Friday, May 30th, 2008
By Janie Southard
East Jefferson Twp. hearing to discuss construction height
  Zoning regulations may be changing in East Jefferson Township to permit loftier construction, making the commercial and industrial zones more attractive to companies. It also would make existing height variances insignificant such as that held by Mercer Energy.
At their Thursday night meeting, Mercer County Zoning Commission members discussed the preliminaries leading to a public meeting now scheduled for June 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the township house.
Following review of proposed changes to the existing height maximum of 45 feet, commission member Joe Branson observed, "In a nutshell, this new height allowance (400-500 feet) makes the height variance held by (Mercer Energy) and the lawsuit filed by (Myerses, Dabbelts, Vermillion and Kishlers) all moot."
"Yes, as I understand it. If this is passed then the zoning text will be changed," commission Chairman Ed Raudabaugh responded. Obviously Mercer Energy's request for a 150-foot variance would not be an issue.
Under discussion at the public meeting will be changes to the zoning code, proposed by the county commissioners, to commercial and industrial districts in the township. The pertinent sections of the Ohio Revised Code and Federal Aviation Administration, which the commissioners seek to duplicate, would permit structures between 400 and 500 feet.
The current 45-foot allowance came under scrutiny last winter when Mercer Energy applied for and received a zoning variance allowing the group to build up to 150 feet.
County commissioners' stated purpose for the request is "to allow Mercer County to compete with other commercial and industrial markets in encouraging business growth."
The 45-foot restriction came into focus last winter. That height restriction apparently was set in the early 1970s when county government was opening an industrial zone in East Jefferson, according to County Prosecutor Andy Hinders.
"No one knows for sure but it seems the height was based on the Celina Fire Department's ability to fight a fire. At that time (1970s) it was 45 feet," Hinders said this morning via telephone. "I imagine they thought that's a good enough reason."
And so it has been for 40 years. "There's not been much happening in the industrial zone and, no doubt, it's because of the 45-foot height limit ... Certainly the county commissioners have a legitimate reason to review and update those limits," Hinders continued.
While the ethanol group legally could commence construction at any time on their property east of Celina on Four Turkey Road, they are holding off pending the outcome of a lawsuit against the township zoning board of appeals and Mercer Energy.
The May 12 pretrial hearing was continued to give the appellants' attorney John Moul of St. Marys an opportunity to file another written statement. No further date has been set by the court.
The closed-door sessions among Mercer County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Ingraham and all parties involved will determine how or if to proceed with the suit. Those bringing suit are Jill and Larry Myers, Jim and Barb Dabbelt, Valerie Vermillion and John and Michelle Kishler. The lawsuit concerns several matters that took place during the zoning appeals board meetings held last winter.
Raudabaugh said the commission's public hearings are not about the fate of the ethanol plant one way or another. "That has nothing to do with this meeting or our public meeting. We are reviewing a proposal for a zoning text change proposed by the county commissioners. We want to give the public an opportunity to speak their minds about changing the text on height," he said following Thursday night's commission meeting.
The zoning commission always has three options on any proposal before it: Grant as requested, ask for modifications or deny it. They cannot be silent.
Mercer County Zoning Commission members include: Dick VanTilburg, Dan Kirby, Tom Slusser, Branson and Raudabaugh. Their governing district includes only East Jefferson Township; they do not act for the entire county, even though their name implies differently.
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