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Liberty Township denial forcing business to move or close

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP- Hy d r oMa s t e r own e r Bo b Richardson isn’t sure what he’ll do next. His request for a conditional use was denied by the Liberty Township Board of Zoning Appeals March 6 and, if he doesn’t challenge the BZA’s decision in Fairfield County Common Pleas Court, he may be required to relocate his business or shut it down by the end of the month.

“The BZA had no choice but to turn us down because they didn’t have the proper tools to work with,” said Richardson.

December 2005, the Liberty Township Trustees approved a zoning change for the Richardson property at 9550 Heimberger Road from Rural Residential zoning to B2, to bring the company in compliance with zoning. But, residents who opposed the rezoning circulated petitions to place final approval of the zoning in the hands of the voters, who overturned the trustees’ decision May 2, 2006.

People who voted to overturn the zoning change believed that the permanent rezoning would allow any commercial business to be developed on the property if the Richardsons ever closed HydroMaster or moved the business elsewhere. Some opponents said that the property would be better served if the Richardsons were granted a conditional use, meaning that the property would return to Rural Residential zoning if HydroMaster ever closes or moves.

With this in mind, Richardson said the trustees placed a change in the township’s conditional use provisions – subject to approval by the BZA- to accommodate a landscaping business. Thinking that was all that was necessary, Richardson said he went the March 6 BZA meeting without a lawyer because he fully expected the BZA to approve his conditional use based on the trustees’ action. Unfortunately for Richardson, the BZA turned him down.

“The application is denied as it falls out of the definition of ‘landscaping,'” said BZA Clerk Deb Barte. “They were doing more.” She said HydroMaster has manufacturing on premise, which is beyond the scope of a traditional landscaping business. BZA members who were contacted had no further comment.

Liberty Township Zoning Administrator Tom Spring said HydroMaster, which has six employees, may need to shut down or relocate by the end of the month. “I can’t tell you an exact date,” he said.

Richardson believes his business was “singled out” to be closed or relocated. “For the last three years, we’ve tried to comply with zoning,” he said. “There are so many small businesses in the township and we’re the one’s being closed down.”

Richardson said he’s heard that some nearby residents complain that his business’ trucks speed on Heimberger Road. He said he tells his employees not to exceed 40 miles per hour, even though the speed limit on Heimberger Road is 55 miles per hour. He added that many other township businesses have white trucks similar to his and he believes the residents are confused as to who owns which truck. “There are lots of white trucks in this area,” he said.

Richardson said he was turned down specificallybecause trustees Nancy Montell and Tim Linkhorn did not create a conditional use provision that was adequate for his business. He accepts that the BZA didn’t have what it needed to approve his conditional use, but he said all the township boards need to “pull together” so they all know what the other is doing.

“We were trying to help the man out, not hurt him,” said Linkhorn. He said the conditional use provision was created to accommodate HydroMaster and Linkhorn believes Richardson’s conditional use would’ve passed if the trustees voted on it, “but that’s not the way it works,” he said. The BZA, not the trustees, approve conditional uses. Linkhorn said he didn’t expect the township to be “blindsided by lawyers” representing people who opposed the conditional use at the March 6 hearing. “The attorneys gave us all sorts of grief,” he said.

Realistically, Linkhorn said Richardson shouldn’t have been running a business in a residential area. “It’s been totally illegal and he knows it,” he said. Linkhorn said that even if the conditional use was approved, it would be up for review each year and could be overturned. Even with a conditional use, HydroMaster would still be in danger of a forced relocation. “I don’t want to see those people out of work,” said Linkhorn, “no-one does.”

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