MONROE -- Judge Joseph Costello, Jr., said he could issue a decision and opinion in about two weeks in the lawsuit that Jon Whitman filed against Bedford Township to restore zoning changes adjacent to Whitman Ford in Temperance.
Attorneys for Mr. Whitman and the township made closing arguments Thursday to end the four-day land-use trial in Monroe County Circuit Court.
Judge Costello, who ruled against Mr. Whitman four years ago in a zoning lawsuit against the township, will rule on the May, 2009, referendum election that undid zoning modifications enacted in December, 2008, by the township board on five parcels of auto dealership property near Lewis Avenue and Sterns Road.
Judge Costello has until Feb. 18 to issue his decision, but he said Thursday that it may come as soon as Jan. 31.
A ruling overturning the referendum could result in zoning on land north of Sterns and adjacent to Indian Acres subdivision changing from single family residential to multifamily, senior residential, and professional business offices.
Land north and south of the car dealership along Lewis also could be upgraded to a higher intensity commercial zone.
Judge Costello also will decide on Mr. Whitman's appeal of the township board's denial to rezone an eight-acre parcel between that land and the car dealership to allow for commercial use. The board believed commercial zoning didn't fit the master plan and wouldn't serve as an adequate transition to residential land to the west.
A month later, board officials took steps to change the zoning to allow for a professional business office district without getting Mr. Whitman's approval. The administrative change was dropped after the referendum was approved by voters.
Thomas Hanson, the attorney who represents the car dealership, argued to Judge Costello that testimony and evidence from professional planners, township planning director Dennis Jenkins, and township and county planning commissions support the modifications desired by Whitman Ford.
He said the zoning changes are consistent with the township master plan, compatible with the surrounding land use, and capable of being supported by public utilities, and the board denial to rezone the eight-acre landlocked parcel was unreasonable and arbitrary and excludes a legitimate use of the land.
"Yet at the end of the day, Whitman Ford got nothing, Not a single inch of this zoning request was enacted," he said. "The township has its own rules for this property."
In his closing argument, Philip Goldsmith, the township's attorney, said the township board correctly followed the law in reviewing and taking action on the Whitman Ford zoning application.
He said the rejection to rezone the eight acres was done in accordance with the master plan that recommends the land be used for a combination of residential, offices, and commercial, and that the high intensity commercial zoning proposed by Mr. Whitman could lead to a big box store such as Walmart, which is not compatible with the master plan.
"The denial is reasonable," Mr. Goldsmith said. "There are no Whitman rules in Bedford Township, only the rules that equally apply across the board. Those rules are established by the master plan."
Mr. Goldsmith, in arguing on behalf of the referendum petition spearheaded by a group called Bedford Watch, said the township residents exercised their constitutional right to put the issue to voters.
"Thank God we live in a country that allows that. They did what they felt was appropriate under the circumstances. They were simply attempting, as Mr. Whitman is attempting, to protect their property," he said.
Contact Mark Reiter at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6199.