September 20, 2014

Medina
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Westfield Twp. trustees to vote on settlement Friday

A judge ruled Tuesday that a meeting of Westfield Township trustees will proceed as planned Friday evening to vote on an out-of-court settlement that would allow commercial development on a 105-acre plot on Greenwich Road.

If trustees approve the settlement, though, Medina County Common Pleas Judge Christopher J. Collier said he’ll get the final say after hearing from residents on Feb. 13 over whether the settlement is “fair and reasonable.”

A courtroom packed with Westfield Township residents hears arguments from attorneys regarding whether Medina County Common Pleas Judge Christopher J. Collier should delay a meeting where township trustees are expected to approve an out-of-court settlement with Timothy and Linda Kratzer. The Kratzers hope to develop a 105-acre plot into commercial land. Pictured are, from left, Timothy Kratzer, his attorney S. Forrest Thompson, township attorney James Mathews, Kratzer’s attorney Todd Hunt and Melissa Marino, attorney for the residents. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY NICK GLUNT)

Two incoming trustees had filed a “motion to stay,” which would have delayed the meeting until after Jan. 1, when they are set to take office. The trustees-elect argued that the decision to accept a settlement should be made by them, not the trustees who were voted out in November.

Outgoing trustees Gary Harris and Ronald Oiler support the settlement, while trustees-elect William Thombs and Michael Schmidt oppose it. The third trustee, James Likley, also opposes the settlement.

The motion was filed in response to an August suit by Timothy and Linda Kratzer, who were denied a zoning variance by the township Board of Zoning Appeals to allow them to develop the land commercially. The proposed settlement would let the Kratzers develop, and also would award them $15,000 in unspecified compensation.

The judge said Tuesday he wouldn’t delay the Friday meeting because that essentially would mean he’d make a decision for the township instead of the trustees.

“That’s a political decision that needs to be decided by the trustees, not a judge,” Collier said.

In a journal entry, he said the trustees-elect do not yet have the political power to make decisions for the township.

“The fact that the newly elected trustees yet to assume their positions on the board have an opposing viewpoint on the settlement does not deprive the current trustees of authority to act while they are still duly-elected and acting trustees,” Collier wrote.

“The court will not put itself in the position of preventing a meeting and vote of a duly-elected board of trustees,” he continued, “especially when the court’s action would impact the outcome of the vote.”

Also in court, five township residents — Shirley McDougal, Everett Perry, Amy Huttinger, Joseph F. Hastings and Eugene Sulzener — filed a “motion to intervene” with Thombs and Schmidt, saying the settlement is not in the best interest of the township.

They said building commercially on the lot, at 5669 Greenwich Road, would impede work on nearby farms, reduce property values, increase police and fire taxes and would make flooding more likely.

Collier granted that motion, giving some residents the chance to convey their concerns at the February hearing.

Todd Hunt, attorney for the Kratzers, said the judge’s ruling was good for his clients.

“It simply means the current township trustees can move forward,” Hunt said. “I generally see it as a positive step.”

Thombs said he was disappointed the meeting wasn’t delayed, but was glad the judge would hear out the residents.

“I’m glad Judge Collier realizes the people need to be heard,” he said. “He wants to very carefully hear the people’s concerns.”

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.