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Curious Cbus: Why Was Clinton Township Never Fully Annexed Into The City?

Gabe Rosenberg/Wikimedia
In red, the disconnected sections of Clinton Township within Franklin County.

This story is part of the Curious Cbusproject. You ask the questions, you vote for one of the questions and we answer.

The span of Columbus is a large enough to encompass dozens of distinct neighborhoods and townships - some of which appear like islands in the sea of Franklin County.

One of those municipalities, Clinton Township, drew the attention of listener Grant Chrzanowski, who said he realized the township was broken into two discrete parts.­

“I just noticed randomly one day on Google maps that Clinton Township wasn't even an entity, and that it had areas all over the place and I was curious how that happened,” Chrzanowski said.

Clinton Township isn’t the only scattered township with meandering borders and unconnected pockets within Columbus.

Almost all of these townships exist because of one Columbus mayor, Jack Sensenbrenner, who began serving the city in 1954. In an effort to save the city from the suburbs, Sensenbrenner created a robust annexation policy.

“Sensenbrenner and his team saw what was happening to the other cities in Ohio,” says local historian Alex Tebben. “At the time, Cincinnati and Cleveland were larger than Columbus, and after the war they saw that residents were leaving the cities for the suburbs, and the cities were losing residents, which meant they were losing taxes, and being sort of cut off by their suburbs.”

Sensenbrenner’s solution was to not let these new suburbs use city water and sewers. Suburbs could not connect to city water because of an alleged water shortage.

But Tebben says the water shortage excuse was completely fabricated.

“If there really was a water shortage, they wouldn’t be able to expand into new territories anyway,” Tebben says. “So they were just using it as an excuse to cut off future suburbs from using city water.”

If a new development needed or wanted city water, they had to play ball and be annexed. That meant instead of having a large sprawling suburban area, with Columbus as a kernel in the middle, the entirety of the metro area would be marked as within city limits.

Sensenbrenner lost his next bid for mayor but won again in 1964, continuing his plan to grow Columbus.

“By the time Sensenbrenner was done with his final term in ’72, Columbus had more than quadrupled in size from what it was in 1950,” Tebben says.

Clinton Township trustee John Coneglio explains that not everybody needed to annex.

“The only places really left that aren’t annexed are places that have water or already had water,” Coneglio says.

The middle section of the original Clinton Township was annexed into Columbus so they could be connected to city water. That left the remaining parts of the township divided in two.

What now remains of Clinton Township is independent of Columbus. Coneglio says that independence comes with some perks.

“Our streets are always plowed during snow storms, and whenever there’s a problem they got somebody they can call to try and help them out and they usually get quick service,” Coneglio says.

Sensenbrenner used water access to expand Columbus’ borders, but today the city is far less aggressive. According to Kevin Wheeler, administrator of the Columbus Department of Development’s planning division, the city only annexes about 100 acres a year.

Wheeler says small areas are annexed when a business or residents want to be connected to city water.

People approach the city for annexation for a number of reasons,” Wheeler says. “It is generally speaking for access to city services and that may be an existing development that would like to have access to city water, sewer, refuse collection and other services.”

Coneglio thinks that places like Clinton Township will at some point join Columbus, but there isn’t a rush anymore. Annexation is not at the top of his list.

We don’t get a push from the city of Columbus to annex,” Coneglio says. “I think that they know that they will probably get most of us or all of us in the end.”

Got your own question about Central Ohio? Ask us below for Curious Cbus.