TIFFIN - Visiting Judge Charles Wittenberg agreed Tuesday to let Preservation Ohio add its voice to a lawsuit involving the possible demolition of Seneca County's 1884 courthouse, although it's yet to be seen if he'll permit three downtown property owners to intervene in the case.
Following a hearing in Seneca County Common Pleas Court, Judge Wittenberg took under advisement the motion to intervene, which was filed by George Freeman, Suzanne Leiner Jackson, and Carol A. Yager.
The three contend that the city of Tiffin is not defending a city ordinance intended to protect buildings in the downtown historic district.
"Our point was we don't have any representation, that the city has chosen to ignore the Architectural Board of Review, the Tiffin Board of Zoning Appeals, and the entire administrative process," said attorney John Barga, who is representing the property owners. "Someone has to speak up for the other property owners in the downtown design review district."
County commissioners sued the city in January, asking the court to declare the county had made "reasonable attempts" to comply with city rules regarding the demolition of buildings in the historic district.
County Prosecutor Derek Devine yesterday argued that the three property owners should not be permitted to intervene in the case, which he described as "a government powers type question from 12th grade civics class."
County commissioners have given the Seneca County Courthouse Development Group until July 15 to finalize a proposal to renovate the long-vacant courthouse and nail down funding sources for the project.
In the meantime, commissioners want to know they can proceed with demolition of the downtown landmark if the renovation plan is not feasible.
Twice, Tiffin's Architectural Board of Review denied the county's application for a certificate of appropriateness to tear down the courthouse, which was designed by noted American architect Elijah E. Myers.
Thomas Palmer, attorney for Preservation Ohio, said his organization is concerned about the precedent that could be set by the challenge to Tiffin's architectural review ordinance. The organization, as a "friend of the court," will be able to submit briefs and provide information about the issue that the court otherwise might not have.
"We're hoping the building doesn't come down, but it's important the legal decision is just as sound as possible," Mr. Palmer said.
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