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ODNR’s efforts to control building on private property draw fire

BUCKEYE LAKE – ODNR has no right to deny North Bank residents building permits without written authorization, said Buckeye Lake Village Council member Tim Ryan Monday night.

“There is a situation going on around the village,” he said. Ryan said he spoke with zoning inspector Bob Jordan regarding the issuance of zoning permits. “Apparently, we have a verbal comment from someone at ODNR that we are not allowed to issue building and zoning permits on North Bank Road from the center line of North Bank Road to the crest of the dam. I want to know if we have that in writing, I want to know why we are not following up, and I want to know why ODNR park rangers are telling us we cannot do that.”

Ryan said he read a letter from ODNR explaining to residents who live on North Bank Road the procedures regarding removing docks, and so forth while the state continues to rebuild the dam. “That’s not what I’m talking about,” he said. Ryan said talking about structures, remodeling one’s house, building behind one’s house, or erecting a garage that does not contact the dam. “I don’t know why the Village of Buckeye Lake, if all the requirements are met, is not writing permits for that. I’m sorry the mayor is not here to discuss this because apparently it’s falling within his purview. That’s a problem and I want an answer to it!”

Council member Robert Masone said the first he’d heard of the situation was a house fire near the spillway in July. “The resident was told he couldn’t even rebuild in the same footprint,” he said, adding that others were denied permission for simple structures. “I’ve heard from several people who have been denied permission,” Masone said.

Ryan said North Bank Road property owner Mike Fornataro, who was present at Monday night’s village council meeting, plans to build a carport on the back of his property, which is far removed from the dam. “This village is being dictated by a park manager,” Ryan said. “If we don’t have a letter from the State of Ohio saying we can’t issue building permits, why the hell aren’t we issuing building permits?”

Council President Kitty Zwissler said she contacted ODNR Senior Policy Advisor Mark Anthony about the situation. “He’s willing to talk to people,” she said.

“We as a council need to be better informed,” said council member Tom Wolfe. He’d like to see Fornataro build his carport. “We need to support our residents,” Wolfe said.

Council member Arletta Ruton asked Fornataro if he contacted ODNR.

Fornataro said he was told he needed to contact the Millersport ODNR office and go through the proper channels. “Nobody ever answers the phone at Millersport,” he said. “So, that’s where it was left.”

Fornataro said he contacted Ryan to ask if he were aware of any written policy on ODNR’s part banning building permits outside of the dam. “That’s how all this came up,” Fornataro said. “There is no document on file that says we can’t do that. That’s where I am. You call Millersport, you get nothing.” He said there was no one specifically to call.

Zwissler encouraged Fornataro to contact Anthony and provided his phone number. “He’s willing to talk to you about your needs,” she said. “That goes for every citizen here.”

“It goes beyond his needs; it’s his rights,” Masone said. “I was president of a zoning board and an owner has a right to maximize the value of his or her property. That has been denied consistently along North Bank. This is a legal matter; that’s why there’s nothing in writing. If you put it in writing it becomes illegal, so they use a way of pressure on the local zoning people to be able to do that. So, it should be overturned.”

“We have no official document at the village that tells us we can’t issue a building and zoning permit on North Bank Road,” Ryan said. He said if anyone fills out an application that meets all the village’s requirements, a permit should be issued. “If some park ranger walks along the waterfront and tells Mr. Fornataro or anyone else to stop construction, then his fight becomes with that park ranger and the State of Ohio, not with the Village of Buckeye Lake. I don’t know why we’ve stopped issuing permits and I can’t get an answer and to be blunt about it, I’m a little upset about it.”

Zwissler again encouraged contacting Anthony. Ryan, who is also a North Bank resident said, “I think everybody should be aware that on North Bank Road, as it goes to the dam, we have private property rights. The rights that go from the toe of the dam up to a certain section just short of the crest of the dam were sold to us by the State of Ohio. That was done in 1976 and it was signed by Mr. Kasich who was in charge of surplus lands back then. We have private property rights. We understand what’s going on with the dam but what’s being infringed on here is private property rights. The village has a responsibility and we as council members have a responsibility to look out for the residents of our village.”

As of Tuesday, Mayor Clay Carroll said he had not heard from Anthony. “I have been made aware of a letter that was sent to all of the people who live on the dam,” he said. “I am trying to get a meeting with someone at ODNR who can clarify what requirements we can use as the standard for work in close proximity to the dam and what kind of boundary that may require. We need to be sure that we are not doing anything that will adversely affect the dam safety for the sake of all of our residents both on and off the water.”

“ODNR does not deny or issue permits for structures that are not on the dam,” said ODNR spokesman Matt Eiselstein. “Local zoning jurisdictions do consult with ODNR on occasion, prior to granting permits, to ensure a project does not pose a negative impact to the dam.”

Eiselstein said ODNR is working with the (carport request) property owner and the zoning authority “to try and determine if the proposed project may impact the integrity or safety of the dam in its current condition.”

Wednesday afternoon, Carroll sent an email to council members stating, “Just wanted to let you know I had a very productive conference call today (with) ODNR and got some clear direction for (Jordan) when it comes to issuing zoning permits. The short of it is any construction work that is over eight feet away from the toe of the dam, (Jordan) can issue a zoning permit and then share a copy of the plans and the permit with ODNR if there is something outside of the eight foot range but requiring extensive excavation or anything that (Jordan) feels concerned about. Then it will be deferred to ODNR.”

Anthony did not return a call from The Beacon seeking his comments on the zoning permit issue.

In other village news:

• Carroll said ODNR is working with its contractor to complete the sidewalk in front of the spillway along Walnut Road. He said people with ODNR’s real estate division are considering whether they have any interest in purchasing the property, which currently is providing truck access to the Buckeye Lake Dam.

Previously, council members commented that large vehicles are parking on the property and forcing pedestrians to walk onto Walnut Road in order to avoid them.

• Resident Marianne Perine told council members she is concerned about the new Walnut Road crosswalk near the Post Office. Its construction appears to have stalled.

Zwissler said the village has purchased the remaining necessary equipment for the crosswalk, including warning lights and signage, which is awaiting installation. Carroll said it should be operational soon.

• Ryan said he would like the planning and zoning commission to provide regular updates to council regarding zoning and permits. “Why do we never have a zoning report from the planning and zoning commission,” he asked.

“I think we need to require that,” Zwissler said.

Council member Peggy Wells said she’s regularly asked for such reports.

Council clerk Valerie Hans said Jordan provides council members with zoning reports.

“I’m talking about from the planning and zoning commission,” Ryan said.

“I agree with you,” Zwissler said. “We have a right to know not only what’s being asked of them, but we have a right to know what the decisions are regarding those requests.”

Wells said the Buckeye Lake Village Charter requires such reports. “Every time I ask for it, I’ve been told we need to come in and get the minutes ourselves,” she said.

Ryan was clear he expects regular reports from the commission in the future.

Council members also agreed they would like the planning and zoning commission to begin work on its own Buckeye Lake Village specific property code and not rely on the International Property Maintenance Code for guidance; council approved the 2015 version of the International

Property Maintenance Code Monday night, although Ryan and Wolfe objected to its approval being passed as an emergency, which skips the three reading rule.

Wells suggested that if the village had its own property maintenance code like Hebron, it won’t be necessary to buy the International Property Code. Wells and Ruton agreed that the planning and zoning commission should be working on this. Wells said the planning and zoning commission has had the same leadership for a long time and it may be time for change. “We need to see some progress,” she concluded.

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