Olentangy Valley News

Liberty Township

Trustees mull home-office rules after citation protest

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A Liberty Township resident says officials slapped him with a hefty fine for making business calls from his house.

The allegation sparked a debate among Liberty Township trustees over the merits of the township's home-office restrictions at a meeting May 8.

Mike Gemperline addressed trustees after he was cited for allegedly violating zoning restrictions against operating a business out of his home.

Gemperline, who works remotely as a representative for a contract furniture manufacturer, said he received a notice stating he would be fined $600 for the offense.

He said he was cited after an anonymous call was placed to the township zoning office that described furniture being unloaded at his residence. The caller allegedly drew a connection between the furniture and Gemperline's business dealings.

At the May 8 meeting, Gemperline denied the charge, stating he only makes business calls from home, which aren't prohibited by Powell code.

He said the furniture was being unloaded because his son was moving.

Among the current zoning laws are restrictions against signs and customer parking on residential streets.

The code also states no more than one employee who does not live at a residence may work at that location.

"I don't run a business out of my house," Gemperline said. "No one comes to my house. I don't have a sign. I receive no payments. I simply work for someone out of my house."

He added: "There is certainly potential to build a case for harassment."

Trustee Melanie Leneghan said citing residents for making calls would leave the majority of residents in violation.

"I don't feel the intent of our zoning code is to hold 90 percent of people responsible to go in front of the zoning commission and pay $600 and provide legal documentation to make phone calls from their home," Leneghan said.

Board Chairman Curt Sybert said he doesn't know if Gemperline violated the zoning code for any other reason; that's for the township's zoning commission to decide, he said.

He said the zoning restrictions are meant to protect homeowners from neighbors whose business practices could be disruptive and lower home values.

The zoning restrictions aren't abused, Sybert said. According to Zoning Inspector Holly Foust, Gemperline is the only resident to be cited for a home office violation in 2013.

"What the code is meant to enforce is a home occupation, like, for example, a guy running a plumbing business out of his house, or a landscaping operation where he has trucks and he's coming and going," Sybert said.

"In the past, I have never seen a citation issue where there hasn't been a business being run out of the home."

The trustees finally agreed to waive the $600 fee so that Gemperline can plead his case to the zoning commission after resident Vince Margello addressed the board asking for a waiver to be granted on his behalf.

Foust said a complete overhaul of the township's zoning code -- including updates to the home-office restrictions to take modern technology and business practices into account -- has been in the works for several years and could be adopted by the end of 2013.

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