Powell officials put the blame for a $1.8 million legal settlement squarely on a group of residents who ran a temporarily successful campaign to block the development of a downtown apartment complex.
CV Real Property sued the city in 2014 after city voters approved a charter amendment proposed by residents that banned "high-density housing" in the city's Downtown Business District. The amendment also included a specific provision blocking the development of CV Property's planned 64-unit apartment and retail complex known as the Center at Powell Crossing.
Powell City Council previously had approved the plans for the development proposed for an 8.3-acre site at 147 W. Olentangy St.
U.S. District Judge James L. Graham in March 2016 ruled in the developer's favor, "(invalidating) the charter amendment in its entirety." Graham's ruling stated the charter amendment unlawfully delegated council's power to a group of unelected residents and violated the federal and state constitutions.
The court also ruled the developer was entitled to seek damages and fees from the city.
Powell City Council on Sept. 19 appropriated $950,000 to settle with the developer, while Great American Insurance Group will cover the remaining $850,000. The settlement resolves all of the developer's claims against the city.
City Manager Steve Lutz said Powell's administration recommended against appealing for fear the city would "continue to run up additional costs and expenses, which must be paid by the Powell taxpayers."
Councilman Tom Counts said the one-time payment was not the lone cost to taxpayers from the lawsuit. He said the legal battle also led to pricier insurance premiums and lost staff time.
Counts compared the city's settlement to a parent paying for a child's costly mistake.
"Words cannot express the feelings that come to mind," he said. "Approval of this settlement is one of the saddest days in my 12 years on City Council.
"It's not that I disapprove of this settlement ... but I am saddened when I think about (how) almost a million of our taxpayer dollars could be used to build up our community."
Counts said the money could have been used to build miles of bike paths or double the city's annual road-repair budget.
David Ebersole, one of eight candidates for council on the November ballot, said council members were "violating the public trust." Ebersole's brother, Brian Ebersole, has been one of the public faces of a resident-led movement to block the development of apartment and condominium complexes in and around Powell's downtown.
David Ebersole accused council of siding with the developer instead of continuing to fight the legal battle.
"The City Council decided behind closed doors ... they agreed with the developer that they wanted to overturn the public vote," he said.
Mayor Brian Lorenz asked a city police officer to remove David Ebersole from last week's council meeting after he declined to adhere to the three-minute time limit for public comments. Ebersole claimed the mayor violated his right to free speech.
After the meeting, Ebersole said city officials should have given him additional time because the discussion and vote on the settlement came with little warning to the public. He said he did not have the time to craft a lengthier, written statement and submit it to council.
"I didn't have the opportunity to provide them with critical information," he said.
Ebersole and fellow council candidate Sharon Valvona on Sept. 24 issued a press release calling for the city to vacate the settlement and conduct another hearing after giving the public notice.
Ebersole was the lone member of the public to speak out against the settlement.
Lorenz said he had no choice but to remove Ebersole after he violated the stated time limit and refused to cede the floor.
"I was disappointed and saddened and, quite frankly, I'm very, very embarrassed for (Ebersole)," Lorenz said.
Vice Mayor Jon Bennehoof said the residents who crafted the charter amendment put forward an indefensible document that violated the developer's property rights.
"In an effort to mitigate the city's losses and at the direction of the court, the city entered into arbitration with the developer," he said.
Bennehoof said the "frivolous activity" of the group that pushed the amendment damaged Powell's image among credit-rating agencies, developers and others.
Councilman Jim Hrivnak said he hopes the decision to settle helps end a divisive period in the city's history.
"It's time to move on, and the first step in moving on in this case is to approve the settlement," he said.
Lorenz said the settlement nullifies a lot of the good work city staff and council members have done to save money for the future. He said the funds could have been put toward projects to improve traffic conditions downtown, which the group that proposed the charter amendment cited as a chief concern.
"Quite frankly, I'm very heartbroken over this," he said.