It's a waiting game for salvage yard
BALTIMORE- It's starting to feel like a chess match for the Liberty Township Trustees; none of the trustees is certain what is going to happen next with a controversial salvage yard planned for 145 Baltimore-Somerset Road, or even if they can legally do anything to affect the situation. At the moment, it seems like a case of "hurry up and wait."
Bremen resident Richard Estep, owner of Lancaster's Estep's Auto Service, proposed an automobile "recycling salvage" operation similar to U-Wrench It--a self-service used auto parts store familiar to Columbus residents for the property. Earlier, he assured that there would be "no pollutants whatsoever" from the business that could leak into surrounding properties and the business would be surrounded by a six feet high privacy fence. Although the property is zoned for Rural Residential use, Estep said that the property used to be a junkyard, and a salvage operation should be a grandfathered use. Last year, Julia Hilty of the Fairfield County Prosecutor's officeagreed with Estep, saying that a junkyard would be a grandfathered use.
Although many residents oppose a salvage yard within a residential area, there's not much the trustees can do about it. "It's in Mr. Estep's court," said Trustee Nancy Montell. "Legally, whatever's there can remain there. Our hands are tied right now. I know people in the community are upset by that."
Montell said that so far Estep has done nothing to cause concern. "He's bought the property and cleaned it up." She said she "sympathizes wholly" with the people who oppose Estep's plans and with Estep. "All we (the trustees) have to do is overstep our bounds once and we'd get slapped with a lawsuit," she said. "The trustees can't do much at this point. We've said that time after time."
Estep said he's waiting for the county auditor to send him his business permit and warmer temperatures before he begins readying the property for a salvage yard. "I can't do nothing in this weather," he said. He purchased materials for a new privacy fence and is able to build it at any time. Estep's also waiting to see what the opposition will do. It's his understanding that those opposed to his salvage yard contacted an attorney.
Liberty Township Zoning Administrator Tom Spring said the trustees sent a letter to the county auditor last autumn, asking to hold a business permit for the property in abayance while the trustees investigated whether the salvage yard is considered to be a grandfathered use for the property. The trustees sent another letter to the auditor's officethis month, asking it to release the business permit to Estep.
Jim Reed a member of the East Side Neighborhood Group- -a citizens' organization formed to oppose the salvage yard--said there's plenty for his group to be concerned about. "We're at a crossroads," he said.
Reed said the ESNG very recently received a reply from Spring to a complaint about the salvage yard that was filed in August. The reply said that the county prosecutor told Spring there are no violations on Estep's property. "As much as we disagree" with the township's conclusion, said Reed, "now we have something that can be appealed."
Reed added that ESNG members learned during the trustees' Jan. 15 meeting that only one representative of the group may speak for the group during trustees' meetings, and that spokesperson is limited to fiveminutes. "We're not in agreement with that, either," he said. Reed believes the requirement violates ESNG members' right to free speech.
ESNG members, said Reed, feel deceived by the township. He said that during the Jan. 15 meeting, ESNG members asked to be notified when the township sent its letter to the county auditor to release permits to Estep, allowing him to begin doing business on the property. Reed said ESNG representative Ted Reedy shortly received a reply from the township stating that the letter was already sent to the auditor's office.Reed said ESNG members also learned that the letter was signed by all three trustees Jan. 15, the day of the trustees' meeting. "Did they already have the letter?" he asked. Reed said it was signed on the same day that ESNG members asked to be notified when its delivery was imminent. ESNG members were not notified on that day.
Montell said the letter was signed at the end of the Jan. 15 meeting and the ESNG members who were present left before the end of the meeting. The letter was part of a packet of information requested by both ESNG and Estep. The packets were mailed 12 days after the Jan. 15 meeting. "It was my fault," said Montell. She said she apologizes if people felt deceived as that was not her intention.
Dempsey Ohlinger, co-chair of the citizens group Ohioans for Responsible Rural Development, said in an email statement, "Although ORRD has offered to assist (the ESNG), it appears that they do not need our help at this time. We share their concerns. We're here if they need us, just as we have always been here for the community."
libertytownship.org for meeting schedules and other township information.