Center Stage

LISBON – After nearly three years in the making, a proposed zoning plan for Center Township is ready to be unveiled.

A public hearing hosted by the Center Township Zoning Committee is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at the township hall, with residents encouraged to attend so they can get their first look at the proposed plan and ask questions.

“It’s a very limited (plan),” said committee Chairman Bob Berg. “The focus of the committee and the other people in the township disgusted with the deterioration of the township, for that matter, has been to stop the next landfill or junk yard.”

The hearing is the first step in the process before township trustees can put the plan on the November election ballot for voters to decide, which is what they intend to do.

“Ultimately, it will be up to voters,” said Trustee President Ken Schreffler.

The trustees formed the committee in 2011 with the idea of creating a limited zoning code that would strike a balance between protecting residential property owners, and not being so overly restrictive as to unreasonably interfere with private property rights or impede economic development

Although he has yet to see the final draft, Schreffler believes the committee has achieved that balance. “We think the board did a tremendous job putting this together for us. People are afraid of zoning, but it’s to protect your investment,” he said.

Berg and the rest of the volunteer committee – Gina Bettis, Jerry Connor, Bob Cosma and Sam Sowards – began by examining existing zoning plans before deciding to structure the plan along the lines of the one used by Beaver Township in Mahoning County. He said the plan is “easy to read, easy to comprehend, logical and (has) sound reasoning behind the restrictions and a great mix of ‘zones’ to work with.”

Much thought was given to what went into the plan and what was excluded.

“The compilation of our zoning resolution took better than two and a half years and hundreds of hours of meetings, discussions and documentation of revision after revision,” he added said.

First off, current use of all property would be “grandfathered in,” or exempt from the zoning plan, until the property changes hands.

The plan creates three zoning districts: agricultural and residential, commercial and industrial, and special districts. The zoning plan, among other things, prohibits outside storage of junked and abandoned vehicles or boats in residential and agricultural districts. It also bans accumulation or storage of junk, junked vehicles, disabled and inoperative machinery, or equipment in agricultural and residential districts.

It also establishes regulations for residential dwellings’ accessory structures, home businesses, swimming pools, large and small satellite dishes, animals and roadside stands.

A zoning map could not be located to accompany this story but Schreffler said one should be on display for public inspection at the meeting. Once the plan is approved for placement on the ballot, it will be available online and at the Lepper Library in Lisbon.

Berg said the committee heard from not only people who liked the idea of limited zoning but those who are opposed to “someone telling them what to do with their property. Our intent has always been to eliminate future landfills, junkyards and trash neighbors” from being able to move in next door to residents.

“We want to see the property values within the township increase in value and to protect our children’s futures,” he added.

The plan does not prevent any property owner from making basic home improvements, or expansions, nor does it include an outright ban on new home businesses.

“We’re not going to tell people what color they can paint their dog house,” Trustee Schreffler said.

The plan contains no restrictions on oil and gas drilling. “We discussed at great length what to do about drilling, but we decided to leave that alone. It’s a golden opportunity for the area to advance” and we did not want to impede that, Berg said.

The zoning plan is 105 pages, but Berg said, “Don’t let the size of the resolution scare you: It’s all about sections two and three (general provisions and rules for agricultural and residential districts) … “

The rest of the sections deal with commercial and industrial districts and creation of a regulation-enforcement structure, which includes permit fees, a zoning inspector and a five-member zoning commission appointed by trustees.

“So much of what you see in this resolution is parroting state code. Any good architect, engineer, contractor, etc, know most of this code by heart,” Berg said. “We are not reinventing anything.”

Schreffler described himself as being ambivalent about zoning at one time, but he warmed to the idea after speaking with a friend who chose to build his $200,000-plus home in Fairfield Township instead of Center Township. When asked why, the friend told Schreffler that Fairfield Township has zoning that will protect the value of his investment, while Center Township does not.

“And you know what? He was right. There’s nothing to stop a junk yard from moving in next door to you, and it’s happened,” he said.