2007-02-10 / News

Salvage yard opponents turn up the heat

By Scott Rawdon

BALTIMORE- The Liberty Township Trustees hadn't long to wait. Members of the East Side Neighborhood Group - a citizens' group created to oppose a controversial salvage yard planned for 145 Baltimore- Somerset Road - hired attorney Mike Shannon to help the group appeal the county prosecutor's conclusion that there are no zoning violations on the salvage yard property.

Earlier, Shannon represented Richard and Dorothy Roshon in their efforts to create a 100- acre development called the Roshon Estates located near the intersection of Stoudertown Road and Heimberger Lane.

To review, Bremen resident Ri cha rd Es t ep, owne r 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. He said 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 salvage yard would be a grandfathered use. Residents who live close to the proposed salvage yard strongly disagree.

Shannon, present at Monday night's trustees meeting, made his client's position clear. "We intend to filean appeal on behalf of the neighbors," he told the trustees. "We feel that from Day One, the township has botched the process. I want to take the trustees, with all due respect, to task!" Shannon said that the township's treatment of the neighbors who live close to the proposed salvage yard has been "despicable," and their concerns have been ignored. "That's balderdash!" he exclaimed. "We're not going to take it!" Shannon also asserted that the township has extended every courtesy to a "blatantly non-conforming use." He said, "These people's rights have been violated; these people have had enough!"

Trustee Tim Linkhorn asked if Shannon was threatening the trustees.

A strong point of contention between the township and the salvage yard opponents is the trustees' position that they are not permitted to release Hilty's opinion to the public under attorney-client privilege. Many residents disagree. Baltimore resident Thomas Young, who opposes the salvage yard, gave a written statement to the trustees saying that some very serious questions were raised after consulting with a Franklin County judge.

Young said he asked for a copy of Hilty's opinion, but his request was denied on the advice of the Fairfield County Prosecutor's Office. "Either incorrect information is coming out of this office,or this board (trustees) is picking and choosing which parts of the law to use for whatever reason," Young wrote. He said that in the case of Carver vs. DeerfieldTownship (Portage County, 2000), it was decided that a prosecutor's opinion is protected under attorney-client privilege, but the only entity that can waive and authorize release of the prosecutor's opinion is the board of township trustees.

"When zoning issues arose dealing with the (peaker power plant proposed fiveyears ago for Liberty Township) controversy in the northern part of our township, we constantly heard 'not in my back yard' as a defense. Is there a double standard depending on where you live in this township?" asked Young.

"What would you want a public officialto do if you were a neighbor to this proposed junkyard?"

If Hilty says the opinion can be released, "I'd be happy to release the opinion," said Trustee Nancy Montell. She said after the meeting that she would only agree to release the opinion on the advice of an attorney. "We've been advised not to," she said. "Would they want their information released" if it were under attorney-client privilege?

Trus t e e Ivan Ety s a i d Wednesday, "If the lawyer tells you not to do something, you probably shouldn't do it."

Montell reacted to what she believes were personal attacks against her and the trustees by Shannon during the Monday night meeting. "He was not only rude, but terribly unprofessional. He's an embarrassment to his profession," she said.

Linkhorn agreed. "Mr. Shannon was really unprofessional and showed no respect for the trustees," he said, after the meeting.

East Side Neighborhood Group member Jim Reed said Wednesday that he thought Linkhorn's defensive reaction to Shannon was "strange." The trustees, he said, didn't react defensively when Estep threatened a lawsuit earlier. Reed added, "Think about the number of times we were told (by the trustees) that we needed to hire an attorney; I wish I had a nickel for each one of them. It was almost a warning. I think this attorney is capable giving us an opportunity" to stop the salvage yard.

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