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Published: Thursday, 6/26/2003

Zoning battle will be costly

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE - Some might call it a philosophical dispute; others a retaliatory counterstrike for a perceived wrongdoing.

But no matter where you fall on whether Jon Whitman and Whitman Ford should have been granted rezoning last week for 20 acres near the dealership to allow it to expand, one thing is clear: Bedford Township's taxpayers will be opening their wallets to determine who's right.

The township board last week voted 6-1 to deny Mr. Whitman's request to rezone the land to the north and west of his dealership from its current C-2 commercial and R-2a residential to C-3 commercial, Bedford Township's most liberal commercial district. Township trustee Dennis Steinman cast the sole vote to approve the request.

In turn, Mr. Whitman said he may sue to gain the zoning he desires, saying the legal effort would cost his business at least $100,000, and the township an estimated $250,000, or about half the amount the township spends each year on police protection.

Prior to the vote, township board members - and even members of BedfordWatch.com - asked Mr. Whitman to consider other alternatives, including submitting the dealership's expansion plan under Bedford Township's Planned Unit Development ordinance.

“I think there could be a compromise on the Whitman rezoning, but I'm still totally opposed to it being C-3 up to those [residential lot lines],” said Judy Frankowski, a member of BedfordWatch.com.

“I know it isn't what the applicant wants, but it would seem like a PUD that was brought in here would accommodate everyone that's sitting in here,” township trustee Arnold Jennings said. “It would allow the Whitmans to expand, it would allow the planning commission to create a buffer between [the commercial property and neighboring] residential. Even though the applicant didn't want it, that in fact would be the best of both worlds.”

Mr. Jennings, who also sits as a voting member of the township planning commission, said if Mr. Whitman's application was accurate, then a PUD application would likely be well-received by the township.

“If it's truly about being able to provide an area that works with their expansion needs, then that's a tool we've got that we've used before that works well,” Mr. Jennings said. “We discussed a PUD [with Mr. Whitman], but the bottom line is, the applicant wanted it all zoned C-3 or nothing.”

But Mr. Whitman said he and his family no longer trusted township officials after Wal-Mart abandoned its plan to build a 150,000-square-foot dry goods store to the south and west of his dealership.

“If you believe Toledo is the commercial center of the township, then every commercial application should be denied,” Mr. Whitman chided the board. “I understand you're trying to reach out to us, but frankly, we struggle to believe you.”

Over the last seven years, there have been only four requests in Bedford Township to rezone land to C-3, two of which - for an expansion of Temperance Body Shop and for construction of the new Temperance Post Office - were ultimately approved, township clerk Bob Schockman said.

Mr. Schockman admitted that the township's newly developed master plan should not have listed the parcel where Wal-Mart wanted to locate as potential park land, and also admitted that the township assessed all of the Whitman's land as commercial in error.

“Mistakes were made,” Mr. Schockman said. “The township assessing department started showing this property 10 years ago as C-2 [on township zoning maps and on tax bills]. But zoning amendments are the official representations of zoning of any property.”

Mr. Schockman said he has no reason to doubt the Whitman's planned use for the 20-acre parcel, and if that was all that was involved, there likely wouldn't be an issue worth fighting over.

“If zoning was a matter of a person's word, and that word went with the property, then no question,” Mr. Schockman said. “ But zoning goes with the land, and not with the people.”

Mr. Whitman, however, with many supporters in the audience, seemed completely unimpressed.

“Wal-Mart asked for a PUD and [was rejected], so we asked for zoning, and now we're being told to proceed on PUD,” Mr. Whitman said in a prepared statement. “Maybe this is how it is in every community, but we don't understand that. We would not proceed on a PUD because Wal-Mart went down that road and you didn't approve it. ”

Township Supervisor LaMar Frederick noted, however, that no PUD application or rezoning request from Wal-Mart was ever officially submitted to the township. Instead, Wal-Mart paid the township's planning consultant, Wade-Trim, to review its plan prior to submission. Wade-Trim's analysis concluded that the store was incompatible with the property.

“I don't think there's anybody here that doesn't want to work with Whitman Ford. There isn't anything anyone can say bad about you. But as far as I'm concerned, what you're asking for goes against good sound planning principles,” Mr. Jennings said.



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