The Harlem Township Board of Trustees unanimously certified a petition Wednesday to the Delaware County Board of Elections requesting the verification of signatures for a referendum to be placed on the November ballot.

The referendum would give voters a chance to overturn the trustees’ March 28 adoption of an amendment to rezone 13 acres of property on Fancher Road from agricultural to a planned commercial and office district.

Trustees voted 2-1 in favor of the rezoning. Trustees David Jackson and Robert Singer voted aye, with Trustee Jerry Paul voting nay.

Jim Gehring and Jeff Barr requested the rezoning measure and are proposing to build a 500-unit, self-serve kiosk storage facility that will not be staffed.

Gehring and Barr’s design team responded to the concerns expressed by the local residents opposed to the rezoning during the March trustees meeting.

However, residents were not satisfied with the answers and threatened to petition for a referendum.

“We are prepared to do a referendum … I’ve already spoken to the lawyers,” said Brittany Bowers from the podium during the March 28 meeting. Bowers lives next door to the property. She said the proposed plan for the self-storage facility shows an 800-foot-long fence running along the side of her driveway.

Trustees told residents at the end of that meeting that they had 30 days for a referendum before the rezoning measure became permanent.

Singer told residents Wednesday that the board’s only job was to make sure that the I’s were dotted and the T’s crossed.

“The board of elections will verify the signatures,” he said. “We just verify that there are enough signatures to move it forward, and there does appear to be enough.”

Paul said the responsibility of the board was to review the application on its face.

“We make sure that there is a map attached and make sure there are sufficient signatures to warrant us sending this onto the board of elections,” he said. “That’s our primary reason to be here tonight.”

Paul said it’s the board’s job to double check the page and signature counts, that the circulator’s signatures appeared on the correct line, and there is a description and map included.

According to Fire Chief Dale Fling, sitting in for Jon Trainer, the township’s zoning inspector, the board of elections was requiring a minimum of 116 valid registered voter signatures. The petition contained 13 part-petitions with over 170 collected signatures that had been received in a timely manner.

“It appears that we have 13 individual petitions with a total of 174 (signatures), give or take one or two. We do have a map attached with a description,” Paul said. He then asked Jackson to read the resolution.

“In the matter of determining the facial validity of a certain petition requesting a referendum of the amendment to the Harlem Township zoning resolution. … the board hereby finds and determines that the petition meets the requirements contained in RC 519.12H (Ohio Revised Code) and elsewhere in the revised code and determine it to be valid on its face. As a result, the board finding determination, the petition shall be certified to the Delaware County Board of Elections.”

All three trustees voted in favor of the motion.

Wanting to be on the same page, Paul asked Andrew Bigler, Delaware County assistant prosecuting attorney, “What is considered construction?”

“Is it moving dirt? Is it the physical construction of the building?” he asked the assistant prosecutor. “Our interpretation was if they move dirt, we will react.”

As the referendum moves through the process, rezoning the property from agricultural to a planned commercial and office district is on hold until the matter is resolved.

Neither Gehring nor Barr were at the trustees meeting.

The Gazette contacted Gehring for comment.

“We’ll take a look at it and see what the options are,” he said.

Gehring was asked if the referendum is certified to the November ballot, were there plans to protest the certification?

“I can’t comment on that at this time,” he said.

According to trustees, the Delaware County Board of Elections now has two weeks to review and certify the signatures on the petition.

By D. Anthony Botkin

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Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.