2007-04-28 / News

Liberty Township turns down salvage yard

By Scott Rawdon

BALTIMORE- Both sides in a hearing about a proposed salvage yard in Liberty Township presented literally hours of testimony explaining why the salvage yard should or should not be permitted to operate. But, by the end of the April 18 hearing, the Liberty Township Board of Zoning Appeals ruled against the salvage yard for a reason that was only brought up briefly.

Technically, BZA members unanimously upheld an appeal submitted by the East Side Neighborhood Group--a citizens' group that opposes the salvage yard. The group appealed a Fairfield County prosecutor's opinion that there were no zoning violations on the salvage yard's property.

To review, 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 at 145 Baltimore Somerset Road. 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.

April 18, the BZA ruled that Bernard Franks, who opened to original junkyard on the property, never applied for a variance per a zoning ordinance from 1960, so the junkyard was never a legal use.

"It seems pretty simple," said BZA member Karl Kumler. There was no record of making an application for a conditional use when the junkyard was established.

BZA Vice Chair Jack Schafer said Franks failed to register his business. "He was not in compliance all those years," said Schafer.

"In my mind, it's rural residential," said Kumler. "We know this is out of compliance."

Basically, the East Side Neighborhood Group was trying to convince BZA members through testimony that the junkyard has not been in continuous operation since it was opened. In order for it to be a grandfathered use, it must have been in continuous operation, and, they say, Estep's use cannot significantlyincrease activity on the property from Franks' business. Estep, however, needed to prove that the junkyard operated continuously under Franks' ownership, and transactions took place regularly.

During the hearing, attorney Mike Shannon, representing the East Side Neighborhood Group, said, "I think the record is abundantly clear that this a re-establishment of a junkyard," and there were gaps in Franks' business. "Mr. Estep's use would clearly increase Mr. Franks' use," is not allowed by zoning. While not alleging any misconduct, Shannon said many things weren't handled correctly and his client is exercising the right of appeal. He said that Franks never registered the junkyard as a non-conforming use, and as Franks aged and became ill, his business dwindled to where there was hardly any activity on his property.

Estep's attorney, T. Michael Christian, told the BZA that Estep's business can't be restricted to a certain level. "Just because Mr. Franks was ill, it doesn't mean (Estep) can't make a better profit."Christian said that Shannon failed to show the business was discontinued and abandoned. Christian said business was conducted within two years periods, which he said qualifies the business as active.

Tuesday, Estep said he didn't believe the hearing was conducted fairly and could only say that he's following up on some of the information presented at the hearing. "It's definitely going to go forward," he said; it's not over yet.

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