Thursday, January 7th, 2010
By Shelley Grieshop
Commissioners deny zoning change in Highland Park
  Mercer County commissioners this morning unanimously shot down a controversial zoning amendment request for a property in East Jefferson Township, north of Grand Lake.
The request was submitted by Roy Jr. and Carol Asbury of Sidney, who sought to change the zoning of their property at the end of Pershing Street from special uses to residential.
The Asburys have said they wish to build a home on the .387-acre lot but have met much resistance from neighbors. The property is surrounded by park area and abuts a public beach.
The Asburys now have the option of attempting to collect signatures from a minimum of 8 percent of eligible East Jefferson Township voters in order to get the issue placed on an upcoming ballot. The issue would only be voted on by East Jefferson Township residents.
The resolution drawn up this morning to oppose the zoning amendment request was motioned for approval by Commissioner Jerry Laffin and seconded by Commissioner Bob Nuding. Board President John Bruns also voiced approval of the resolution.
"I heard the same thing before," Laffin told The Daily Standard. "I'm not going to change my mind now."
Laffin was referring to action that took place in 1998 - the first time Asbury requested the zoning change. It was subsequently denied by commissioners; Laffin was serving as a commissioner at that time.
In their resolution, commissioners noted that Asbury's parcel lies within an identified flood hazard area. Bruns said he feels the property isn't suitable for residential usage because it is much too close to the lake.
The commissioners' resolution also states the proposed zoning amendment would not be "conducive to the public welfare."
In November, following receipt of the Asburys' request, the Mercer County Zoning Commission held a public meeting to solicit input from residents living in the Highland Park area. The idea was met with overwhelming opposition from those in attendance.
On Dec. 8, the zoning commission announced it would not make a recommendation for the zoning change request. That action left the final ruling in the hands of the county commissioners.
On Dec. 29, the commissioners held a public meeting at the Central Services Building in Celina to gather opinions before announcing their decision this morning.
Asbury has had ownership of the property since 1961. It was zoned for special uses in 1972 without objection from Asbury, Laffin noted this morning. Asbury also did not speak up in 2000 when the zoning in that area was under review, Laffin added.
Asbury reportedly was told that rezoning the property to residential would increase its value from $15,000 to $200,000. If a home was built on the lot, Asbury believes the value could climb to $800,000.
Neighbors - some who reportedly have maintained the property for years in Asbury's absence - have argued that a home built on the lot would obstruct their view of Grand Lake, lower their property values, detract from the atmosphere of the public park and increase erosion.
Chris Amato, president of the Highland Park Owner's Association, spoke out at both recently-held public meetings. He explained that Asbury's lot is surrounded to the west by public green space, to the south by a public swimming beach and to the east by a public boat ramp and picnic area.
"The best use of this peculiar piece of land is to incorporate it into the existing park and our association is willing to work to that end," Amato said.
He told county commissioners that Asbury has had multiple opportunities to sell the property and reminded them that zoning laws exist to protect residents from "irresponsible and inconsiderate development."
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