July 1, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Westfield Township trustees OK rezoning settlement

WESTFIELD TOWNSHIP – After hearing opposition from 17 people, Westfield Township trustees voted 2-1 to accept an out-of-court settlement that would allow commercial development on a 105-acre property on Greenwich Road, near the interchange of Interstate 71 and Interstate 76.

Supporting the settlement were trustees Gary Harris and Ron Oiler, whose terms expire in four days. The third trustee, James Likley, voted no.

Throughout a two-hour public hearing, residents voiced their concerns. Many urged trustees to “do the right thing,” and not approve “spot zoning” to only benefit one property.

The settlement would allow commercial development at 5669 Greenwich Road, a plot of land owned by Tim and Linda Kratzer. Kratzer is a former Westfield Township trustee. The settlement also awards them $15,000 in compensation.

Resident Dwayne Kramer told trustees Harris and Oiler, “You’re just blatant with your refusal to follow the will of this community. We voted you out of office solely over this issue.”

The remark was greeted with enthusiastic applause from the crowd. The meeting was standing-room-only with more than 100 people in attendance.
Another resident, Joseph Doty, an attorney, said the timing of the vote, four days before the two outgoing trustees leave office, was “suspect.”

“The sad part is, there may actually be a compromise available, a compromise which everyone, including and especially the residents of the township, could accept and agree” he said. “However, if you approve this settlement agreement, we will never know.”

Doty said residents do not want “full-scale, anything-goes type development.”

Before hearing from residents, attorney Jim Mathews, who is representing the township, said told them there is a risk the township might lose in court — both sides of the case have strengths and weaknesses.

“There is a rational basis for seeking some resolution,” he said.

Trustee Harris said he could not “consciously allow the township to be put in jeopardy.” He said the lawsuit, if not settled, could potentially “bankrupt the township.” Harris said any development would take approximately eight to 10 years, and by that time, the township could benefit from the property tax revenue.

Oiler said their decision was in the township’s best interest.

On Tuesday, Medina County Common Pleas Judge Christopher J. Collier ruled that Friday’s meeting could proceed as planned.

Newly elected trustees William Thombs and Michael Schmidt had asked Collier to delay the meeting until after Jan. 1, when they take office. Thombs and Schmidt oppose the settlement.

The Kratzers sued the township in August, after their request for a variance was rejected by the township Board of Zoning Appeals. The Kratzers have appealed that decision, along with filing the lawsuit. At the time of the request, Schmidt sat on the board.

The lawsuit says the township violated the Kratzers’ right to develop their property. A November 2011 voters’ referendum overturned a decision by trustees to rezone the property for commercial development.

In court on Tuesday, 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 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 a Feb. 13 court hearing. Collier will still decide after hearing from residents whether the settlement is “fair and reasonable.”

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.