Pictured is a Jerome Township Zoning Map approved by trustees in April 2015. Litigation against the township claims an area owned by Homewood Corporation has been unlawfully designated for almost 30 years. Residents opposed to entering a consent decree argue that this map, which indicates a replacement of previous maps, nullifies arguments in the lawsuit. (Graphic submitted)
Jerome Township Trustees are attempting to move past litigation over a recent referendum.
During a special meeting Monday, trustees unanimously accepted a consent decree to dismiss a lawsuit filed in September by Homewood Corporation.
Upon court approval, the consent decree will apply the PUD (planned unit development) zoning of the property that was approved by the Board of Trustees prior to a referendum.
Jerome Township will also pay the plaintiff $10,000 in addition to Homewood’s attorneys’ fees.
“Given the parties disputes and differences, Homewood Corporation and the township believe it is best to settle our differences with a consent decree,” Trustee Joe Craft said.
Craft explained the history of the litigation and dispute between township officials and developers.
He said Homewood Corporation is the owner of an approximately 80 acre property at the intersection of U.S. 33 and U.S. 42. In November 2017, Homewood filed an application to rezone the property from RU (rural residential) to PUD (planned unit development).
Public hearings were held in 2018, Craft said, and two revisions were made to the application.
Homewood then resubmitted the application on May 24, 2019, followed by a public hearing of the third revised plan on June 24, 2019. The zoning commission unanimously recommended approval.
On Aug. 6, 2019, Craft said a public hearing was held and trustees unanimously approved the zoning application. A resolution was created by trustees Aug. 15.
On Sept. 3, 2019, a referendum petition was filed. The referendum passed on the November ballot.
Homewood filed a lawsuit for declaratory judgment, injunction and damages in the Union County Court of Common Pleas on Sept. 10, 2019.
It was moved to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division on Sept. 19, 2019.
The litigation claims that Jerome Township has unlawfully classified the property as RU and unreasonably denied Homewood use of the property. Homewood claims this has caused damages exceeding $10 million.
The claims stem from discrepancies in the township’s zoning maps, Craft explained.
According to an April 4, 1973 township resolution, the property was zoned PUD as part of 550, master planned acres. The 1973 rezoning included a preliminary plan map that permitted multi-family residential development.
The PUD designation was shown on township zoning maps from 1973 until the early 1990s.
At some point around that time, Craft said the maps began showing the zoning as RU.
There is a dispute as to whether any official actions were taken to change the property from PUD to RU, Craft explained.
Trustee C.J. Lovejoy said he initially “didn’t think we did anything wrong,” but has since felt that the consent decree is the best option to settle the dispute.
Craft agreed and emphasized the potential effects of choosing not to enter the consent decree.
“Understanding the fact that our maps got changed and we don’t have any evidence of why that happened, and looking at how long this lawsuit could take and the cost to the township… I think it’s in the entire township’s best interest to accept this consent decree,” he said.
Barry Adler, resident and circulator of the referendum, argued against approval.
He said there is no basis for Homewood’s argument that the rezoning action taken by trustees in August was administrative in nature, rather than legislative.
Additionally, he claimed any PUD status identified in the lawsuit would have expired after 10 years since no action was taken to create the residential development. He said there is no evidence the zoning was extended.
He said a request to rezone the area to PUD was denied in 2014. However, he said it has been rezoned lawfully three times since 1973, which would supersede the prior zoning designations.
Adler also argued zoning maps prior to digitization are unreliable because they may have been tampered with. He said they were created with colored pencils, which make designations difficult to discern after the maps have aged.
Aside from his public comments, he submitted a nearly 50-page document with additional information contesting the litigation for trustees’ review.
If accepted, he warned trustees that he would pursue legal means to have their decision overturned.
“(Accepting the consent decree) would be an unlawful and unconstitutional deprivation of the rights of Jerome Township voting residents to procedural and substantive due process,” Adler said.
Despite his requests to continue the public hearing for further consideration, trustees said they felt it was necessary to move forward.
“We’ve been fooling around with this for six months to a year,” trustee Ron Rhodes said. “I think we have all the facts and documentation at this point.”
The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to enter the consent decree, although it is still subject to court approval.
...For the full story, select an option below.