Westerville City Council will decide by mid-June whether to impose harsher penalties on those who violate the city's zoning code.

Westerville City Council will decide by mid-June whether to impose harsher penalties on those who violate the city's zoning code.

Council heard the first reading May 20 of an ordinance that if approved, would raise the maximum penalty for violations from $100 to $500 per day. A second part of the ordinance would reduce the amount of time violators are given to fix the problem from 15 days to 10 days.

City council will hear the second reading of the ordinance June 3, with a third reading and vote expected June 17.

Karl Craven, the city's director of planning and development, said the changes "would give a little more punch to some of our enforcement options."

The proposal has earned the unanimous approval of the Westerville Planning Commission, but the ordinance requires city council's approval before taking effect. The council typically votes after three readings in regular session.

While the code penalties may be increased, the maximum penalty is seldom given to someone in violation, according to planning administrator Rich Kight.

Kight said that in the 20 years he has worked for Westerville, he can count the number of such occurrences on one hand.

"Primarily, as I understand it, the judge would look at our guide and then impose a fine," Craven said.

The proposed increase is directed toward blatant and intentional violations of the code, according to city staff reports, such as a business placing extra signage or setting up a temporary shop for several days for additional advertising, or a special sales event to attract additional customers.

The first proposal from the city staff to the planning commission was that the maximum penalty be raised to $1,000 but planning commission members, citing concerns about such a significant change, only approved the increase to $500.

According to city staff members, maximum penalties assessed by other central Ohio municipalities are as follows: Bexley, $250; Canal Winchester, $1,000; Columbus, $500; Delaware, $150; Dublin, $100; Gahanna, $100; Genoa Township, $500; Grandview Heights, $100; Granville, $500; Grove City, $150; Hilliard, $150; New Albany, $200; Obetz, $1,000; Pickerington, $500; Powell, $150; Reynoldsburg, $250; Upper Arlington, $250; Whitehall, $50; and Worthington, $500.

Violations to the city's zoning code cover a broad range of topics, according to Kight, such as placing a business in an area not zoned for it, posting illegal signs, adding pavement in a setback without proper approval, expanding a parking area without approval or parking boats and recreational vehicles in restricted areas.

Councilman Bill Highfield said if the ordinance is passed, the time allowed for violators should be clearly labeled as 10 working days in order to prevent any ambiguity.

Westerville's complete city code can be viewed online at www.westerville.org.