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The Daily



06-26-03: Voters may settle it

The Daily Standard
    Another zoning battle is underway in Franklin Township that may be settled in the voting booth or in the courtroom.
    The Mercer County Board of Elections on Tuesday scheduled a public hearing to gather comments and questions on the validity of a referendum filed by a citizens group in Franklin Township objecting to a zoning change to allow single-family homes near Behm Road.
    In response to the referendum, a local attorney representing the Maria Stein developer building the homes filed a protest to the referendum petition, alleging errors in procedure, form and signatures.
    The issue in question began when Rick Uppenkamp, developer, filed a zoning change request with the Franklin Township Zoning Commission in March. Uppenkamp asked the board to change 64 acres on the northeast corner of Ohio 219 and Behm Road from agriculture/residential (A-1, R-1) to medium-density residential (R-2).
    The Franklin Zoning Commis-sion on March 11 rejected Uppenkamp's zoning change request. On April 9, Uppenkamp appealed to the Franklin Township Trustees to overrule the zoning commission and accept the zoning change. The three-man trustee board, who have the final say on zoning changes, overruled the zoning commission and accepted Uppenkamp's zoning change.
    Franklin Township Trustee Ron Brookhart told The Daily Standard on Wednesday the trustees overturned the township's zoning decision because the ideas Uppenkamp had for the property fit the goals of the township zoning plan.
    "I don't like overturning the zoning board. It just made common sense to me," Brookhart said, adding that the north side of Ohio 219 is not prime farm ground.
    The change from A-1, R-1 to R-2 is not a major change, Brookhart and Franklin Township Zoning Inspector Steve Keithly say they feel. With A-1,R-1 the ground can be used for farming or single family homes on one-acre lots. In R-2, only single family homes are allowed and lot sizes can be as small as 10,800 feet, roughly 100 feet wide and long.
    Brookhart said the zoning commission cited increased traffic and the poor condition and width of Behm Road as one of the reasons for denying the change. He said Uppenkamp has other subdivisions in Franklin Township and has told the trustees that he would give the land to widen the right-of-way on Behm Road if it became a problem.
    Uppenkamp's company, Brookside Development, has constructed Brookside Drive in Montezuma, Heck's Landing and Aqua View Estates, Brookhart said, adding that Uppenkamp constructs and sells houses one at a time, rather than building an entire subdivision.
    "They've done good work in the past, and they've always been good to work with," Brookhart said.
    The homes in Aquaview are priced on the higher end. Keithly and Brookhart said Uppenkamp told the panel the homes preliminarily planned for Behm Road would be in a more modest price level.
    Uppenkamp could not be reached for comment.
    After the trustees approved Uppenkamp's request, a group of Franklin Township citizens filed a petition to put the zoning change request on the ballot for every voter in the township to consider.
    The circulators listed on the petition are Elyse Zimmerman, 5567 Island View Road, David Axe, 5179 Karafit Road, and Randy Wyerick, 5370 Windy Point Road. Zimmerman and Wyerick could not be reached and Axe would not comment to The Daily Standard.
    On June 19, Celina attorney Jim Tesno filed a protest of the referendum to the elections board on behalf of Uppenkamp, stating several material errors in the paperwork.
    Some of the possible problems with the referendum petition listed by Tesno include: Some names may have been signed twice and some may not have been signed in the presence of a circulator; the petition does not contain the title or number of the zoning resolution in question; and the petition contains 21 pages of attachments, but no brief summary.
    Tesno requested the elections board conduct a thorough examination of all the signatures and the circumstances of the signings.
    The elections board, with Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Andy Hinders, did not discuss the issue Tuesday. They only set a hearing date of 2:30 p.m. July 21 to consider the issues listed in the protest.
    "This is a rarity, this is only the second one like this I've sat in on," election board member Owen Hall said Tuesday.


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