A citizens group's initiative to revise the city of Grandview Heights' Goodale Avenue Green Space Overlay District apparently will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday, Sept. 12, that he was casting the deciding vote to reject the city administration's objection that the initiative was invalid.

The Franklin County Board of Elections’ consideration of the objection resulted in a 2-2 vote Aug. 24.

Elections board member Brad Sinnott made a motion Aug. 24 that the initiative petition was invalid, and board chairman Douglas Preisse concurred. Board members Michael Sexton and Kimberly Marinello voted against the motion.

By state law, the matter was sent to Husted to serve as the tie-breaking vote.

In his letter to the board of elections, Husted said that in this case, "the law is clear: Zoning and rezoning are legislative acts and as such are subject to initiative under the Ohio Constitution."

The initiative proposal "would be a change to the current use of city territory -- a rezoning," Husted stated in his letter. "Zoning and rezoning is a subject matter that the Grandview Heights City Council is authorized by Ohio law to control by legislative action. Therefore, the proposed initiative appears to comply with the Ohio

Constitution's content restriction on power of initiative."

Husted also rejected the argument made by the city administration and Sinnott and Preisse that the initiative was invalid because the petitioners were not following the process Grandview Heights City Council must follow to adopt or amend a zoning ordinance. That process would include submission to the planning commission, a recommendation by the commission to council and consideration and vote by council.

"This argument is confused," Husted said.

The applicable language in the Ohio Constitution refers only to the requirements state law places for petitioners to place a municipal initiative on the ballot, including the number of required petition signatures and the proper office in which to file the petition, he said.

"None of the materials presented for my consideration raise concerns that the initiative petition did not meet those requirements," so the proposed initiative appears to comply with the Ohio Constitution, Husted said.

"The petition falls within the scope of a municipal political subdivision's authority to enact via initiative," he said.

The issue at hand

The overlay district was created in 1989 and covers all lots on the north side of Goodale Boulevard between Broadview Avenue and Wyandotte Road, as well as lots on the south side of Goodale between Grandview Avenue and Lincoln Road.

The south-side property includes city-owned land and Wallace Community Gardens, McKinley Field and the tennis courts. The north side is private residential property.

The overlay district requires all properties to have a minimum front-yard depth of 100 feet and a minimum side yard of 25 feet.

The initiative set to be included on the Nov. 6 ballot would, if approved by voters, enact a new ordinance to revise the overlay district.

The new ordinance would set a minimum front yard of 200 feet on the north side of Goodale between Urlin Avenue and Wyandotte Road. The minimum front-yard requirement would be 150 feet on Stonegate Village Drive.

The measure would prohibit any building from being constructed inside the minimum setbacks.

“Our desire in getting the initiative to the ballot is to protect and preserve the remaining green space in the city,” said Jody Oster, who led the petition drive with William Thompson and Raymond Tesner.

All three live in the overlay district.

One of the triggers that led to the petition drive was the planning commission’s approval in April 2017 of a variance request to grant a lot split of the property at 1000 Elmwood Drive that would allow for future construction of a single-family home on the newly created lot.

“It was a controversial request that had been denied twice before after a number of neighbors showed up to voice their concerns,” Oster said.

The initiative is designed to redefine the green-space district to keep that precedent from being followed by other similar actions, she said.

“Our goal is to preserve the green nature of the area and make sure there’s no chance of it being overdeveloped,” Oster said.

The petition drive netted 356 certified signatures, well above the 275 required to qualify the initiative for the Nov. 6 ballot, she said.

The 275 threshold represents 10 percent of the total votes cast in the city in the last gubernatorial election.

Although the city accepted the petition and forwarded it to the board of elections, “we forwarded it (with) an objection,” Mayor Ray DeGraw said.

The city then formally petitioned the board of elections to withdraw the initiative from the November ballot.

“Our real objection to this initiative is that a proposal would go to the ballot that takes away without due process the right of a property owner to seek a redevelopment of their property,” DeGraw said. “It in effect throws away private property rights.”

“We believe this initiative goes beyond what the Ohio Constitution and our city charter allow,” he said prior to Husted’s deciding vote. “Ohio law and our codified ordinances require proposed changes in zoning law or to the city’s zoning map first be considered by the planning commission with a public hearing and then have the commission’s recommendation forwarded to City Council for its action, also with a public hearing.

“This initiative shortchanges several steps,” DeGraw said.

If someone wanted to propose modifying the overlay district, the appropriate way would be to make a presentation to council, which would then ask the planning commission to review and make a recommendation on the proposal, he said.

“All of that would be done with opportunities for public input along the way,” DeGraw said.

That may be true for proposals to make zoning changes that emerge out of City Council, Oster said. But an initiative petition is the way the public can propose zoning changes, she said.

“That by definition is a public process involving public input,” Oster said.

When the city originally created the Green Space Overlay District in 1989, most of the property owners in the affected area supported the idea, DeGraw said.

“We had one property owner who didn’t support the setback requirements because he said they would restrict his ability to build on his property.” he said. “He filed suit against the city and we ended up with a settlement where the city purchased his property.”

DeGraw said he fears the city could face similar lawsuits if the initiative is approved.

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