April 19, 2014

Medina
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Westfield trustees-elect seek court order

Dan Pompili and David Knox | The Gazette
Westfield Township’s two newly elected trustees have gone to court seeking to block a proposed out-of-court settlement that would allow full commercial development of 105 acres along Greenwich Road now zoned primarily for rural homes.

William Thombs and Michael Schmidt, who won trustee seats in last month’s election but won’t take office until Jan. 1, filed “a motion to intervene” in a lawsuit brought by Timothy and Linda Kratzer in Medina County Common Pleas Court.

The Kratzers filed the lawsuit in August after their request for a variance was rejected by the township Board of Zoning Appeals.

The suit charges the township violated the Kratzers’ right to develop their property at 5669 Greenwich Road, southeast of the interchange of Interstates 71 and 76/U.S. Route 224 and west of Chippewa Creek.

In their motion, filed Thursday, Thombs and Schmidt argue that they should be allowed to intervene in the case because the proposed settlement would not go into effect until after they take office on New Year’s Day.

They also charge that the settlement “is not in the best interest of the residents of Westfield Township and seeks to overturn the Westfield Township voters referendum decision of November 2011,” which overturned a trustees’ rezoning of the Kratzers’ property from rural residential, with only limited commercial frontage, to full commercial use.

The settlement is backed by trustees Gary Harris and Ronald Oiler, who voted for the rezoning in 2012 and were defeated in the November election by Thombs, who led the referendum petition drive, and Schmidt, who chaired the Board of Zoning Appeals that rejected Kratzers’ variance request in July.

Thombs charged Harris and Oiler are trying to push the settlement through before they leave office Dec. 31.

“That’s why they’re trying to rush it through, because they know they won’t get their way next year,” Thombs said.

Harris and Oiler voted to offer the settlement to the Kratzers following a special meeting Dec. 11 with legal counsel at the Medina County Prosecutor’s Office. The third trustee, Jim Likley, voted “no.”

In addition to allowing commercial development, the proposed settlement would pay the Kratzers $15,000 in unspecified compensation.

The Kratzers have declined to comment and directed all inquiries to their attorney, Todd Hunt of Walter and Haverfield in Cleveland. Hunt has not returned calls for comment.

Residents push for delay
Joining Thombs and Schmidt in the motion to intervene are five residents who own land bordering or near the Kratzers’ land: Shirley McDougal, Everett Perry, Amy Huttinger, Joseph F. Hastings and Eugene Sulzener.

They cited a variety of reasons why they would be damaged by commercial development of the Kratzers’ property.

Perry, Huttinger and Hastings are farmers who say the increased traffic would make it “harder and more dangerous to move (their) large equipment and crops on the roads.”

McDougal said she feared “my property values will go down” and there may be increased taxes for police and fire protection … a decrease in water supply for the wells” and an “increase in crime, noise and light pollution.”

Sulzener, who owns property next to Chippewa Creek downstream from the Kratzers’ property, said water runoff from development could worsen flooding problems in the area.

The motion asks the court to postpone a public hearing Friday during which the settlement will be explained to residents if the Kratzers accept it, and to hold off any ruling on the settlement.

A ruling on the motion will be made by Common Pleas Judge Christopher J. Collier. Judge James L. Kimbler had been assigned the case, but withdrew this week citing a personal relationship with the Kratzers.

“I went to school with Tim Kratzer and I represented his daughter in a civil case when I was in private practice,” Kimbler said.

Who advised to settle?
Thombs and Schmidt also have charged Harris with misleading residents by implying that the settlement was offered on the recommendations of the township’s legal counsel, which includes county Prosecutor Dean Holman.

Thombs cited a letter Holman sent to the trustees on Monday to correct “a misunderstanding in the settlement process, which I wanted clarified.”

“Any decision to settle is a determination to be made by the majority of the board,” Holman wrote. “This office has not made any recommendation either way.”

In an interview with a Gazette reporter, Holman stressed that he was not criticizing trustees.

“They’re doing what they think is in the best interest of the township,” he said. “However, it is their decision and theirs alone.”

But several residents contacted by The Gazette said they have heard Harris say that the settlement was offered on the advice of attorneys.

Rory O’Neil, a prominent local contractor and developer, said he spoke with Harris on Sunday.

O’Neil, a land developer for 50 years, said he criticized the settlement and asked Harris why he didn’t let the incoming trustees handle it.

“He said he was advised by attorneys to settle because there were liability issues and there would be additional costs if it went to court,” O’Neil said.

Asked about his statements, Harris told The Gazette, that the attorney he was talking about was James Mathews of Baker, Dublikar, Beck, Wiley and Mathews, of North Canton, who represents the township’s insurance provider OTARMA.

Mathews declined to comment, saying he could not discuss conversations he had with trustees.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.
Contact David Knox at (330) 721-4065 or dknox@medina-gazette.com.

  • Karen Fisher

    Shame, shame shame on Schmidt and Thombs and their Puppet Minder.

  • Nancy Lubanovich

    Mike Schmidt needs to recuse himself. He was part of the BZA which made the ruling. What is good for Westfield Township to build up the tax base so that the schoold district will get money from commercial enterprizes rather than relying entirely on the people. Westfield is not the bucolic wonderland that many people would have you believe and the trustrees are not leading us constructively. I have little confidence that the new trustrees will make it better especially after this court order. Enough is enough..

  • Joseph Doty

    If this property is ever developed it will make very little difference in the schools’ financial position. If development was the answer to the school funding problem, why is Medina always on the ballot? And Karen why do you refuse to acknowledge that almost 70% of the township is opposed to this type of development and instead blame the opposition on just a few people? This is some serious dirty business by Harris and Oiler trying to hurry this up before their terms end. What is the rush?? This lawsuit was only filed a couple of months ago. There has been no pre-trials or status conferences. No mediation was ordered by the court. Yet we are being told that it must be settled NOW! It could always be settled at a later date if in fact that makes the most sense for the township. Also, calling this a settlement is a misnomer. Harris and Oiler are giving Kratzer everything he asked for plus $15,000. That is not a settlement but a complete capitulation!!! Harris and Oiler should find whatever integrity they have left and let this matter be resolved by the new leaders of our township. If they don’t then shame on them.

  • Joseph Doty

    Shirley McDougal, Everett Perry, Amy Huttinger, Joseph F. Hastings and Eugene Sulzener are all good people. There involvement should be all you need to know. Everett Perry is hands down one of the most upstanding, honest and trustworthy people I know. He is beyond reproach.

  • Karen Fisher

    Mr. Doty, to answer your specific question to me: I cannot dispute that a majority of u201cvotersu201d (not the township) voiced their opposition. However, I know the u2018playersu2019 in this game and know that anyone can knock on your door and tell you anything! If the homeowner has not followed what is happening in the township or understand the funding issues u2013 especially for our schools u2013 the homeowner mayntake the word of the proverbial snake oil salesman or woman and be convinced to vote for or against something that just may be good for the township. You see, in 2005 someone knocked on our doornand fed my husband a bunch of lies. We didnu2019t know they were lies at the time and that person got our votes. We had 4 years of turmoil and havoc following that election. Iu2019ve been watching what happens in the township since then. I know where all this venom started.nn Mr. Doty, we just will have to agree to disagree. Some in this community donu2019t want development. Some want to destroy certain residents. Some feel there is merit in limited and controlled development. I am in the third group. n nI know Mr. Harris and Mr. Oiler. I believe they, too, feel limited and controlled development would be good for Westfield. They are following the procedures set in the ORC and sanctioned by the Prosecutoru2019s office. Iu2019ve read the letter from the County Prosecutor Dean Holman to the trustees and presented to them at the last trusteesu2019 meeting by AP Bill Thorne. Mr. Holman states: u201cu2026 it is my understanding that the decision to settle was based on the majority of the Boardu2019s determination that a current settlement by the present Board would be in the Townshipu2019s best interest, rather than a decision by a future Board at some indeterminate later date.u201d He also states: u201cThis office has not made any recommendation either way, but only been involved in discussions about the merits of the case and Township exposure to liability and out of pocket costs along with your primary counsel assigned by your insurance carrier who is representing the Township in the lawsuit. Insurance counsel explained the risk associated with waiting for settlement determination to be made by the new Board after this office the subject that the settlement could be made by the incoming Board.u201d nn To me, it appears that the trustees are receiving sound advice from the insurance attorneys and are following what is recommended. Isnu2019t this why the trustees were voted into their positions in the first place? They are doing their jobs. nn Thombs and Schmidt do not ascend to the Board until 1-1-2014. What gives them the authority to take any action prior to that date? In my opinion, what they and their co-conspiritors are doing is contemptible. The longer this issue languishes, the bigger the payout will be by the Township to the landowner. Donu2019t be fooled, there is precedent set by the Ohio Supreme Court that the odds are in favor of the landowner if case is not settled at this level.

  • Karen Fisher

    Something just isn’t right here. Why these people? I’m still figuring this one out! Maybe their addresses will tell just how contiguous their properties are to the Kratzer property … I’ll let you know.

  • Joseph Doty

    Actually, the number of residents opposed to this is more than 68%. And why are you putting “voters” in quotations?? Are these not the voters? When a survey was conducted a few years ago by the township the number was around 75%. Cloverleaf also did a survey about 5 years ago and around 80% said they were NOT in favor of large scale development even if it meant more money for the schools. So keep on ignoring reality. There is nothing limited or controlled about the development offered in the settlement. It is pretty much anything goes.nAs for the people involved, these are people who will be directly affected by this BS. I would also be affected by this as it is right around the corner from me. nAll this is an attempt to increase the value of the property. Let’s say the property is worth a $1,000,000 today. You get this zoning approved and now it’s worth $3,000,000. Then you get some kind of tax abatement in place (good-bye money for the schools!!) and now it’s worth $5,000,000. The Kratzers then sell to an out of state developer and ride off into the sunset. nAnd once again, what is the rush??? Why must this be settled now??? This litigation is still in its infancy. The truth is Harris and Oiler did everything the could for the Kratzers while they were trustees. They should now hang it up and let the new leaders, as elected by the “voters”, handle this matter.

  • Joseph Doty

    It is interesting how someone who lives on the far north side of the township is in favor of development on the far south side. Maybe you would not be as supportive if it was in your back yard.

  • Karen Fishr

    *Actually, the number of residents opposed to this is more than 68%. And why are you putting “voters” in quotations?? Are these not the voters? RESPONSE: There is a difference between u201cnumber ofnresidentsu201d and u201cvotersu201d. Do ALL residents get out and vote? No. So thatu2019s why u201cvotersu201d is in quotes. You distinguished your percentage as u2018residentsu2019 not u2018votersu2019.nn*When a survey was conducted a few years ago by the township the number was around 75%. RESPONSE: If youu2019re referring to the Comp Plan Committeeu2019s survey, the results of that survey are dubious. At the time, questions were raised about the wording of the questions and that they were misleading. Also, only one survey was sent to a household. What if there was more than one voter in the house???? They were disenfranchised. nn*Cloverleaf also did a survey about 5 years ago and around 80% said they were NOT in favor of large scale development even if it meant more money for the schools. So keep on ignoring reality. RESPONSE: Survey results are only as good as the questions asked. If Cloverleaf did a survey and 80% responding didnu2019t want development, then why arenu2019t the school levies passing? Could it be that the u201cmajorityu201d of voters donu2019t want to pay more in taxes for the schools? So, where could we get u2018newu2019 money? Tax abatements are a common way of doing business. You know that. That sound bite is an old and tired one.nn*There is nothing limited or controlled about the development offered in the settlement. It is pretty much anything goes. RESPONSE: I disagree.nn*As for the people involved, these are people who will be directly affected by this BS. I would also be affected by this as it is right around the corner from me. RESPONSE: So these are the selected people who will be most directly affected? Again, there is something wrong with the list of names on that court order. Whou2019s really behind all of this? nn*All this is an attempt to increase the value of the property. Let’s say the property is worth a $1,000,000 today. You get this zoning approved and now it’s worth $3,000,000. Then you get some kind of tax abatement in place (good-bye money for the schools!!) and now it’s worth $5,000,000. The Kratzers then sell to an out of state developer and ride off into the sunset. RESPONSE: Your comments sound very personal. Iu2019ve heard these talking points from others in your group and, frankly, I find it disgusting that the personal attack on the Kratzer family continues. nnI wonder if you were in their position if you would take less than what your property was worth? I am amazed that farmers in this township u2018donateu2019 their acreage to the Park District, get a huge write off and get to live out their lives on their land and in their homes. Of course, the farmer no longer pays taxes on the property nor does the Park District! So who loses? Again, if the prosecutoru2019s office and the township insurance attorneys found merit in continuing this suit through the courts, wouldnu2019t they have recommended no settlement? nnWith this issue being in the court system now, judgment will be made based on case law not on dubious surveys taken along the way. Please remember these are my opinions u2013 you have yours. You will not change my mind nor do I think yours can be changed.nn*And once again, what is the rush??? Why must this be settled now??? This litigation is still in its infancy. The truth is Harris and Oiler did everything the could for the Kratzers while they were trustees. They should now hang it up and let the new leaders, as elected by the “voters”, handle this matter. RESPONSE: Oh boy! True colors are being shown with this last statement. This has been an issue for over six years! In infancy? I think not. Trustees Oiler and Harris are township trustees until 12-31-2013. They have every right to continue the business of the township until the new trustees are sworn in. I hope this fight continues until the last second of 2013! nnIf it does continue into 2014, we will only see the reverse of business being conducted. There will be 3nlike-minded trustees nodding their heads in agreement for denial and delay. The property owner will continue his fight through the court system and will most likely prevail with our township fund status depleted. I believe in our Constitutional rights. I believe in free speech. I hope you do too.

  • Karen Fisher

    Location, location, location. When we bought our property, we selected it for the location. We would not have chosen property near an Interstate nor land that had any commercialnzoning. Greenwich Rd. has been zoned LC for decades. I do feel for land owners whose property may be affected by development in this area. If development is not best suited in the Greenwich Rd. area, then where?nnnnI would much rather travel 5 miles to shop. I’d save on gas and my tax dollar would stay in the township. Right now I travel 10+ miles.

  • Joseph Doty

    When I purchased property and built my house it was zoned general business district. In fact, I would have no problem with that whole area being developed under the current zoning. Just because your property is next to a interstate does not mean you have the right to build a mall or 12 theater Cineplex.

  • Joseph Doty

    What are you an attorney with expertise in zoning and property rights? I disagree that this is a losing case for the township. In fact a lot of the case law supports the township. Every registered voter had a right to vote in that election, if they did not exercise that right that is their loss. You are also assuming that all the voters who did not vote would have agreed with you. It is very simple. The resident, voters, people or whatever you want to call them have expressed their opinions many times that they do not want this large scale anything goes type of development. Those people also have property rights. There is an old saying that goes something like “Your right to strike out ends at the tip of my nose.” Contrary to what people think, there has ALWAYS been limits to property rights. nAnd if you are for tax abatements doesn’t that kind of mess up your argument that this will benefit the schools? And please keep the schools out of it. The Kratzers are not doing any of this for the schools. nI do live right around the corner and not miles away like yourself. So this directly affects my family and myself. If I wanted to live next to a mall, I would have bought property in Fairlawn or Medina. nNo matter what happens it will be years before you see a shovel of dirt turned as there is no water or sewer there. As a taxpayer, would you be willing to spend money to build water and sewer lines to benefit a developer?? I would not. nThis lawsuit is in it’s infancy, the issue may be years old but the lawsuit was just filed. If this was the other way around you of all people would be screaming about this last second kind of crap.

  • Karen Fisher

    I just viewed a map of the township on the township’s website. Looks like the Greenwich Rd. development issue is smack dab in the middle of the township on the far east side. Not on the far south side as you depicted.

  • Karen Fisher

    Interesting comment regarding selective growth.

  • Karen Fisher

    Maybe not; but again, I would not have purchased property near LC zoning! Buyer beware!

  • Karen Fisher

    Enough Mr. Doty. You apparently are upset so I won’t respond to you further. This is what happens when people can’t agree to disagree. You will not change my mind and I will not attempt to change yours. My responses were to clarify your questions to me. Enough now.

  • Joseph Doty

    No, it’s called limited and controlled growth and also within the desires of the township as a whole not one person or family.

  • Kurt Ludwig

    What seems to be lost in everything I see posted is that with the newly rearranged highway ramps and new lighting there’s a glow of light polution on the east side of the township that is anything but rural. With two big truck stops, some fast food places , and a waste treatment plant , the only thing that is rural is a sod farm, …but that has soccer fields that create traffic jams that are anything but rural and bucolic. It is a joke to think that intersection and nearby property can ever be rural. Wall that triangle off as commercial, let some business in, get some jobs and some tax money and spend our money keeping the rest of the township rural.nnnI’ve been in the township 56 years and I think Mr. Kratzer should be able to do what he can with his property within reasonable limitations since he lost so much land to the highway rebuild. I’d say Oiler and Harris are protecting the township from wasting a lot of money paid to lawyers in a long drawn out losing case. nnnThese short timer, cement driveway type new guys squawking about injunctions are showing that they want to call the shots before they are even in office. It’s about the power not the responsibility to do the right thing. Not real smart. Kind of like Washington politics these days.

  • Joseph Doty

    We are having a lively debate and then you accuse me of being upset? Maybe you can’t handle someone asking the tough questions and pointing out the flaws in your arguments.

  • Joseph Doty

    Kurt I can assure you that no one involved in the Motion to Intervene are “cement driveway type new guys”. Everett Perry was born and raised about a mile from all this stuff. His driveway is not cement and he is a dairy farmer. Most of the people in the township can’t afford to put in 500 foot cement driveways!!nAlso, right now, Kratzer can do a lot of his property. Actually he can do more on his property than most township residents. nIf you think the traffic jams are bad on soccer days, just imagine what a mall would do.

  • Karen Fisher

    Mr. Ludwig, I agree with you. I know there are other voices of reason in the township. BTW, the meeting on Friday WILL take place! This morning, the injunction petitioners will have there chance to speak to the judge on 2/13. ONLY those listed in the injunction will be heard. The current trustees will vote on Friday. If the settlement is accepted, it will go to the judge next week for review. Please attend the meeting Friday to lend your support!

  • Joseph Doty

    No where in the Judge’s order does it say that only those listed in the injunction will be heard. Also, no one was asking for an injunction. The Judge does say the trustees are required to permit “members of the public” to speak at the meeting Friday. It is not limited to just the people who filed the Motion to Intervene. Also, the Judge can allow any testimony he wants in determining if the settlement is “fair and reasonable.” Make sure you understand what going on before you make such definitive statements.

  • Tired of the rhetoric

    In my opinion, Mr. Doty, any attorney who is making such statementsnand accusationu2019s without being involved in the case and without knowing ALL OF THEnFACTS is speaking inappropriately. nnLet me clarify some information for anyone posting to thisndiscussion. Pursuant to ORC 505.07, the public meeting on Friday Dec. 27 is tonallow the opportunity for any resident to express OBJECTION TO THE PROPOSEDnSETTLEMENT. If the settlement is approved by the trustees, it will then be submittednto the court pursuant to statute for approval. That hearing is when the u201cenjoiningnpartiesu201d will be permitted to argue their positions, or lack of. And only thosenindividuals named in the suit will be heard. nnMr. Doty, to suggest that the case law supports the townshipnover the land owner is a misrepresentation. I have reviewed this information extensively. You,nas an attorney know that these cases are based on the particular facts specificnto that case. To make the blank statement that the case law supports the townshipnwithout a firm grasp of the FACTS, is the rankest sort of u201clegal adviceu201d annattorney can give. It appears you arenarguing on emotion rather than fact. I suggest that you know ALL OF THE FACTSu2026notnjust the ones the media dribbles out to you.nnI would also be cautious with what appears to be an attemptnto malign the character of Mr. Harris and Mr. Oiler. Again, it appears you are allowing yournemotion to control the argument rather than the facts. You should have learnednthis in u201cAttorney 101.u201d No good attorney would argue any case on emotion. nnAs a casual reader, it appears you are referring or suggestingnillegal collusion or some backdoor action taken between Kratzeru2019s and these twontrusteeu2019s. Are you in fact making suchnan accusation?nnI personally know Mr. Harris and Mr. Oiler and know they arenof the highest moral character. Additionally,nit sounds as if you are discrediting the legal advice of Mr. Mathews. I canu2019t believe that Mr. Thombs and Mr.nSchmidt are so adamantly against this case and the landowner that they would benwilling to put the township is such a position that exposes the township tonsuch a huge liability for their own selfishness. Have you attended any of the meetings to seenany of the residents in action? Good, bad, or indifferent? nnAre you suggesting that this settlement is baseless and ifnso, what information do you have that is unique to support that position? Perhapsnyou could share your expertise with any of the attorneyu2019s involved. It sounds to me as if you are suggesting thatnALL of the attorneyu2019s involved in this case, both for the Kratzeru2019s, thentownship, including the prosecutoru2019s, along with the two trustees, are all in cahoots behind closed doors. nnIn my opinion, thatu2019s the only way such a u201cbaselessu201d settlementncould be reached. To this casual reader, this is precisely what your wordsnsuggest in your postings. Perhaps innyour future postings you can express your legal expertise in the areas of slandernand defamation of character because this seems to be the direction beingntaken. It is too bad that people canu2019tnagree to disagree and come to some sensible compromise. It should have NEVER come to this level, butnthe law is the law.

  • Joseph Doty

    At the hearing where the judge will determine whether or not the settlement is fair and reasonable, he can allow any testimony he wants. He is the judge, it’s his court, that’s how it works. I know as much about this case as you do and then some. nI have not defamed anyone and if you were actually an attorney you would know that.nNow who is getting upset here??

  • Tired of the rhetoric

    I’m not upset at all. I just wish people had their facts. I wonder who is feeding you full of inaccurate information. Apparently you’re not an attorney in this case otherwise, you wouldn’t be discussing it. You claim to know as much about this case “and then some.” I don’t think so. You have not been retained by any party and so since I have not seen your name on any of the pleadings, I can only assume that you are just another person with an opinion, which is fine however; it is people like you who clearly don’t have all of the facts. Based on that, I don’t believe I have anything else to say other than, I hope to see you Friday at the meeting; I believe it would be your first time. Above all else, have a blessed holiday.