August 30, 2014

Medina
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Lame duck settlement slammed

Two Westfield Township trustees voted out of office in November are backing a proposed out-of-court settlement that would allow full commercial development of property near the Westfield Township interchange of Interstates 71 and 76 now zoned primarily for rural homes.

The proposal also provides for a payment of $15,000 to the property owners.

Trustees voted 2-1 to present the settlement to Timothy and Linda Kratzer following a special meeting Wednesday with legal counsel at the Medina County Prosecutor’s Office.

Voting for the settlement were trustees Gary Harris and Ronald Oiler, who were defeated in the November election.

The two incoming trustees protested the settlement, charging Harris and Oiler were trying to rush the agreement through before they leave office Dec. 31.

“I feel that it’s really good-ol’-boy politics at its best, and it appears that there are personal agendas that are being satisfied,” said Michael Schmidt, who will be sworn in as trustee next month.

Schmidt won in November, along with William Thombs, who campaigned for a 2011 referendum that overturned the trustees’ rezoning of the property for commercial use.

“Seventy percent of the township said they don’t want that type of thing and now two township trustees are trying to give that to Mr. Kratzer anyway,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt chaired the township’s Board of Zoning Appeals when it voted 3-2 in July to reject the Kratzers’ request for a zoning variance.

The Kratzers filed a lawsuit Aug. 12 in Medina County Common Pleas Court alleging the township violated their right to develop their property.

The Kratzers’ 105-acre property at 5669 Greenwich Road sits between I-71 and I-76/U.S. Route 224, just west of Chippewa Creek and north of Greenwich Road.

The land is zoned rural-residential with limited commercial frontage along Greenwich Road.

In court documents, the Kratzers say the property’s location makes it unfit for any use other than commercial development, and a zoning variance is needed.

The settlement concedes the Kratzers’ allegation that the property is “uniquely suitable for such development and virtually no other development under the existing township zoning code.”

The suit claims denial of the variance prevents the Kratzers from using their property, something they say is unconstitutional and beyond the township’s authority. The suit calls the zoning rules “arbitrary and unreasonable.” The Kratzers also allege that the refusal of the variance is the same as taking their land and they seek monetary damages for the value of the property.

The proposed settlement would give the Kratzers the right to develop all manner of commercial retail and service businesses, including medical, food, gas stations, business offices, medical offices, drug stores, banks, and educational and religious facilities.

The settlement also would pay the Krazters $15,000 for reasons not specified in the proposal.

Asked about the money and the settlement, Oiler said he had no comment.

Harris told The Gazette on Wednesday that the settlement was offered on the advice of attorneys. Harris could not be reached for comment Friday.

Trustee Jim Likley, who has voted against the rezoning of the Kratzers’ property all along, said the settlement is exactly what he voted against originally and what voters overturned in the 2011 referendum.

‘This is new language to our zoning code, specific to that property,” he said. “It is essentially verbatim the same proposal that was made in 2011 and then again in the variance requested earlier this year.”

Likley won re-election that year with 72 percent of the vote. The referendum was passed in the same election with 68 percent of the vote, according to records from the Medina County Board of Elections.

Likley also said he believes the case was winnable, based on the brief township attorneys filed in response to the Krazters’ claims.

“With every claim, there was a defense response, and the responses to the plaintiff’s claims were well written and they provided sound direction,” he said. “But any attorney will always tell you the decision is up to the board, and the majority rules.”

Township trustees denied The Gazette’s request for a copy of the settlement Wednesday, arguing it wasn’t a public record until the Kratzers approve it.

However a legal notice published by the township in The Gazette on Thursday stated a copy of the proposed settlement would be available for public review in the township fiscal officer’s office during normal business hours but did not specify a day.

The Gazette obtained a copy from another source.

If the Kratzers accept the offer, there will be a public hearing Dec. 27 for residents to comment on the settlement, which also must be approved by county Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler.

Timothy Kratzer has declined to comment and directed all inquiries to his attorney, Todd Hunt of Walter and Haverfield in Cleveland. Hunt has not returned calls for comment.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.