By DENISE GRANT
A police officer was asked to calm Tuesday’s meeting of Findlay City Council after residents, complaining that the city’s zoning appeals board is misusing its authority, got a little rowdy.
Council President Ron Monday called for the officer after Charles Williams, of 804 Fishlock Ave., refused to end his address to council after being given nearly 10 minutes to speak. Council typically allows only four minutes for citizens to address the body.
Williams, who had been yelling from his seat, relented once the officer entered council chambers.
Williams attended Tuesday’s meeting to protest the handling of a variance that was granted by the zoning appeals board to Best Construction, Findlay, for a fence it constructed on property it owns in the 600 block of Weatherby Court.
Williams, his wife, Sue, and another neighbor, Marilyn Young of 606 Williams St., attended a zoning appeals board meeting to oppose the variance. The variance allowed Best Construction to build a 6-foot-high fence within 10 feet of the Williams Street right of way. City zoning rules typically require a 30-foot setback.
The Williams couple and Young argued to the zoning board that the shortened setback poses a risk to children and limits the visibility of drivers.
However, zoning board members decided the fence was needed to obscure the view of two properties that are zoned light industrial and “aren’t pretty to look at.” The view, they argued, would hurt property values.
While Charles Williams still doesn’t agree with the placement of the fence, he was more angry that zoning board Chairman Phil Rooney conducted the zoning board meeting, argued in favor of the variance, and then excused himself from the final vote, saying he had a conflict of interest because he serves as an attorney for Best Construction.
Williams said Rooney should have excused himself from the entire discussion.
Minutes from the meeting state that Rooney told Young the board’s decision could be appealed, but City Law Director Don Rasmussen said Tuesday that’s not true, and only the applicant would have the right to appeal.
Charles Williams also alleged Tuesday that he has a copy of the city’s recording of the Feb. 8 zoning board meeting, and when compared to the official minutes of the meeting, there are several statements made by zoning board members that are missing from the tape.
Rasmussen said he has listened to the tape repeatedly, and thinks it is a problem with board members turning their microphones on and off during meetings. Rasmussen said the board has been instructed to turn their microphones on and leave them on during the entire meeting. Rasmussen also said he has a sworn affidavit from the technician who transferred the audio onto disc, stating that the recording has not been altered.
Williams has found an ally in Matthias Leguire, of 830 E. Sandusky St., who recently was denied a variance for his fence that missed the 30-foot setback rule by about 3 feet.
Leguire said he was told by Todd Richard, city zoning administrator, that the city would not contest his variance request, but it did anyway.
“Maybe if Phil Rooney was my attorney, I wouldn’t have had to move my fence,” Leguire said Tuesday. “Did he have to stay here by the podium like I did and make his case? No, he sat right there, as chairman of the board.”
Leguire also challenged council on a proposed change to the zoning code which would restrict grass height to 6 inches within the city. The legislation was given its second reading on Tuesday.
If approved, the change would force Leguire to mow nearly 5 acres he owns within city limits. He had planned to allow the land to naturalize.
Leguire said it appears he will have to mow, or have his neighbors “harass him” with the “N.E.A.T. Police.”
N.E.A.T. stands for Neighborhood Enhancement and Abatement Team, which was formed in 2004 to address neighborhood complaints about such issues as abandoned vehicles, tall grass, trash, sidewalk nuisances, right of way issues, dilapidated structures, junk on premises, and needed minor maintenance.
“What study did you read that said that grass should never be more than 6 inches?” Leguire said Tuesday. “Who do you guys think you are? Come on, are you going to keep regulating and restricting us? You’re taking away our freedoms. You are taking away our rights.”
Council voted 9-1 Tuesday to amend the city’s zoning code and establish a design review board which would oversee any exterior changes or new construction in a large swath of the city’s downtown, with Sixth Ward Councilman Jim Niemeyer opposed. That ordinance passed on its third reading, without discussion or complaints.
The design review standards would stretch from just north of Center Street to Lima Avenue on Findlay’s Main Street, and reach just past Hurd Avenue to the west and Factory Street to the east.
The new rules only apply to current nonresidential properties, mixed-use properties, and residential properties with four or more units. Any new structures in the district would be subject to the standards, regardless of use.
Under the new zoning, any changes made to a downtown building would require a permit and be subject to review by a board.
The board’s design guidelines cover building materials, facades, windows, window and door replacements, storefronts, entrances, awnings, signs, lighting, site improvements, fencing, parking lots, landscaping, mechanical systems and colors.
Separately Tuesday, council heard complaints about the All American Rock House, a longtime nightclub at 1851 Tiffin Ave. that became a live music venue in February. Neighbors say the music has been rattling windows three blocks away.
City Council members said noise complaints about the location are not new. The club abuts residential properties.
Owner Paul “Tobe” Drew and city officials agreed Tuesday to work on reducing the noise levels. Drew said a directional sound system will be installed, which should help. He also asked city officials to consider establishing a decibel limit, so the rules are clearer.
Drew said Findlay’s noise ordinance was designed more for disruptive car stereos, not music clubs, and has no set limit.