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Zoning issue gains life of its own

BALTIMORE – A Chinese puzzle has nothing in complexity over a Liberty Township zoning application, which has gained a life of its own.

Liberty Township Trustee Tim Linkhorn said more people voted to approve the zoning change than deny it, yet for the moment it remains denied. Former township Board of Zoning Appeals clerk Deb Barte asked to change less than an acre of her property to R-1 residential zoning to match the rest of the property. Currently, the property contains multiple zonings. She said previously she has no plans for building on the property any time soon, but the zoning change would unify the property and correct a problem from long ago.

The voting process has been complicated: During an earlier Liberty Township Zoning Commission meeting, two zoning commission members abstained from voting on the change, two voted against it, and one voted in favor. 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 the members.

Regardless, the zoning change was presented to the trustees as a recommended denial by the township zoning commission. Overturning a recommendation of the township zoning commission requires a unanimous vote from the trustees.

During the June 2 trustees meeting, Linkhorn and Trustee Nancy Montell voted in favor of Barte’s zoning change, and Trustee Ivan Ety voted against the change. Barte’s zoning change remained denied because the trustees’ vote was not unanimous.

But, township clerk Dan Alt said the FairfieldCounty Prosecutor’s Officeis reviewing the validity of the township zoning commission’s denial of Barte’s zoning change request because the two abstentions made it impossible for there to be a majority vote.

Linkhorn said FairfieldCounty Regional Planning Commission, on which he serves as Liberty Township representative, unanimously recommended the zoning change. “Regional planning didn’t have a problem with it,” he said, however, regional planning’s recommendation is not binding to the township.

Adding to the complexity, the minutes from the June 2 trustees meeting say, “Trustee Linkhorn moved to approve regional planning’s recommendation of the rezoning of this property from R-R to R-1.” Ety mentioned Monday that regional planning’s recommendation is not binding to the township and the minutes should not reflectthe trustees’ vote as representing regional planning’s opinion. He suggested re-voting on the issue.

“It was an improper vote as far as I’m concerned,” said Ety after the meeting.

The county prosecutor’s officewill review this issue in addition to the question of the planning commission members’ abstentions, and decide whether the trustees should vote again.

Ety said previously that Barte’s application for R-1 zoning was turned down several times in the past.

According to the minutes from the June 2 meeting, former trustee Dave L. Keller stated his objection to Barte’s zoning request, saying the entire township should allow one and a half acres as a buildable lot or two acres, but not both. Barte believes Keller’s objection to the rezoning is a personal vendetta. “It’s a payback,” she said, because he was denied a zoning request.

Linkhorn said he believes Keller’s zoning request was different than Barte’s.

Township Zoning Administrator Tom Spring said the Ohio Township Association informed him the Ohio General Assembly passed a bill, which is sitting on the governor’s desk, containing a provision to remove the requirement for trustees to reach a unanimous decision to overturn a zoning commission recommendation. It is effective 90 days after the governor signs it.

In other township news:

• Resident Dempsey Ohlinger, member of the Ohioans for Responsible Rural Development citizen’s group, believes he was denied the opportunity to talk to the trustees when he arrived at the meeting after the citizens’ comment period and had not signed the sign-in sheet.

He believes the township BZA improperly charged ORRD $500 for an application to appeal the approval of the Roshon Estates–a proposed 100-acre development slated for construction near the intersection of Stoudertown Road and Heimberger Lane. Ohlinger said the developer paid nothing for similar actions, but ORRD paid $500. He doesn’t think that’s fair and ORRD should be reimbursed the fee. Ohlinger believes the township changed its fees in the middle of the Roshon approval process. “Even if it wasn’t intentional, it sure looks bad,” he said.

• Resident Ed Thomas was named as an alternate BZA member. Montell and Linkhorn voted for Thomas, while Ety favored Keller, who also applied for the position. Ety said he favored Keller because, as a former trustee, he has more knowledge of the township. Montell and Linkhorn favored Thomas because they believe he more willing to judge each case on its own merit.

• The trustees made no decisions about changing the township’s insurance plan. Earlier, Montell called the existing plan a “Cadillac” with no deductible. Linkhorn predicted the township’s new plan would have a deductible, but he wasn’t sure how much it would be. He expects the trustees to decide at their next meeting, July 7.

Ety said he’d support some change in the insurance. “We ought to do something to save the township some money,” he said. Previously, he said he’d prefer not to have a deductible.

Montell said she had no problem working with Mark Hollinger of Ohio Insurance Services who told the trustees Monday night he now operates as an independent.

• July 17, HydroMaster Seeding Company owner Bob Richardson will appeal the BZA’s dismissal of his second try for a conditional use. Currently, his business is operating in a residentially zoned area and if he is not granted a conditional use for his business he will be forced to relocate or shut down HydroMaster.

Ety said there’s a chance the BZA may have been required to make a ruling, as opposed to dismissing the request, but he wasn’t certain.

• Montell said Tuesday she believes a lack of communication between the trustees is leading to many misunderstandings. “There has never been communication between trustees Montell and Linkhorn, and Trustee Ety,” she said.

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