By Peter H. Milliken
Twenty-seven Ellsworth Township residents or real-estate owners have filed a lawsuit against the township and its trustees and zoning inspectors, demanding abatement of zoning violations they allege exist on land where a trustee and her husband live.
The lawsuit, which seeks a writ of mandamus to compel trustees to abate the alleged violations, was filed in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court by Atty. Charles E. Dunlap and assigned to Judge John M. Durkin.
One of the plaintiffs, Paul A. Lyden, complained in April 2010 to the township zoning office about an 18-acre undeveloped property on state Route 45 and a 5-acre property at 5620 Gault Road.
Both are owned by Basista Holdings LLC, of which David J. Lewis is listed as the registered agent. Lewis and his wife, township trustee Laura Lewis, reside on the Gault Road property, which is listed as Basista’s mailing address.
For several years, Lyden said steel-mill waste and construction debris have accumulated on the Route 45 property, which is directly in front of the Lyden property.
“The materials constitute an eyesore and possible safety hazards, and we have reason to believe that the runoff from the mill scale is further contributing to existing environmental contamination present at his site,” Lyden wrote in a complaint letter to the township zoning office.
Lyden also complained that buildings have been constructed on the residentially zoned Gault Road property without zoning permits and that the property is being used for business activities.
Lyden said the mandamus action was filed because the plaintiffs “were tired of the delay and denial of these violations.”
The township’s lawyer, Mark Finamore, said the township has been “working diligently and in good faith” with the Lewises “to try to get them to come into compliance with the zoning resolution by curbing the violations that they were cited for, in an effort to avoid costly and protracted litigation.”
In her capacity as a township trustee, Laura Lewis deferred comment to Finamore.
“Our attorney will be reviewing it,” she said of the lawsuit, referring to Peter Griggs of Columbus, who represents the Lewises in the zoning matter.
On Sept. 1, 2011, Michael P. Kurilla Jr., a specially-appointed deputy zoning inspector, cited the Route 45 property, which is zoned industrial and agricultural, for violating the township zoning ordinance by storing junk and abandoned items and unused industrial and commercial storage bins in the open yard area.
Kurilla is the retired Austintown Township zoning inspector. Kurilla also cited the property for displaying a sign announcing a state-funded coal refuse reclamation project, which dates to the Gov. Bob Taft administration, and which was erected without the required sign permit. The land is the site of a former coal tipple.
The Ellsworth coal refuse reclamation project, to which the sign pertains, ended in July 2007, and “the sign may be removed and disposed of by the landowners,” said Heidi Hetzel-Evans, media relations manager at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which coordinates land reclamation projects.
Kurilla cited the 5620 Gault Road property for having three pole-barn buildings, measuring 384, 960 and 2,560 square feet, without zoning or occupancy permits, and for warehousing used business construction items within them in violation of residential zoning limitations.
The deputy zoning inspector also cited storage of unused items, materials and equipment in the open rear yard in violation of the township zoning code.
A city directory shows the Gault Road premises as the address of Advanced Drainage and Trenching, excavating contractors, of which David Lewis is listed as the owner.
Kurilla ordered the violations he alleged corrected within 20 days and said failure to do so would result in further legal action.
Finamore said Kurilla has not taken any further legal action in this case.
In a follow-up visit last November, Kurilla said several items still needed to be addressed within 30 days to bring the properties into full compliance.
He said zoning and occupancy permits were still needed for the three buildings; industrial metal storage bins had to be removed from the Route 45 property and the reclamation sign had to be removed, unless evidence was provided of the continued need to display it.
On the Gault Road property, Kurilla said a commercial and industrial shipping container and scrap metal and tires must be removed.
Finamore said he hopes the Lewises will come into compliance without the need for further legal action against them.