Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Church appeals permit rejection

By Earnest Winston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DEERFIELD TWP. — A Baptist church has filed a zoning appeal after its request for a conditional-use permit was refused, claiming a township trustee had a conflict of interest in the decision.

        The Deerfield Township Board of Zoning Appeals on July 12 denied a conditional-use request for Loveland Park Baptist Church. The church wants to build a two-story structure of about 9,500 square feet for a place of worship, fellowship hall and activity center.

        The church's attorney, Michael J. Davis, said Trustee Barbara Reed acted improperly when she asked the zoning board to deny the church's request because. Trustees appoint the zoning board members, who receive $50 per meeting.

        Ms. Reed also should have been prohibited from speaking about the project, Mr. Davis said, because she was a member of the zoning board when it denied a previous request by the church for a conditional-use permit.

        “I think it's absolutely improper, unethical and should not have been permitted,” said Mr. Davis, who filed the zoning appeal last week in Warren County Common Pleas Court. “I think it was an absolute slap in the face of neutrality and impartiality.”

        Ms. Reed said she asked an official with the Ohio Ethics Commission if she could speak at the July 12 meeting as a private citizen, despite being a trustee and previously having voted against the conditional-use permit as a zoning board member. She said the official told her she would not be in conflict.

        “The reason I was not in conflict is because I was not before the board as a trustee, I was before the board as a citizen,” Ms. Reed said. “My rights are not precluded by the fact that I am a trustee. I am still a taxpayer, and I am still a citizen.”

        Jennifer Hardin, chief advisory attorney for the Ohio Ethics Commission, said the commission does not address specific cases. Still, she said she was unsure if the actions alleged against Ms. Reed fall within the agency's jurisdiction.

        Tim Hershner, Deerfield Township's zoning and planning director, said the zoning board denied the zoning request by the church because there are not adequate roads in place to support the project, and the entrance and exit to the church's parking lot would adversely affect residents' safety.


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