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Published: Saturday, 9/19/2009

Seneca courthouse lawsuit halted

TIFFIN - With Seneca County commissioners now showing support for restoring the county's 1884 courthouse, visiting Judge Charles Wittenberg Friday called a time-out in the legal dispute over the county's right to demolish the landmark.

The judge issued a stay in the lawsuit filed in January by county commissioners against the city of Tiffin. In its suit, the county asked the court to declare it had made "reasonable attempts" to comply with the city's rules protecting historic buildings and should be allowed to tear down the courthouse if it so chooses.

Tiffin's Architectural Board of Review twice denied the county's application to raze the courthouse, which is in the heart of the downtown historic district. Since then, commissioners began working with the Seneca County Courthouse and Downtown Redevelopment Group. On Aug. 25, commissioners voted 3-0 to support the nearly $8 million restoration plan the group proposed.

Seneca County Prosecutor Derek DeVine said Judge Wittenberg, a retired Lucas County Common Pleas judge, assured him and City Law Director Brent Howard that if the renovation plan did not materialize and commissioners need a ruling on the demolition question, he has the information he needs to make a ruling in short order.

"We took a time-out and hopefully things work out," Mr. DeVine said. "If they don't, all we've got to do is tell the judge we need a decision and he'll pull the file out and get something done."

Commissioner Dave Sauber said at the board's meeting this week he wanted a ruling by Judge Wittenberg so there were no delays to demolition if renovation plans do not work out.

Ben Nutter, president of the board of commissioners, said the county had no choice.

"I would've preferred that he ruled so it would have just been out of the way if that becomes pertinent, but I'm going to worry about things I have control over and not the things I don't, and it appears we don't," Mr. Nutter said.

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