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Prosecutor’s office says zoning change approved

LANCASTER – Abstaining from voting equals approval, said Fairfield County Assistant Prosecutor Jason Dolin.

The prosecutor’s office has determined that the Liberty Township Zoning Commission approved a controversial zoning change. Former township Board of Zoning Appeals clerk Deb Barte asked the township zoning commission to change 2.95 acres of her property from rural residential to R-1 residential zoning to match the rest of the property. She said the zoning change would unify the property and correct a problem from long ago. She said she has no plans for building on the property any time soon.

Members of the township zoning commission believed Barte’s application was denied when two zoning commission members abstained from voting on the change, two voted in favor of it, and one voted against (it’s important to note that the vote was previously reported as two votes against and one in favor, in addition to the two abstentions. That was an error).

According to the minutes of the April 17 Liberty Township Planning Commission meeting, members David Stone and Phil Renard voted in favor, Jim Snider voted no, and Greg Gutman and Scott Wray abstained. The abstentions caused confusion over whether the zoning commission turned down or approved the R-1 application because there was no majority vote from all its members.

Regardless, the zoning commission presented the vote to the trustees as a recommended denial. A unanimous vote from the trustees is required to overturn a recommendation of the township zoning commission.

During the June 2 trustees meeting, trustees Tim Linkhorn and Nancy Montell voted in favor of Barte’s zoning change, and Trustee Ivan Ety voted against the change. Barte’s zoning change remained denied.

The issue then went to the Fairfield County Prosecutor’s Office, which reviewed the validity of the township zoning commission’s denial of Barte’s zoning change request. According to an Aug. 18 statement from Dolan, “a review of both Robert’s Rules (of Order) and Ohio case law indicates that whether or not Robert’s Rules applied to the zoning commission’s proceedings, the 2-1-2 vote should be counted as an approval of the application. A review of both Robert’s Rules and Ohio law makes this clear.”

In his conclusion, Dolan writes, “Accordingly, it is the opinion of this office and you are hereby advised that the actions of the Zoning Commission resulted in a vote approving the aforementioned zoning application.”

Barte, while feeling vindicated, took the situation personally. “Man, I’m glad that’s over,” she said. “It was all about ‘We don’t like you.'” Barte said she paid significant legal fees to gain the zoning change, even though Fairfield County Regional Planning recommended approval. “There were 30 people for it, but three stopped it,” said Barte. “I’m disappointed in a couple members of the (township) planning commission.” She claimed members hassled her sister-in-law following Dolan’s opinion. “They’re picking on people they don’t like,” said Barte.

In other Liberty Township news, township clerk Dan Alt said HydroMaster Seeding Company has moved to a property on Ohio 158 near Alt’s farm, north of Baltimore. Company owner Bob Richardson has been at odds with township zoning for years, as HydroMaster’s former location on Heimberger Road was not zoned for manufacturing; residents claimed HydroMaster conducts manufacturing onsite and, in 2006, voted to overturn a zoning change that would have brought Hydro- Master into compliance. Since then, the issue continued to cycle through zoning and the courts as HydroMaster was ordered to move or shut down.

Liberty Township Trustee Ivan Ety wasn’t happy HydroMaster was forced to relocate. “It’s a bummer,” he said. “They had to spend $300,000 to relocate when they


already had their business they way they wanted it.”

Township Zoning Administrator Tom Spring said HydroMaster’s new location is zoned B-1, but had no further information regarding the property.

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