Last Sunday afternoon Sunbury Mayor Tommy Hatfield took a few moments to talk about the past year, saying that anything he could express about what the village experienced during the past year would likely be an understatement.
“Certainly 2015 was an exciting year for the village,” Hatfield said. “When I look back at the challenges and obstacles we faced during the past year I have to say we’re still blessed to live in an area where great things are happening.”
Hatfield said everyone would like to keep Sunbury a small town, a Norman Rockwell village just the way it is, but everyone also understands that they can’t stop residential and commercial growth.
“But as growth comes, we do want to keep our small-town values, keep our taxes low, and continue to have great schools,” Hatfield said. “These are challenges we’re blessed to have.”
Noting that Sunbury is the anchor community in the Big Walnut Local School District, Hatfield said village residents think of themselves as members of the Big Walnut community, and those who live outside of the village tend to look towards Sunbury for leadership as growth impacts the school district.
“Adapting to that growth is going to be a challenge,” Hatfield said. “We want to be certain that we retain our sense of community. That sense of community is what makes the Big Walnut area a great place to live.”
Hatfield said the village has been doing a fairly good job of building on the historic aspects of what he calls Old Sunbury, the central core of the village, as the rest of the community grows.
He said a lot of the work that’s going on around Sunbury’s village square is going to keep that sense of history and vital community core alive. As the village plans for future growth, the core of the village, Old Sunbury and Sunbury Village Square, will be a baseline.
“I appreciate our village square more than I ever realized when I was younger,” Hatfield said. “In Ohio you can’t go anywhere and see a town square like we’ve got in Sunbury. That’s why I’m so conscious of what we do around the center of our village; that’s why our comprehensive master plan includes that village square. We’re going to grow out from there.”
Hatfield has been working towards updating the 2004 comprehensive master plan that was drafted but never adopted by members of Sunbury Village Council. A resurrected master plan committee has met twice, and Hatfield said he would like to see a master plan, complete with an updated thoroughfare plan, adopted by Village Council by the end of the first quarter this year.
“As you grow, you have to have a plan,” Hatfield said. “I understand that any plan continues to change and develop, but you have to have a place you build from, that helps you maintain a historical sense of pride for responsible growth.”
Hatfield said he understands that not all growth is good; the challenge is to have the right kind of growth.
“One of our goals, at the top of our list, is to have a really solid thoroughfare plan,” Hatfield said. “The traffic around the I-71 interchange is already concerning to me. Having an effective thoroughfare plan is going to be vitally important to our well-being as commercial growth west of the village escalates, and that will take a lot of planning with Delaware County and the Ohio Department of Transportation.”
Hatfield said Delaware County has had a thorough plan for years, but the eastern part of the county is going through changes that were not anticipated even a decade ago.
“Look at all the intersections around Sunbury that the county and state control, and the truck traffic,” Hatfield said. “We’ve got to do a good job of planning and creating rights of way but, when we start drawing lines on a map outside of the village, we get into problems – that’s where the county and state need to be involved.”
Hatfield said there are several major roadways leading in and out of the village that need long-term solutions; roadways like State Route 3 that’s ripe for development all the way to Westerville, and Routes 36/37 from Sunbury to I-71 that needs to be developed into four lanes with limited curb cuts to keep traffic moving.
“We would like to have our roadway infrastructure in and around the village thought out 25 years in advance,” Hatfield said. “The most crucial thing is private/public partnerships to fund these improvements. We’ve already had discussions with ODOT about all parties participating in funding those improvements. As growth happens in an intersection, all parties should share in funding improvements; there needs to be a plan and funding mechanism saying this is how it’s going to be paid for.”
Hatfield said the southern interchange, Sunbury Parkway and Northgate commercial development are on track.
During 2015, the village approved annexations as far west as 3 Bs and K Road that would allow sewer to a southern interchange near the closed ODOT weigh station south of the I-71-36/37 interchange. The Northgate commercial development will result in a new roadway into the core of the village called Sunbury Parkway.
In March 2015, the village approved a Northgate New Community Authority to collect various forms of tax dollars and charges on new development by Northgate Land Consortium I LLC to pay for public infrastructure as Northgate develops.
In addition to Big Walnut and Olentangy school districts benefiting from terms in the Sunbury/NorthGate NCA, other taxing districts that will receive funding as NorthGate grows include the Delaware Area Career Center, Community Library, BST&G Fire District, Preservation Parks, Delaware-Morrow Mental Health, Delaware County Health District, the village of Sunbury, and Delaware 911 District.
Hatfield said that’s the kind of partnerships the village is in favor of.
“Sewer will start to be extended out that way in late 2016,” Hatfield said. “There’s no way at this point in time to predict the timing of Northgate, but Sunbury Parkway leading to the proposed southern interchange should not be far behind sewer.”
Looking ahead, Hatfield said it’s going to be very important for Sunbury to continue working closely with Delaware County and the Big Walnut Local School District as growth continues.
“We have to remember,” he said, “the school system is a very important part of why people want to live here.”
Closer to home, Hatfield said the village staff is ready for any challenges the year ahead presents.
“I’m really excited about the staff we have here,” Hatfield said. “The new folks who came on board the past year or two – village Administrator Alan Rothermel, wastewater treatment plant supervisor Dale Wampler, street and maintenance supervisor Brad Gerwig, zoning inspector Rhonda Mourne. Combined with everyone else we have on board, Sunbury’s got a really solid team.”
Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093.