Citizen Activism Key to Land Preservation in Loveland

February 19, 2024
Article authors Lauren Enda, Kevin Kiley, Sharon Scovanner, and Jamie Smith standing in tall grass with pine trees in the background.

A story by Lauren Enda, Kevin Kiley, Sharon Scovanner, and Jamie Smith. This article is also featured in the March 1, 2024, issue of The Ripple.

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Many times, a shared problem will unexpectedly bring strangers together for the greater good. Such an opportunity occurred when a local housing developer planned to buy 109 acres with woods and historic farmland to build 209 homes in Loveland, Ohio. To preserve and protect this natural space, an organic, widespread, and dedicated group of people organized themselves and moved swiftly to prevent this development. Our grassroots effort paid dividends when Ohio awarded grant money to Cardinal Land Conservancy, a local non-profit, to purchase 89 acres of the land and preserve it in perpetuity, with the remaining twenty acres being donated to Cardinal.

Unfortunately, this happy outcome doesn’t always play out in cities and communities. Many times, the bulldozers and backhoes arrive before a community is aware of the impending development, polarizing the community. City leaders don’t always weigh the benefits of development against its drawbacks; instead, they just assume that development in any form is a good thing.

In Loveland, a zoning change was required to develop the property as proposed, giving residents the chance to make their (very loud) voices heard. Citizens who feel their communities are being threatened with over-development can (and should) maintain awareness of the Planning and Zoning Committee since this un-elected group holds so much power in shaping our communities. Meetings are open to the public, and the agendas are posted online before every meeting.

Even with so much at stake in our communities, the hurdle to get involved is daunting for everyday citizens. It is intimidating to question the authority of city leadership, and some leaders may count on that.  In order to save this land, we had to do things that made us uncomfortable but pushed us as individuals and as a team to grow in confidence and strength.      

Members of our community who were against the housing development knew we needed to formally organize and present a strong, united front. We quickly formed the Grail Land Preservation Group. We defined two tasks for the group. Our first was to ensure the developer did not get the zoning change they needed to build, and the second was to protect the land. We strategized to form several subcommittees, to explore multiple possibilities for use of the land. Four of us formed the Conservation Subcommittee, dedicated to preserving the natural state of the land.

“The Grail Land Preservation Group were dedicated to protecting this small piece of Loveland and were very persistent in attending meetings and showing our elected officials what the right thing to do was. Without their skills and voices, this project would have taken much longer if it would have happened at all.”

- Andy Dickerson, Cardinal Land Conservancy

Group protest in front of Loveland City Hall.

The four-member Conservation Subcommittee, with support from various individuals and organizations, worked for approximately 18 months to protect the land from development. We did not want a temporary arrangement that could lead to further problems and possible development in the future. Part of our work was calling and meeting with environmental and conservation groups to gather information and seek help. Finally, based on our political work to stop the zoning change, our local knowledge of people and history, and our deep commitment to environmental conservation, we helped pave the way for Cardinal Land Conservancy to apply for funds to purchase the land. Cardinal will care for and heal the land and we could not be more grateful for their support.

Not all groups wishing to protect natural spaces will be successful, however. Several years ago, another development in Loveland was approved by Planning and Zoning, even though residents gathered over 150 signatures against the housing development. The city ignored the residents then. But they listened this time. When citizens fight against over-development, whether they win or lose, it puts local government officials “on notice” that people are watching and that people care about protecting open space. Additionally, forcing elected officials to go on record regarding development, allows citizens to make a different choice in the next election.

Some of the skills and tactics we found valuable to achieve our goal are as follows. While every situation will be different, we believe that this list will assist groups hoping to make positive change in their communities.

1. Be aware of what is happening in your community.
a. Attend meetings: city council, township trustee, county commissioner, etc.
b. Read agenda packets
2. Understand where you are in the process and where you can affect change—don’t rely on press releases from developers. We were just beginning to organize when everyone in the public forum was saying, “It’s too late to do anything about it.” But it was not too late!
3. Understand the ‘players’ and their motivations
a. The seller, the buyer and local government
4. Build your team to address the shared problem
a. Use media outlets, social media (NextDoor, Facebook, etc), word of mouth, email to inform people about the problem and the creation of a team to address it.
b. Tap into friends, neighbors, local businesses
c. Over-communicate with everyone and everywhere
5. Organize your team
a. Schedule and advertise a meeting
b. Schedule and advertise a meeting
c. Make contact lists of anyone who attends or shows interest in the team
d. Listen to everyone’s ideas and concerns; determine what your team cares about
e. Identify leadership, a crucial step that must be agreed upon
f. Define and develop a unifying goal – everyone on the team needs to speak, and believe, the same message.
g. Create a communication vehicle (Google Docs, etc) and collate meeting minutes and decisions for future reference.
6. Create strategy and tactics based on the goal
a. Lean into people’s strengths – research skills, legal skills, economic impact assessment, networking, public speaking, planning, social media.
b. Assign jobs and topics to individuals – if it is everyone’s job, no one is responsible
c. Involve everyone
d. Be diplomatic – make friends of enemies and find common ground with as many people as possible
e. Do not burn bridges
7. Apply constant, consistent pressure to decision-makers 
a. Online and in-person polls can get “pulse of community” and provide data to city leadership
b. Speak at meetings – attack the problem from many sides using data-driven and emotional content.
c. Fill the room with as many people as possible – even if people do not speak. Elected officials take notice when there are energized and motivated people in their council chambers.
d. In-person protest with picket signs, with media coverage
8. Find outside partners and experts to help your cause
a. Research, research, research to find individuals and organizations to help
b. Environmental groups, financial resources, grants, government agencies, lawyers, etc.
c. We “cold called” existing groups that are experts in the field of conservation. We persisted in reaching out until we were able to find groups that were willing to collaborate and commit.
9. Stay on course and focused on the primary goal
a. Beware of counterproductive/divergent groups and plans
b. Be prepared to adjust course if necessary, but do so as a group. Leadership is important in maintaining open communication.
c. Addressing city hall is difficult work and tensions and differences will arise. It may be better to part ways with a divergent faction within your team than try to change agreed upon goals halfway through.
d. There will be lulls and periods of waiting. Regroup. Decide if you need to reinvigorate conversations.
10. Expect both setbacks and unanticipated luck—We had plenty of both.


Young girl named Addy holds a small lizard.

Notes from the authors:

Kevin: “Never underestimate the power and influence of a united group. Standing up for what you believe in, even though it may not be easy or comfortable, can yield results beyond what you ever thought possible.”

Sharon: “A driving force in achieving our goal was to be persistent, (continuing firmly in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition).  This determination served us well at every stage of our journey.”

Lauren: “People are becoming more aware of the need for conservation but are unsure what to do. You are not alone in wanting to protect our children by protecting natural spaces and natural resources. A large part of our team’s strength lay in the variety and number of people involved. Cast a wide net for people – you never know who will help, where they live, why they care, and what skills they have.

Jamie: "I knew that my kids and I could not afford to lose the peace and joy that we received from the land at Grailville. Our time there nourished us. Time spent in nature for children is precious, meaningful, and healthy. I kept that in mind and remained steadfast, even when the cause to save the land felt hopeless. I wasn't willing to give up hope because that would mean giving up on our daily access to instant peace. It was refreshing and empowering to find friends to work alongside for a cause that was so personal to my family. The situation went from despair at the notion of permanent loss, to miraculous win, and all because of the community speaking up and joining hearts & hands."


Click here to learn more about Cardinal Land Conservancy's story!