What started as a discussion at last week's Northland Community Council development committee about placing a cellphone tower on a Morse Road property turned into complaints that the site is being used as an illegal bus terminal.
The cell tower is proposed for a parcel within the overall site, listed on the committee's agenda as 1448 Morse Road, although that's not an actual address recorded with the Franklin County Auditor's Office.
The property is the former site of Milano's Florist, which has relocated to Powell.
Dublin resident Patrick Carter, who owns the property along with his son, Carmen, stoutly denied that anything illegal is going on. He said Thursday, Aug. 28, that an agent from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had checked into the operation "and found there was nothing wrong."
Carter said his family has owned the property for more than 80 years. Transportes Regionmontanos has been using it for about the past 18 months, he said, but more as a bus stop than a bus terminal.
"People have been referring to this as a bus terminal ... and that's not the case," he said. "We monitored them in the beginning because we wanted to make sure it was a legitimate business. We checked them out. They were."
Last week marked the second time the address has come before the NCC development committee as a possible cell tower location. The first time was in January 2012 when Verizon Wireless representatives asked for an informal review.
Attorney Gregory J. Lestini of Bricker & Eckler did address the issue of a pending zoning code violation for the site, while Rob Ferguson of United Acquisition Services, representing a subsidiary of Verizon Wireless, gave a presentation about the proposed 85-foot tower, which would also carry signals from other carriers.
The nature of the zoning code violation was not discussed at the meeting, although Lestini said the property's current owner -- Carter -- was aware of the situation. Lestini said the owner planned to look into the disposition of the case after discussing the matter with his son, who is in charge of the property.
"We're not developers," Lestini said. "We put up cellphone towers. That's what this is about."
Between December 2012 and December 2013, Verizon registered 33,000 "blocked calls" in the area the proposed tower would serve, according to Ferguson.
"Our goal is to site a wireless communication facility here," he said. "The site is very important to us."
He added that he planned to return on behalf of Verizon at the end of September after issues related to the property and the rezoning request had been sorted out.
Development committee Vice Chairman William Logan did talk about the zoning violation the day after the meeting. He said it relates to what he called an illegal bus terminal, and he went on to speak of growing frustration about the business among residents of nearby Karmel-Woodward Park.
Logan said the property owners "never asked if that use was permitted and that's what the zoning compliance process is for. Had they done that, it is my belief they would have been told, no. ... My disappointment is that the city has not followed through with the zoning violation."
Logan, who ran the committee meeting in the absence of Chairman Dave Paul, said the zoning violation was issued in early April, and the owner is supposed to have only 20 days to respond. He said it appears the enforcement has been put on hold during the proposed rezoning process for the cellphone tower.
Members of the Karmel-Woodward Park Civic Association, of which Logan is president, have been informed by city officials that the Transportes Regionmontanos vehicles are no longer arriving at the impromptu terminal three times a week.
"We have evidence that as late as last week, buses continued to arrive and depart from the facility," Logan said. "We've been told verbally that the facility is closed. Under the circumstances, we're not willing to accept that."
The Transportes Regionmontanos operation has been scaled back to where a driver spends Sunday nights on the bus and then drives off with any passengers Monday mornings, according to Carter. People can still call the number on a banner in the window of one of the businesses on the property to get tickets, he added.
He said a sign on the roof of the business had been removed in response to the code enforcement citation.
"It wasn't, to me, a seriously big issue," Carter said.
After several complaints about the bus disgorging passengers on the property failed to bring any city action, Logan said he spoke with a code enforcement official who said he'd visited the site and hadn't seen any buses.
"We reminded him that the buses show up before he comes to work and they leave after he leaves work," Logan said. "We're still pursuing this as a zoning code violation."
The woman who had been running a Transportes Regionmontanos office out of one of the buildings on the Morse Road property called two or three months ago to report she had been contacted by Homeland Security, Patrick Carter said.
"She said somebody had reported that they were transporting migrant children from Mexico up to this area," he said. "Whoever reported this said they were doing it at specific times on specific days. I feel like these people have been harassed and the lady lost her job because of this.
"It's like a lot of things," he said. "People are misinformed and someone hears someone's running a bus company and the first thing you see is someone tries to incite people."