2009-05-09 / Editorials & Letters

One more Letter: Writer identifies problems in Thorn Township rezoning


I recently read the letter from Thorn Township Trustee Tim Phipps wherein he alleged that "some remarks" are "unfair and bias (sic) to one side." He added that the board had acted "with respect an integrity in of (sic) these cases." He didn't mention me by name, but it is clear who he is referencing.

By way of background, the property in question (as to the Heron Cover condo project) was a former trailer park that was mired in bankruptcy. The buyers wants to build 27 condos on the lot, per a Planned Residential Development (PRD). Our township zoning resolution required that the property either be zoned Rural Residential or Lake Residential before a PRD application can be filed (Sec. 21.11).

Here's the time line:

1-28-08: The application in this case was filed requesting the PRD zoning change and listing the "Current Use of the Affected Property: Vacant Lot (Lake Residential)." This was not true; it was zoned Rural Business.

2-11-08: A handwritten, unsigned notation under "Date Accepted" says only "2-11-08."

3-10-08: The minutes of the Thorn Township Zoning Commission (hereinafter "Zoning") says a hearing was held regarding changing the property from Rural Business to Lake Residential, tabled until April 2, 2008.

3-19-8: Letter from developer's agent (ADR) to zoning requesting change from Lake Residential to PRD.

4-2-08: Zoning votes to accept change from Rural Business to Lake Residential.

4-3-08: Zoning clerk send recommendation to township trustees.

4-25-08: Trustees approve changing the zoning from Rural Business to Lake Residential.

4-28-08: Minutes of Zoning meeting - preliminary hearing on application to change from Lake Residential to PRD - include, "The Perry County Engineers have mentioned that the Herbert property across the street is not platted."

5-19-08 - 5 p.m.: Zoning holds a hearing about waiving the 10 acre requirement for PRD. The specifics were discussed and Zoning voted to waive the 10-acre requirement. The minutes reflect Zoning member McCauley spoke to Jim Hartzler (a lay person who apparently wrote the zoning code) regarding the interpretation of words and code sections. Hartzler was not present.

5-19-08 - 7 p.m.: Zoning begins a meeting about the change to PRD. I am present and find out about the previous meeting that had been held without notice to the public and inform Zoning that their vote is void. They continue with the meeting anyway.

6-09-08: Zoning holds again the meeting regarding waiving he 10-acre requirement, but prohibits any questions or comments from the public. The waiver is approved. Zoning also approves the change to PRD and directs the clerk to send the packet and recommendations to the trustees for action.

6-10-08: Zoning clerk mails packets and notice of approval to the trustees.

6-11-08: Zoning clerk sends township clerk an e-mail confirming that the packet was mailed.

7-19-08: Trustees conduct a hearing about change to PRD. I attend and question why residents were gagged at the rescheduled zoning meeting. A discussion about "platted" (more below) follows, and I asked if anyone has asked their legal representative, the county prosecutor, for an opinion about this issue. The answer is "No." I then asked why the hearing had not taken place in compliance with our zoning resolution - within approval from June 10. They put forth the ridiculous argument that service of papers on them was no good, as their clerk had not been served until June 27. Serving the master doesn't count as much as serving their subordinate!! I then stated that the developer had already started construction without the zoning change having been approved. Zoning Inspector Factor said that "he" had "given hem permission" to do this ! I then read the trustees their own Zoning Resolution's definition of "development: means any man-made change to improved or unimproved real estate, including, but not limited to buildings or other structures, mining, dredging, filling, grading, paving, excavation or drilling operations or storage of equipment or materials." (Sec. 2.02). They simply ignored my position and, to add insult to injury, the trustees then illegally went into Executive Session 'to discuss the PRD application" (per minutes). They emerged and then voted to accept the PRD, with changes that had been made in executive session. I later, in a Public Records request, found out about the engineer's concerns.

The key problems in this rezoning were:

1. The developer never properly submitted his plans, both initially (the land was not zoned either Lake or Rural Residential before filing his PRD application (Sec. 21.11) on 1-28;

2. The developer submitted his request (3-19) to change from Lake Residential to PRD before the land had been changed to Lake Residential (4-2); legally there was nothing to change as that status had not yet been decided by the trustees;

3. Additional requirement in our Zoning Resolution were a minimum of 10-acres, that all surrounding land be platted and that any change is compatible with existing development (Sec. 21.04). Also, any such change must be submitted to the County Planning Commission and it's recommendation should be weighed by the trustees. As a practical matter, the county planning commission comes and goes, and the plans are usually submitted to the County Engineer. The county engineer's finding that the surrounding land was not platted was never discussed in any trustees' meeting and I only found out about it through a Public Records request. There are no adjoining condo developments; and

4. The vote for the PRD came after an illegal executive session.

I presume this has answered any questions of fairness and bias.

Pete Myer Thorn Township

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