Wednesday, September 11th, 2013
By Shelley Grieshop
County forced to buy lake lot
Appeals court says zoning denials left land unusable
  CELINA - Local taxpayers will shell out $125,000 for a vacant lakeside property after an appeals court ruled that zoning denials by Mercer County officials left the owners with no economic use for the land.
County commissioners on Tuesday approved the purchase of the property at 3300 Shore Drive, Celina, per order of the Third District Court of Appeals in Lima. The assessed market value for the 0.387-acre lot in Highland Park is $8,700.
Commissioners and assistant county prosecutor Amy Ikerd would not comment on the appeals court case, the negotiated purchase price or their intent for the lake property.
The East Jefferson Township property is being purchased from Ray Jr. and Carol Asbury of Sidney. It is zoned a special use/parks district, which limits its use to a cemetery, noncommercial/public recreation site or a religious place of worship.
The Asburys several times prior to 2012 sought to change the zoning designation so they could build a home and/or small bait shop and store on the lot. The requests and appeals repeatedly were denied by the county's zoning board and board of appeals, common pleas court and county commissioners.
The couple in March 2012 filed a "writ of mandamus" in Mercer County Common Pleas Court, seeking a jury's determination for the fair market value of the property they claimed was owed them by the county. The matter was forwarded to the court of appeals.
The appeals court in January ruled that prior actions by the county boards led to a "regulatory taking of private property for public use ... without just compensation."
After approximately nine months of negotiations, the Asburys and county commissioners agreed on the selling price.
A message left Tuesday by the newspaper for David Watkins, attorney for the Asburys, was not returned by press time today.
The property lies at the intersection of Pershing Street and Shore Drive on the north side of Grand Lake and includes a public beach adjacent to a park area. In 1925, a small grocery store was built on the lot but was damaged in a fire and removed in 1961 when the Asbury family purchased the lot, court records show. Years ago a bath house also was located on the beach portion of the property but it burned down between 1975 and 1977, documents show.   
The lot reportedly was first zoned "special use" by public vote in 1972 and rezoned "special parks" in 2001. Surrounding lots in the Highland Park community all are zoned residential.
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