Some residents said flooding would get worse if villas were built on Kirk Road.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- A township zoning hearing is typically a tranquil affair, Zoning Inspector Michael Kurilla Jr. says.
Often, a hearing includes little more than a resident's asking permission to expand his or her garage or build a shed, or a developer seeking a zoning change to allow for the construction of homes, he said.
Kurilla said that during his 23 years as zoning inspector, only about a dozen zoning issues have been controversial.
Two of those controversial cases, however, have come up within the last two months.
In August, a police officer had to separate a resident and the CEO of Sebastiani Trucking outside township hall during a heated argument about a township board of zoning appeals hearing.
The board had voted to deny Sebastiani Trucking's request to rezone property for industrial use after hearing concerns about the request from nearby residents.
Company officials also criticized the condition of the residents' homes, saying that some were so dilapidated that they should be condemned.
The poor condition of residents' homes also was cited as one of the reasons for the Sept. 15 withdrawal of a controversial request to rezone five acres along Kirk Road to build 20 villa-style homes. Mary Jo Sikora, the project's developer, noted that the price of the villas would have been about $139,900.
The homes on North Redgate Lane, adjacent to the proposed development, are ranches that were built in the 1950s. Sikora had planned to buy the Kirk Road land for her project.
"People that are going to be buying these [villas] don't want to be looking into" the North Redgate Lane homes, she said.
Sikora added that she was worried that the villas would have been vandalized while they were under construction, and that she was surprised by the animosity directed toward her by residents.
The township zoning commission approved Sikora's rezoning request Sept. 2, provided she reduce the number of villas to 16. Minutes from the commission hearing on the project show that 10 residents expressed opposition to the Sikora project.
North Redgate Lane resident George S. Fleischer, who attended the hearing, stressed that he believed the residents were not hostile to Sikora. He added, however, that residents took issue with Sikora's comments about the condition of their homes and vandalism.
"I don't know where she gets off, talking about vandalism," Fleischer said. "I thought it was ignorant."
Virginia Huffman, who has lived on North Red Gate Lane for 38 years, added that Sikora "kind of slammed the neighborhood." Fellow North Redgate Lane resident Bob Knight said he was hurt by Sikora's remarks.
"I think my house is kept up pretty doggone good," he said.
Several residents said they objected to Sikora's project because they were worried it would add to flooding problems in their yards. George E. Fleischer, the father of George S. and a resident of North Redgate Lane for 52 years, said he had to remove his garden from his yard because it was constantly flooded.
The land where George E. Fleischer's yard meets the proposed site of the Sikora project is muddy and covered with light green algae. Next door, the land is a swamp.
What's causing flooding
Township officials said the flooding is caused by a pile of dirt on the property that would have been the site of Sikora's project. Rain runs down the dirt pile and into neighbor's yards, they said.
The dirt pile was created by the former owner of the property, township officials said. The current property owner could not be reached to comment.
Plans for Sikora's project show she would have tried to address the flooding problems by installing three catch basins that flow into a 250-foot-long detention pond on the east side of the property. George E. Fleischer, however, said he doubted that the catch basins would have helped.
"I don't care if she puts sewers back there... the water would have to be worse," he said.
Kurilla noted that storm water drainage is one of several issues that has caused controversy over zoning issues. Residents also have opposed some zoning issues because of conflicts with developers or the location of a project, he said.
The roots of some zoning controversies also can be traced back several decades, Kurilla said. As an example, he said he believes the 2002 controversy over the Centerpointe business park project was rooted in a zoning decision made by the township trustees in 1970.
In both disputes, residents signed petitions seeking to overturn a zone change for property near the interchange of Interstates 80 and 680 and state Route 11.
Kurilla said the group that collected signatures on the Centerpointe petitions had ties to the group that circulated petitions in 1970.
The Centerpointe petitions, however, were eventually disqualified by the Mahoning County Board of Elections because of improper petition language. The 1970 zone change was overturned during the referendum.
Earlier this year, vandals used black spray paint to cover the phone number on a sign on state Route 46 advertising Centerpointe.
Centerpointe developer Jonathan Levy said he believes the vandals were "just kids playing" and not opponents of the business park. Levy said he wants to work with residents and not fight them.