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Trustees reject zoning change for landfill

MILLERSPORT – After some 30 months of debate, decisions and litigation, it took Walnut Township Trustees about two minutes at a special meeting Monday night to unanimously reject Jerry and Barbara Mock’s application to rezone approximately 61 acres just west of Ohio 37 from I-1 (Light Industrial) to I-2 (General Industrial).

There was no discussion. Trustee Terry Horn moved to approve the application and Trustee President Sonny Dupler seconded his motion. The roll call vote was 0-3 to approve the motion. The vote was greeted by light applause and “thank you’s” from about a dozen neighbors. Neither the Mocks nor their attorney was present.

Monday night’s vote was the third and most important rejection for the refiled application. The Mocks refiled their rezoning application in September as part of a two-option process to construct and operate a 34.8 acre construction and demolition debris landfill on the site.

Their first application was unanimously approved by trustees in May 2008, after both the regional planning commission and the township zoning commission recommended approval. The application was characterized as correcting a mistake made by the township zoning inspector and as a boost to economic development. There was little mention or discussion of the Mock’s plans for a C&DD landfill.

But their neighbors immediately to the north – Ron and Irene DiPaolo – were concerned about the landfill possibility and the impact on their property. A petition for a referendum on the rezoning was timely filed with sufficient signatures. However, the Fairfield County Board of Elections rejected it after the Mocks challenged it on technical grounds. So the DiPaolos headed to court where Judge Richard E. Berens found defects earlier this year in their original application and the township’s procedures. He issued an injunction maintaining the current I-1 zoning.

After the May 2008 approval, the Mocks moved quickly with their landfill plans, receiving a 2009 license in December 2008 from the Fairfield Department of Health. That license was issued without a public information session or hearing. The license permits a maximum height of 120 feet, making it the second highest point in Walnut Township. The license was renewed last December for 2010. But the landfill can’t be built until the site is rezoned to I-2 or the Mocks appeal of Beren’s decision succeeds.

That appeal is pending before the Fifth District Court of Appeals. Oral arguments were scheduled for December 2. The critical issue is their claim that Berens’ should have considered their claim that state law preempts local zoning. “Townships have never been, and should not now be, permitted to nullify the technical expertise of the Ohio EPA and its approved health Districts regarding an appropriate location for a C&DD facility,” the appeal states. In other words, local zoning regulations are irrelevant if a landfill is licensed by Ohio EPA or an approved health district. They also contend that the township complied with time limits and that the other procedural errors did not prejudice opponents.

With the landfill issue front and center this time, both the Regional Planning Commission and the township zoning commission recommended that trustees reject the rezoning application. The zoning commission recommendation was unanimous and regional planning voted 13-2 to reject the advice of its staff that it recommend approval to trustees.

The Mocks continue to operate a C&DD recycling operation, roll-off container and stone yard businesses at the site

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