Brown Township trustees will dedicate a new $1.4 million township hall on Sunday.
But at least one township resident isn’t happy about it.
The township is embroiled in a court battle over the property’s zoning and permitted use with local resident Bryan Schermerhorn, a next-door neighbor of the township property. He initially filed a lawsuit against the township in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas in May 2016 after the township denied his appeal regarding the zoning of property.
Schermerhorn contends that the property is zoned Farm Residential and does not allow for the construction of a government building. He said in his zoning appeal to the township that he disputes the zoning of the property and what it will allow to be built on it.
“The zoning inspector ignorantly or arrogantly chose not to do her job and review the portion of the code we asked her to review,” Schermerhorn said. “She reviewed a completely different portion of the code and tried to massage extrapolations to justify doing this.”
The Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office filed an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court Oct. 13 on the behalf of the township.
“For a conservative prosecutor, Carol O’Brien, to use the government to stomp on people and prevent them from being heard in court is atrocious,” said Schermerhorn. “Rather than allowing the local Common Pleas Court make a decision, they’re doing everything they can … to delay.”
Delaware County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien said the building is located “in the footprint of the old school and nothing will change with the baseball fields behind it. The township followed their zoning process. The result is we have a beautiful township hall.”
Construction of the hall was made possible by a $1.1 million gift from the Charles and Betty Sheets Fund of the Delaware County Foundation. The Sheets family gifted the land to be sold with the intention of the funds going to Brown Township for the construction of a new hall. The first condition for the township to receive the money was for the building to be built on the site of the old Brown High School.
Trustee Gary Stegner said the township has “kicked in $382,000” of the $1.4 million.
Trustee Steve Cole said the old school building was bigger than the township hall and in building it, “we did everything like we were supposed to do.”
“They didn’t want us to put a building there,” Cole said. “It’s not devaluing his property. It’s only going to increase his property’s value.”
Schermerhorn said when he filed his lawsuit with the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, “it sat there for a year with no response.”
“Their argument in the Common Pleas Court is that they (the township) don’t have to follow their zoning, that they’re immune from their zoning,” he said. “The county has now kicked this up to the Supreme Court level to make them immune from being challenged on the issue of following the zoning.”
Stated in the prosecutor’s memorandum for Brown Township in opposition to Schermerhorn’s motion for an injunction pending appeal in the Ohio Supreme Court, “Governments are generally immune from zoning.”
“Although Schermerhorns were lax in prosecuting their case, the Township diligently continued with planning, design, and then construction of the new hall. This was done to avoid revocation of the gift. By the original terms of the donation, the new township hall was supposed to have been completed by November 19, 2016,” the memorandum reads.
The township was granted an extension to Nov. 19, 2017 to complete the building.
The prosecutor’s memorandum for the township also states, “So, in the absence of … a preliminary injunction, Township was forced to make best, efforts to meet the timetable attached to the gift or risk losing it. All of the decisions relevant to continuing with construction were made in open Board of Trustee meetings. … Schermerhorn has no standing to demand an injunction prohibiting Brown Township from lawfully building a public building on public land. Further, the Township is immune from its own zoning resolution.”
“No decision has been made, they cannot cloak themselves with government immunity,” Schermerhorn said. “How is that responsible when you know it’s pending litigation on how the site is zoned and what your zoning will permit you to do there? They’re gambling with township money.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony was Sunday, Nov. 12.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.