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Eight months later, there was a little more love for a proposed truck stop coming to Barnes Road in Williamstown.
Mayor Rick Skinner broke a 3-3 tie on Oct. 16 by voting in favor of presenting a text amendment to the Grant County Planning Commission to allow a truck stop in a highway commercial zone.
The vote was the first step in a lengthy process to making the proposed project a reality.
Council members Eddie Gabbert, Charles Ed Wilson and Bob Perry voted against moving forward with the text amendment while Kim Crupper, Stanley Woodyard, Glenn Caldwell and Skinner voted in favor.
The Williamstown City Council previously rejected amending the city’s zoning ordinance during its Feb. 21 meeting.
While once again the council chambers and an adjoining room was filled to capacity, the reception for Love’s Travel Center, which hopes to open on the west side of Interstate 75 off the Barnes Road exit, was not as chilly the second time around.
The initial vote in February ended 3-2 with Caldwell being absent.
No one spoke in favor of the truck stop earlier this year with members of the Williamstown Downtown Merchants Association presenting the council with a petition against the development.
However, there were about 15 proponents of the travel center who spoke for the development at the latest meeting, nearly double of those who spoke in opposition.
Concerns raised by some city council members and residents included traffic, noise, property values, increases in crime and the impact of a travel center on other developments being discussed for Barnes Road.
Those in favor cited the dire need for an economic boost within the city to help increase revenue and bring down utility costs.
One person who changed his mind about the project in the past eight months was Mayor Skinner.
Skinner cited the reality that a potential St. Elizabeth Healthcare development project on Barnes Road was likely three or four years down the road and the Ark Encounter was moving slower than anticipated.
“I see here that we have something in hand that is a shovel-ready project and I have changed my feeling,” he said.
Crupper said he voted again in favor of the amendment because Williamstown needs to see serious growth.
“I said then that it’s not my first choice for our city, but where it’s located on the west side of 75, the impact would be extremely small to the city,” he said. “If it was on the east side of 75 toward the Williamstown side, I wouldn’t be for this. We don’t need it on that side of the Interstate.”
In his 20 years on city council, Crupper said the city’s budget is the tightest he has ever seen.
With a struggling downtown and Piles Chevrolet moving to Dry Ridge and the city facing the replacement of its water plant, new revenue has to be generated, said Crupper.
“No other businesses are coming down and knocking on our doors wanting to locate in Williamstown,” he said. “I wish they were. I wish we had enough people making applications here that every building in this town was filled.”
Woodyard described the city as “financially strapped” as he voiced his support for the truck stop.
“If somebody breaks ground, there’s somebody else who is going to start behind them,” he said. “If you look at Walton, there is a new building going up there because they finally went in and started building. And, that’s by a truck stop.”
Caldwell cited the difficulty Skinner and the city would have trying to get awarded grant funding from the state to assist with the upcoming water plant without first exhausting all revenue-generating ideas.
“It’s going to be a hard sell to convince the governor and the economic development cabinet that we need a grant when we’re turning down a business that is ready to turn the shovels over and is not asking for any incentives from anyone,” he said. “I don’t know that we would be able to sell an $8 million grant request by turning down businesses. The bottom line is I’m going to support the truck stop.”
Gabbert and Perry, both against the truck stop, cautioned residents that the city was not in a financial disaster.
“I want to assure you citizens here that we’re not about to file bankruptcy tomorrow,” Gabbert said. “I realize times are tough, but we’re going to have to do a lot more with little. So, don’t leave here thinking the doors to this place are going to be locked tomorrow, police officers are going to be laid off and firemen are going to be sent home because we are not in that bad of shape. We need to tighten up our belt, but we can all do that in our own homes.”
Perry echoed the same sentiments.
“I’ve been on council 15 years, I didn’t realize we were getting to the point where we were going to start laying people off,” he said. “I’ve never heard that. I would have thought we would have had a forewarning. I know when we lose an employee, we hire somebody back.”
Wilson said he is a supporter of businesses and economic development, but he cannot support the truck stop.
“Crime comes with truck stops,” he said. “Prostitution is a part of it.”
“The noise and the air pollution when you have these trucks sitting there letting their diesel engines run will permeate so many square miles,” Wilson said. “I don’t have an EPA study. I don’t have to.”
The Love’s Travel Center project would include a Subway and Hardee’s restaurants, a convenience store, gas/diesel pumps and parking for 115 trucks overnight.
In addition to the 30 acres for the truck stop, three additional outlying lots would have been sold for businesses such as motels or sit-down restaurants.
Adam Chaney, project manager for the developers, said there have been preliminary discussions with Frisch’s and Bob Evans.
“They’ve got to see something real before they can make commitment,” he said. “To promise that they’re coming, I can’t do that tonight. But, the first step to bringing them here is what we’re talking about tonight.”
During its more than an hour presentation, the developers said the project’s economic impact would include $15 million annually into the local economy, as well as a $10 million one-time construction benefit.
The travel center and other anticipated businesses would also create 157 one-time construction jobs and a total of 347 jobs created annually from further business expansion, according to the presentation.
It is estimated that the project also would bring $185,000 in increase tax revenues each year.
Dr. Floyd Poore, who owns the land where the truck stop would be located, approached the city council at the end of 2011 about whether such a venture would be welcome.
“The main thing we’ve discussed tonight can be distilled down to three facts,” he said at the Oct. 16 meeting. “One: jobs, jobs, jobs. The second is increased income for our city, our schools and for our tourism, for our police and fire department, for our water and sewer departments. Everything with city and county government is going to benefit. Third, a regeneration of Williamstown, a rebirth, if you will, a renaissance. This is our chance.”