2008-04-12 / News

Liberty Township developer wants more time

By Scott Rawdon

BALTIMORE - The Liberty Township Board of Zoning Appeals has a big decision ahead of it. April 1, BZA members heard convincing arguments on either side of a request to grant the Roshon Estates development--a proposed 100-acre subdivision located near the intersection of Stoudertown Road and Heimberger Lane-more time to begin construction. Following the hearing, BZA members unanimously exercised their right to table the issue and announce a decision during their April 15 meeting.

Some Liberty Township residents oppose the Roshon Estates Planned Unit Development because they believe the construction plan, which includes up to 200 houses, is too dense for its rural location. They say the construction plan should go through the township zoning and approval process all over again because, according to Liberty Township zoning, construction of a subdivision must begin within two years of its final approval. Residents say the plan was approved at its earliest in 2004 and at its latest Jan. 2006.

Liberty Township Zoning Inspector Tom Spring and Liberty Township attorney Bill Loveland told the BZA that the county has yet to approve the subdivision's plat-or the subdivision's legally approved drawings--and, according to zoning, the subdivision has fiveyears to receive plat approval, and then the developer has another two years to turn soil.

Loveland described the Roshon Estate's entire approval process as "tortured and difficult."

To review: • The Liberty Township Trustees approved the final construction plan for the Roshon Estates, which included 134 homes and 84 condominiums, January 7, 2004.

• However, May 17, 2004, property owner Richard Roshon asked for a change to the final plan whereby proposed condominiums were dropped from the plan and the development was to have 200 homes in total. The Liberty Township trustees voted 2-1 to approve the amendments to the final plan during the May 17 hearing.

• August 16, 2004, the Fairfield County court ruled that the amended plan was not valid because all three trustees - not just a majority - must approve any changes to a plan that's already been approved. The court also ruled against a referendum that the Ohioans for Responsible Rural Development, or ORRD, a citizens' group that has opposed the Roshon Estates' development density, wanted to place on the ballot to put approval of the amended plan in the hands of the voters.

• Roshon then sought advice from the FairfieldCounty Prosecutor who believed that since the amended plan for the Roshon Estates was never officially approved, then the original plan that was approved January 7, 2004 was in effect by operation of law.

• FairfieldCounty Common Pleas Judge Chris Martin ruled May 31, 2005 that the original final plan was not in effect by operation of law, the original plan was null and void, and Roshon must start the approval process all over again.

• January 23, 2006, the Ohio Fifth District Appellate Court overturned Martin's ruling and agreed with the prosecutor's assertion that the January 7, 2004 original construction plan, which included the condominiums, is in effect.

ORRD member Dempsey Ohlinger told the BZA that the entire process has been a "series of errors" and a recent township land use plan made it clear that people in Liberty Township don't want dense subdivisions. He believes people do not oppose Roshon developing his land, they merely want fewer houses. "Over the years, residential (development) has destroyed Pickerington. Now it's coming to us," he said. If there's ambiguity in the zoning, said Ohlinger, the BZA should rule in favor of the residents' wishes.

"The Roshons have lived on that farm all their lives," said resident Becky Lour. Their only intention was to sell the land for retirement income, she said, adding that Dorothy Roshon passed away in August. "They loved Liberty Township. They had no idea this was going to happen." She didn't understand how everyone would become "so up in arms" about the Roshon Estates.

Attorney Chris Hogan, representing ORRD, said those he represents don't oppose the Roshon Estates per se; they oppose the number of houses planned for the project. He argued to the BZA that granting Roshon an extension of the two-year limit would, in effect, amend the zoning code, and the BZA doesn't have the authority to do so. "This is a legislative amendment to the code," he said. The time limit encourages developers to act swiftly on their plans.

Loveland explained his position that developers actually have seven years, when plat approval is factored in. Spring added that no project can move forward without plat approval. Hogan said Roshon asked for an extension. "The housing market is bad. They want more time," he said.

The BZA tabled its decision until April 15.

In other Liberty Township news:

• Bob Richardson, owner of the Hydromaster Seeding Co., dropped his appeal of a BZA decision not to grant a business zoning change to the Hydromaster site, which is in an area zoned for residential use. Richardson's attorney, Richard Ricketts, issued the following statement: "The Richardsons are going to proceed with administrative efforts to obtain the approvals they need to continue operations within Liberty Township. This will include an attempt to reach accord with concerned neighbors along with obtaining clarificationfrom Liberty Township in respect of its interpretation of the zoning code. For the time being, it is our belief that working along these lines are better than proceeding with litigation."

It may be difficultto convince all the neighbors.

"The zoning is left up to the residents of the township," said resident Ron Galliher, an alternate BZA member. He said that for more than two years the residents have expected Hydromaster to relocate, but it has maintained operation the entire time. He believes the business lowers the property values of the surrounding residences.

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