Controversial Hithergreen land to become a park with $550K grant

The Centerville-Washington Park District has secured more than $500,000 in state grant funding to demolish the former Hithergreen Center building in Washington Twp. and turn the property into a park.

The Hithergreen Center, 5900 Hithergreen Drive, closed several years ago when the township moved senior programming to other township facilities.

The space has been the center of controversy since then, including proposals for housing and an assisted living facility.

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Now, a $558,000 grant from the Clean Ohio Fund Green Space Conservation Program, administered by the Ohio Public Works Commission, has been awarded to the park district, which will own and manage the park.

“This new park will provide recreation space in a busy residential area, and it will help to clean run-off to the tributary stream on the property,” said Arnie Biondo, director of the Centerville-Washington Park District. “Centerville-Washington Park District is committed to the preservation of open space and natural habitats.”

Washington Township Administrator Jesse Lightle said the project is a win-win for the community and the Hithergreen neighborhood.

“This neighborhood will now have a park within a ten-minute, safe walk of every home,” Lightle said.

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Washington Twp. trustees in September of 2017 approved a rezoning of the township-owned land at Hithergreen Drive as part of a deal to sell the land for $250,000 to developer Tom Peebles. He planned to divide the nearly 15 acres of land into green space and 30 residential lots. Previous plans also included a proposed assisted living facility.

In May 2018, however, voters rejected a zoning amendment that would have permitted Peebles to build homes on the lots.

The grant will cover 75 percent of the cost for land acquisition, building demolition, and land conservation and restoration.

Demolition of the building will occur this year, followed by plans to restore the landscape and begin maintenance as a public park. Washington Township Public Works will handle building demolition, and the Centerville-Washington Park district will remove non-native invasive plant species such as honeysuckle, fell dead or dying trees, and plant native butterfly gardens on the property to create a healthy ecosystem for native plants and animals. A small portion of the parking lot will remain to facilitate easy access for park visitors.

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Jim Teske has lived across the street from Hithergreen for 35 years. He has seen the property go from a school to senior center to just an open green space. He said neighbors are in agreement that the turning the property into a park would be a win-win situation for residents and the township.

“When it was first shut down as a school, we said, ‘Why don’t you make this a park?’ Every time the issue comes up on what to do with the property, we say, ‘We want a park,’” Teske said. “We still just want a a park.”

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