Angry neighbors plan to appeal decision, may sue Dollar General, City

Sheffield Lake

By John Edwards

About 50 residents of Edgewater Drive and Lake Road met with and engaged Cleveland attorney Brent English at the Amber Oaks restaurant on June 12 in order to file a civil suit against Dollar General and the city of Sheffield Lake.

English, on their behalf, has already filed an administrative appeal of Lorain County Common Pleas Court Judge Chris Rothgery’s decision to allow Dollar General to build a new store on Lake Road at Harris Road.

On June 14, via e-mail, English said: “We filed an appeal on due process grounds from the decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals this afternoon. We contemplate filing further civil actions which I am in the process of researching and discussing.”

Dearborn Land Development Co., Dollar General and Zaremba Development LLC have an option to buy the lot from longtime city resident James Kolleda, who bought the property in 1972. The lot was originally zoned residential, but was rezoned commercial in 1969.

The issue was hotly debated before the Board of Zoning Appeals on Nov. 16, 2011. Attorney Todd Hunt and civil engineer John Wojtila, representing Dearborn Land Development, Dollar General and Zaremba Development, presented their case for the new store. Edgewater Drive resident Edward Rinderknecht and 50 other residents vehemently opposed the idea of any retail store there. At the end of that long and contentious meeting, the BZA tabled the issue until Feb. 15, 2012.

The BZA’s normal purview is to grant or deny variances of codified requirements, but as presented, Dollar General’s site plan does not need any variances.

In 1954, when the city’s zoning code was created, it included a provision that a building on a corner lot in a commercial zone that abuts an R-1 residential zone must have a 15-foot rear-yard setback and must be reviewed by the BZA. Law Director David Graves said that section of the code was amended in 1981 – in order to apply the 15-foot rear-yard setback to all commercial zones, not just commercial lots abutting residential zones – but left the requirement for review by the BZA unchanged. Graves said that language, which provides no specific reason for BZA consideration, is the only reason the matter was on the BZA’s agenda at all.

Graves went on to cite several cases with similarly vague language that had been ruled on by the Ohio Supreme Court and/or the 9th District Court of Appeals and advised the BZA members that in such cases the courts had consistently ruled in favor of the property owners. He advised the members to vote to approve the store, as the site plan meets all of the zoning requirements. The BZA tabled discussion for three months over the strenuous objections of Wojtila.

Planning Commission Chair Diana Jancura (who is also an attorney) said that in her opinion, the fact that the requirement for the BZA to rule on such situations – which, she pointed out, could have been amended but wasn’t – indicated to her that council’s intention in 1981 was for the BZA to have discretional jurisdiction over the acceptability of commercial buildings on corner lots abutting single-family residential zones. The BZA voted to deny the request.

Dearborn Land Development, Dollar General and Zaremba Development took their case to Lorain County Common Pleas Court, and in 2013 Judge Rothgery ruled in favor of Dollar General. Bowing to the court order, the BZA then approved construction of a new Dollar General store.

Graves said that Dollar General had made a number of concessions in light of the neighborhood’s objection, including switching to an alternate design of a smaller and more attractively designed store with a brick veneer rather than cinderblock. Also, according to Graves, Dearborn Land Development, Dollar General and Zaremba Development agreed to add more attractive landscaping to the plan and to leave several large trees on the property intact, and switched the truck access to the store from Harris Road to Robinwood Avenue east of the property and which is less likely to block ambulances and other emergency vehicles traveling down Harris to Lake Road.

Contact John Edwards at news@2presspapers.com

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