”
But Council members felt they had taken enough time already.
“We’ve listened and listened and listened,” said Council member Marilyn McCauley, stating that she never saw convincing evidence that neighbors of Cemex had suffered damage to their homes or lives. “I believe my decision is for the betterment of the community as a whole.”
It’s fairly unusual for Council to overturn a planning board ruling, according to Council member James Hapner on Monday in response to a question, saying it had happened about twice during his nine years on Council. Following several hours of comments by citizens, Council members quickly took a vote, without discussing the issue with each other.
While City Manager Debbie McCullough also did not speak to the issue during the meeting, in an interview earlier on Monday she stated her support for the Cemex request.
“It’s about helping a business stay in business,” she said. “It’s about growth for the company and for the city.” When Cemex is finished mining the land in question, she said, the reclaimed land may be used by the city for more residences.
“I see upscale housing going into those areas,” she said.
Following the decision on Tuesday, Hyde Road resident Pete Waltz said that she and other neighbors are not giving up in their effort to keep the land agricultural.
“I’m devastated,” she said, but the group plans to mount a referendum effort on the issue. “I’m not done, and a lot of people on my side refuse to be done.”