Zoning Code: You Be the Judge

You Be The Judge

While I have my own strong opinions about this particular case, I’d like for my readers to weigh in with their opinions, before I shout out mine, and the reasoning behind them. Weigh all sides of the story, then please share with all of us what you think of it.

Here is the story:

JOHNSTOWN, Ohio — Calling it a miscommunication between the landowner and the township zoning inspector, the Liberty Township Board of Appeals denied a request to tolerate a completed structure that was later found in violation of the township’s zoning code.

Although the structure, a pole barn, already was built when a neighbor filed a complaint, the board members agreed Wednesday at an appeal hearing they had to enforce their own zoning code or risk other landowners challenging it.

“If we approve yours, there’s no stopping it,” board member Dale McCombs told the landowner, Harry Johnson, who had the pole barn built. The board vote was unanimous in favor of denying the variance, 5-0.

Johnson, who lives on the 6000 block of Johnstown-Utica Road, completed the construction of a pole barn on his property in June. But after it was built, one of his neighbors, Michael Reed, took a complaint to the zoning inspector, claiming Johnson had violated the zoning code.

The violation in question was the requirement that structures be built 35 feet away from the lot line. Reed claimed the structure was built much closer to his lot, less than five feet away from the property line.

Zoning inspector David Cole said when he spoke with Johnson about constructing the barn, he was told by Johnson that Johnson’s property went right to the middle of a driveway that is accessed by five surrounding properties. So Reed approved the zoning permit based on Johnson’s assertion.

However, according to a deed Cole later pulled from the county, Johnson’s property rights did not go to the center of the driveway. Johnson could use it to access his property, but he did not own it. Thus, the building was built much closer to the driveway and Reed’s property, which Reed took issue with.

Johnson told the board of appeals it was Cole who suggested that he build the pole barn where it now stands. But Cole said he was under the impression that Johnson owned the land where he said he did. McCombs said later it appeared there was some miscommunication and misinformation between the sides.

“Obviously I made a mistake, but I was led to believe that the property line was the middle of the road,” Cole said after the meeting Wednesday.

Cole said he cited Johnson for the zoning violation after Reed filed the complaint in July. But Johnson filed an appeal for a variance in late August — which costs $800 — to keep the building there, claiming a hardship if it had to be torn down.

But board members agreed there was no hardship. In reviewing land documents submitted by the people involved in the appeal, they came to the conclusion there were other parts of the property where the structure could’ve been built.

Johnson said he would take his issue to court next.

“I can’t tear down an expensive building,” he said.

But Cole acknowledged before the appeal hearing Wednesday that if Johnson takes it to court, it’s unlikely a judge will order the building torn down, citing similar past cases. He said a fine could be in order for Johnson, but it’s up to the judge, Cole said.

The board of appeals has no authority to order a structure torn down. But the members still said it was important to enforce the zoning code and deny the variance.

“This gets to the root of the zoning code,” board member Larry Riffe said. “If we allow this, anyone could challenge our zoning.”

And now…your opinions?  Email me at: PoleBarnGuru@HansenPoleBuildings.com

I will give you my opinion once the “jury” is in…so stay tuned.

4 thoughts on “Zoning Code: You Be the Judge

  1. The whole issue could have been prevented/avoided if the building official (Cole) had required the deed code from the county prior to the original approval, and should not have taken the applicants word for what the property rights were.

    The building official has some fault here.

    In the end, requiring the building to come down is a harsh measure and should only happen in this case if it can be shown that the applicant knowingly mislead the building official as to the actual property rights.

    1. Good points Rick.

      My oldest son used to live in Maryville, Tennessee (not far from Knoxville). I have to admit, they generally seem to give a fair amount of latitude in issuance of Building Permits, however they ARE sticklers for setbacks. In Jake’s case, even though he knew where the property corners were, they made him hire a surveyor to confirm.

      1. Bet the surveyor was cheaper than building and demolishing. How hard is it to read the deed and find the property line? Sorry property owner, your responsibility. Neighbor nod county/city are well supported in this decision.

  2. This response came from one of our readers:

    I believe Mr. Johnson is at fault. Before he started building he should have done his homework. If he wasn’t 100% certain where the property lines were, he should have brought in a county surveyor to have it marked and put into writing. Then, you head to the county’s land-use planning department, confirm your survey findings with them and go over your plans for a building to ensure they conform to building and setback requirements. Get that in writing as well.

    I think Mr. Johnson needs to carefully take down the structure so-as not to damage anything, then re-construct the pole building (using most of the original material) in a location that conforms to county code. Hopefully he didn’t lay cement on the floor yet, otherwise that would be an added expense. I suppose he could just leave the cement slab there and use it for something else. Maybe construct some raised garden beds on it? You wouldn’t have to worry about weeds around those raised beds! J Or, convert it into a bocce ball court? J

    That’s my two cents.



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