WESTFIELD TWP.: With four days left in office, Westfield Township trustees Gary Harris and Ronald Oiler had a lot of explaining to do Friday night.
The pair had to explain to the nearly 150 residents, many standing along the walls in the packed Town Hall, why they were accepting an out-of-court settlement and going against the wishes of the public.
The settlement, which includes a $15,000 payout, would alter the zoning of a parcel of land on Greenwich Road from mostly residential to commercial. It allows former trustee Timothy Kratzer to eventually develop his land near the interchange of Interstates 71 and 76.
It would also insulate the township from further litigation as Timothy and Linda Kratzer mount a case in Medina County Common Pleas Court arguing their constitutional right to develop their land has been restricted.
A similar rezoning proposal was passed by the same two trustees in 2011 only to be rejected by voters in a referendum later that year.
Yet Harris and Oiler voted to “open the door” to developing the land after a 90-minute public comment period where resident after resident voiced concerns over the possibility of the land being developed.
Some 13 residents stood before the board citing a slew of concerns about the potential commercial expansion.
Some feared possible crime that a shopping center could bring. Others said covering 105 acres of farmland with asphalt would cause flooding and drainage issues, adversely impacting the Chippewa Creek bordering the west side of the property.
Still others feared depressed property values for surrounding areas.
Farmers said traffic would inhibit the transportation of farm equipment.
One retiree cited noise that would be an encroachment into the quiet country life of the area.
None of the concerns swayed Harris and Oiler, who struggled to be heard over a passionate audience.
“After hearing all the comments, I believe it is in the best interest of the community to settle this economically,” Oiler said, prompting outcry from the crowd.
“Come on … Do the right thing … Good luck working in this town,” some in the crowd shouted back.
Harris and Oiler voted in favor of the settlement, saying that Kratzer’s right to develop his land should not be infringed upon by any group, even his neighbors. They also said that $15,000 would prevent the Kratzers from ever coming after the township on the issue again.
Harris said Kratzer had estimated a loss of business rent as high as $100,000 a year. He was concerned that the township would have to make a larger settlement if they continued to fight a lawsuit filed by the Kratzers in October.
While the commercial development and cash award appear to be moving forward, a court ruling made earlier in the week by Medina County Court of Common Pleas Judge Christopher J. Collier may upset the decision in the coming months.
The ruling rejected a request by seven residents — including trustees-elect William Thombs and Michael Schmidt — to prevent Harris and Oiler from voting on the land development proposal Friday.
“The Court will not put itself in the position of preventing a meeting and vote of a duly-elected Board of Trustees,” Collier wrote in the ruling, lauded by the Kratzers’ attorney.
“However, the Court does have a role in the approval or disapproval of any settlement agreement in this matter,” Collier continued.
While the ruling did not stop the vote, it did set a public hearing in February before the court so that residents can voice their concerns. Collier will listen to both sides and could then overturn the outgoing trustees’ decision should he rule the settlement not “fair and reasonable.”
The public hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Feb. 13 at the Medina County Common Pleas Court.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.