The Genoa Township Board of Trustees voted 2-1 to accept the terms of a proposed consent decree at a turbulent 3-plus hour special meeting Monday.
As outlined in the consent decree, The Ravines at Hoover, a 56-home subdivision on 42.8 acres at Tussic Street and Oxbow Road, will be allowed to move forward. A recent amendment to the final development plan changes the name from The Nest at Hoover to The Ravines at Hoover.
However, a group called Genoa Township Residents for Responsible Development (GTRRD Inc.) filed a motion last week in district court to dismiss the lawsuit that prompted the proposed settlement in the case of Benton Benalcazar vs. Genoa Township.
“GTRRD Inc. is a 501c4 social welfare group as defined by the IRS to allow residents of a community to form and participate in civic betterment and social improvement,” states the group’s website, www.genoaresidents.com. “It differs from a Political Action Committee (PAC) in that it is not governed by a political campaign. What does this mean for us residents of Genoa? We now have a stronger, more able, and year round ability to fight for our community.”
The property, previously zoned rural residential, has had a long history. More recently, the township’s Zoning Commission ruled against the development, citing conflicts with the Comprehensive Plan. In April 2018, the trustees approved the development. In November 2018, voters overwhelmingly said no to the development in a referendum. The applicant filed suit in December.
GTRRD Inc. states on its website that last January, “Trustees Gebhardt and Goodman rewrite the township zoning resolution and comprehensive plan to allow higher density developments in the township. They disregarded the Zoning Commission’s recommendation and the residents’ inputs. Coincidentally, this would allow the Benalcazar proposal, which was turned down by the residents, to be built at even a higher density.”
A consent decree was issued this fall after the developer and township representatives met over the summer to make compromises, such as the relocation of retention ponds. “No divergence is necessary,” a PowerPoint shown by the developer’s representatives concluded.
After Development and Zoning Director Joe Shafer gave his report, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP attorney Joe Miller spoke for the applicant, Benton Benalcazar. He said Benalcazar asserted three claims against the township in his lawsuit: violation of due process and equal protection; and the zoning is unconstitutional.
The settlement states, “The Benalcazars are waiving their claims to significant damages and attorney fees … the proposed final development plan fully complies with the applicable Zoning Resolution for the Planned Residential District.”
Vorys representatives also handed out 50 copies of the rezoning and final development plan to the Genoa staff and audience.
Forty residents spoke at the public hearing, and most were against the settlement. Those who did received applause afterwards. Some who spoke lived across the street, some were out of the township. Some carried with them signs reading, “Stop high density development.”
Among the talking points was that the owner had bought the property cheap and could still make money developing it another way; it was too soon to take action; the neighbors had the right to keep that property rural residential; rezoning shouldn’t be allowed; the decision was out of greed and blackmail; concerns with nearby Hoover Reservoir’s water quality (although sewage will be discharged into the county’s Sanitary Sewer System); traffic and speeding on narrow roads. There were pleas to postpone the decision and go back to the drawing board.
Many said the people have spoken in the referendum, and the trustees are supposed to represent the people. “No means no,” said one woman. Another person said they moved from New Albany, and the decision “would ruin the best-kept secret in central Ohio.”
Some people offered to pay to take Benalcazar back to court. Peggy Guzzo, an attorney representing the residents, offered materials to the trustees as Exhibit I during her three minutes.
“The people here are the tip of this mighty spear,” one man said. “I’m not vindictive, but I’m not going to vote for anyone that supports this extortion,” said another man.
“The residents spent $12,000 to put the referendum on the ballot,” said one woman. “We had to hire an attorney. Why do you continue not to listen to us?”
The trustees voted similarly to how they voted prior to the referendum, each with the same separate reasons.
Outgoing Vice Chair Frank Dantonio said the development had a major impact on Genoa’s “public health, safety, morals, or general welfare,” so he was voting against the consent decree. He also unsuccessfully attempted to call for an executive session so the trustees could read Guzzo’s material, as well as to table the decision until Dec. 23 to wait for an anticipated ruling on the intervention. Dantonio was also upset that many of the residents’ questions had gone unanswered. He said he was embarrassed that for the first time, the zoning commission’s decision was “sidestepped. That’s not following the process. It doesn’t fit the area.”
Trustee Connie Goodman said there were no divergences on the rezoning, which she had never seen before, prompting her to vote in favor of the consent decree.
Chair Karl Gebhardt said he was following the law, as he swore on oath to do, so he voted in favor of the consent decree. This prompted hoots from the crowd.
There was name-calling from the audience, calling the applicants and Gebhardt and Goodman puppets, bullies, terrorists, weasels, and even a Nazi. One took exception to their “smugness.” Another man, who said he was a veteran, called Benalcazar (who was not present) “Mr. Benghazi” as he had in prior meetings.
There were three lawyers on hand to consult with the trustees, and a court stenographer taking notes. One lawyer told the residents one of the stipulations of the settlement was that the residents could not have another referendum on this particular property. Disruptions caused Gebhardt to pound the table with his gavel frequently, and he threatened to have a couple people removed by police and fire department staff.
More than a few people in the audience were upset by the meeting process.
A half-hour into the meeting, someone yelled from outside the meeting room to stop since 25 people were being locked out and denied the chance to speak. Others said they had wanted the meeting in a larger venue. The seats were occupied and several people were standing throughout. Gebhardt said the township hall was where trustee meetings were normally held.
A couple residents commented they didn’t know the meeting notice was placed in The Delaware Gazette, the daily paper of record in Delaware County, as required by law. Genoa Township is one of Delaware County’s 18 townships.
Several residents were upset they only had three minutes to speak, with one person saying he was rattled and planned to sue. Others were upset that Guzzo was only given three minutes to speak. Some wanted to yield the remainder of their time, but were not allowed. Many local governments and school boards limit speakers up to three minutes so meetings can proceed in a timely fashion.
When the meeting was over, there were grumblings from audience members about recalling Gebhardt and Goodman.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.