A Powell city charter amendment approved by voters in a November 2014 referendum has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge James L. Graham was issued March 25.
“The city’s legal team is still poring over the ruling,” said Megan Canavan, communication officer for the city of Powell. “They only received it last Friday.”
The referendum that added the charter amendment was intended to block the building of a 64-apartment development by Powell Crossings LLC that would have been accompanied by 16,400 square feet of retail space at 147 W. Olentangy St.
Opponents of the development were successful in passing the charter amendment that created a commission that includes five homeowners associations’ presidents to draft the city’s next comprehensive plan. Opponents at the time said their aim was to stop high-density housing from being built in Powell.
Graham’s ruling surprised and confused supporters of the amendment. “I’m extremely surprised by the ruling,” said Brian Ebersole who led the referendum effort. “The decision was wrong. How can a non-elected judge strike down something that was passed by popular vote?”
Here’s a timeline of events, provided by Canavan:
• June 2014: Powell City Council approved Powell Crossings LLC’s application to build on the site of Olentangy Street.
• July 2014: Powell citizens filed a referendum petition, proposing a new amendment be added to the November 2014 ballot and calling for a “comprehensive planning commission.”
• August 2014: Council unanimously rejected putting the amendment on the ballot.
• September 2014: The Ohio Supreme Court ruled not to order the amendment be placed on the ballot but, later in the month, the high court reconsidered its original decision and ordered that it be placed on the ballot. The Delaware County Board of Elections complied with the court’s order.
• November 2014: The referendum was passed by voters and the amendment was subsequently added to the city character. The Center for Powell Crossings LLC then filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio.
Ebersole said he expects the city of Powell to appeal the decision. “Keep appealing it until all the rights are exhausted,” he said.
The city originally opposed the charter amendment.
Graham’s ruling states the Powell Crossings is entitled to damages and attorney fees from the city of Powell.
The owner of Powell Crossings LLC could not be reached for comment.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin