In matters of government controversy, voters should always have an opportunity to weigh in. Such appears to be in store in Findlay, where an apparent neighborhood dispute that led to the vacation of two undeveloped Findlay streets may not get resolved until the November 2019 ballot.
Between now and then, the community will get an education on the referendum petition process and the checks and balances it provides in local government.
The civics lesson began well before Aug. 7, when Findlay City Council voted 6-5 to vacate the right of way to Carrol and Benton streets even after the Findlay City Planning and Zoning Committee, the City Planning Commission and the Hancock Regional Planning Commission all opposed doing so.
Mayor Lydia Mihalik signed the legislation the same day, even though, historically, the city has only vacated streets and alleys if all affected property owners agreed.
In this case, Matthias Leguire, 830 E. Sandusky St., didn’t. He has voiced opposition since earlier this year when his neighbor, Chris Neely, 841 Hawthorne Road, filed a petition to have the two streets vacated.
Neely sought the vacations based on safety concerns for neighborhood children, and to prevent Leguire from driving on the undeveloped streets. Leguire opposed the street closures, saying abandoning Carrol and Benton would deny him access to the rear of his five-acre property, and limit possible future development.
Leguire began circulating petitions to begin the process to overturn the legislation after council declined to reconsider its action, and this week submitted 1,455 signatures that he, family and friends collected over the past month.
If the Hancock County Board of Elections validates at least 878 of the names as being registered city voters, the issue would advance to the November 2019 general election. If less of the signatures are validated, the vacation of the two streets would stand.
We hope the important discussion about property rights does not divide the city. While it appears both sides are digging in, perhaps a compromise could still be reached.
The council members who supported vacating Carrol and Bennett streets have not publicly explained why they made an exception in this case, but they may have to be more forthcoming if the referendum proceeds.
That’s because all elected city offices except for treasurer — mayor, auditor, law director — and all 11 council seats will be up for election in 2019. The referendum could become a political hot potato by the primary election, especially if races are contested.
If Leguire’s petition does make it to the ballot, it will be the first time a referendum or initiative has since 2008.
That was when voters repealed council’s 2007 ordinance granting permission for the city to contract with a Kentucky-based developer who wanted to build a $90 million mixed-use RiverPlace project on the former Brandman dump along the Blanchard River.
A group of citizens concerned that the project could worsen flooding got the initiative petition issue to the ballot by collecting 1,613 signatures, 400 more than needed.
Voters also repealed council actions in 2002, involving proposed “streetscape” plans, and in 1993 involving zoning legislation.
The Leguire referendum, which would simply prevent the legislation vacating Carrol and Benton streets from being enacted, will be pending for the next 14 months — or it could fizzle out by month’s end.