The Liberty Township Zoning Commission, as the last order of business on June 20, approved amendments to the township zoning code that will now go before the board of trustees.
The zoning changes come at a time when a Notice of Appeal has been filed with the Liberty Township Board of Zoning Appeals by Jay Sunderland, a resident of the township, “regarding certain decisions (allowing the mound without a permit) made by Ms. Tracy Mullenhour (zoning inspector) ” about a large mound of earth that has recently been constructed on a property owned by Thornwood Taggart Road LLC. The site in question is located off of Taggart Road, behind the Olentangy Falls subdivision on Hyatts Road.
According to the appeal, the mound was constructed by Martin Savko on the Thornwood Taggart Road property.
Savko, owner of Savko Brothers Properties X LLC, recently lost a fight against a referendum placed on the May 8 ballot at the request of Berlin Township residents opposing the company’s development of a concrete production facility on land located at 5427 state Route 37 E., Delaware. Berlin Township trustees had approved a measure to rezone the 24 acres from Farm Residential to Planned Industrial Development, but their decision was overturned at the ballot box.
Liberty Township Trustee Melanie Leneghan said she was made aware that a neighboring resident was unhappy with the earthen mound being next to their property.
“Looking at the mound, it’s large,” she said. “But, it’s on a Farm Residential zoned property and not in violation of the zoning code.”
According to Charles Hurt, assistant zoning inspector, the land is zoned Farm Residential that the mound resides upon.
Leneghan said that she was aware that Savko had constructed the mound on the property with the permission of the owner. She added she was told that it was to help with drainage and benefited the land.
Leneghan also mentioned that there were rumors being circulated about her getting the code changed as a favor to Savko, who made a $5,000 contribution to her Congressional campaign.
“I never saw the check. I never touched it,” she said. “Savko even contributed money to my opponents.”
However, there seems to be some confusion on the campaign contributions as to who made them to whom.
According to the Federal Election Commission’s website, Martin L. Savko contributed $5,000 to Leneghan’s campaign; Martin Savko contributed $2,700 and Martin L. Savko Jr. contributed $5,000 to Carol O’Brien’s Congressional campaign; and Martin Savko contributed $5,000 to Troy Balderson’s campaign.
Savko could not be reached for comment on the matter of the campaign contributions or the earthen mound by press time.
Leneghan said the zoning code is a mess and there are continuing efforts being made to clean it up. She said she started working on the zoning code long before she considered running for Congress.
In the trustees last meeting on June 18, those efforts were in full force as trustees discussed one change in particular, the word mound as defined as a structure. Leneghan was adamant that the code was changed during the meeting.
“A structure would require a permit,” said Hurt.
“Do you know where we are at changing the zoning code on 16-inch hills?” Leneghan asked Matt Huffman, township administrator. “Did you get my email making sure that it includes past, present and future?”
“We’ve had that discussion with the prosecutor’s office,” Huffman told her, before saying, “I’m going by what the prosecutor’s office told me. You can’t make it retro.”
“I’m going to say that the prosecutor’s office is wrong, and I challenge that,” Leneghan said. “Can you please have them put that language in, and as it goes through, we’ll deal with it then. Because this could cost the taxpayers ridiculous amounts of money, and I just want to protect us from that. I really see someone challenging that and winning.”
After another rebuttal from Huffman about the legalities of the code not being made retroactive to include all past mounds, it was decided to eliminate the word “mound” completely from the zoning code.
“Just eliminate it,” Leneghan told Huffman. “You don’t have to make it retro. Just eliminate it. Our zoning code can say whatever the board of trustees wants it to say, and then it just has to go through the process.”
Trustee Shyra Eichhorn said she thought that mounds 16 inches high requiring a permit was absurd, but also thought it was absurd that there would be “nothing on the books for anything.” She said if someone isn’t in a homeowners association or planned neighborhood and they get angry at their neighbor, they can build a 20-foot mound.
“If you have an enormous mound, that will be okay with mounds being struck (from the code),” she said. “If we strike this, you’re telling me that some neighbor could build a giant mound and there’s nothing we can do about it? I just want to make sure we’re not opening up to anything else.”
Huffman told the board that as it works through the code, strange things seem to pop up.
“We find these abnormalities,” he said. “Who would have thought we’d be in this discussion right now.”
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.