Chiropractor bent out of shape over Palestine zoning stance

EAST PALESTINE – Village council members aren’t sure how to take a letter written by Dr. Joseph Ortenzio.

The letter addressed to the Board of Zoning Appeals and dated April 17 questioned council’s recent decision to table legislation allowing for a zoning change at his chiropractic office on Park Drive.

Councilman Alan Cohen brought up the letter during the Monday council meeting.

He told council members he was confused as to whether the “angry” letter’s intent was an appeal of their decision, and questioned if it should be taken as an appeal.

A copy of the three-paragraph letter was provided to the Journal by a member of council, and it did not specify he was filing an appeal, although it was clear he was not pleased with council’s decision.

Council voted at the April 8 meeting to table the zoning legislation following Cohen’s suggestion. The councilman had argued – and continued to reiterate the fact Monday – the change is “spot zoning” and illegal under state law.

Ortenzio approached the village’s planning commission in January requesting a zoning change from residential to business, or B-1, for the property that houses his chiropractic office.

Although zoned residential, he has been able to operate the business at 40 Park Drive the last 35 years because of a pre-existing, non-conforming use permit approved in the early 1970s.

The building also was used as a medical facility before he took ownership and before the local zoning laws were enacted.

Ortenzio requested the zoning change because he intends to retire the practice and is hoping to sell the building. As it stands now the property can only be sold to someone intending to use it as a chiropractic office or other health care facility.

He told the commission in January he believes the zoning change would draw more prospective buyers.

Cohen said changing the zoning in order for Ortenzio to better sell his own property is “spot zoning,” which is defined by the state zoning law as the singling out of a lot or small area for discriminatory or different treatment from surrounding and similar property.

He and other members of council also are concerned a zoning change would be a detriment to the park. The medical facility is located directly at the entrance to Village Park and if zoned B-1, could potentially house a convenience store, tattoo parlor or gas station, among other things.

Ortenzio said in the letter the facility is in no way equipped to be residential and was upset council members “would think we’d use poor judgment on selling our office.”

He went on to say the village should buy the facility to use as its administrative offices because the current location on North Market Street is too small, an eyesore and does not feature adequate parking.

The letter was also signed by Nancy Ortenzio.

Only days before, the village had sent a letter to Dr. Ortenzio explaining council opted to table the legislation and he had a right to appeal that decision.

In that letter, it was stated that in order to appeal the decision he would need to file a written notice, specifying the grounds for the appeal, to the board of zoning appeals within 20 days.

Cohen said that, to him, the letter didn’t appear to be an appeal, and then questioned whether the right to appeal was even valid since council tabled the zoning legislation, making the matter “dead” at that point.

Village Solicitor Shirley Smith said she also questioned whether an appeal could take place now, but wasn’t certain.

Councilwoman Ellen Beagle said if he can’t appeal he can always refile the request.

She said she would be willing to allow him to appeal but didn’t feel the letter was the acceptable way to do so, and suggested that in the future the village provide a form for people to fill out.

Smith said she doesn’t believe Ortenzio’s request meets the exceptions allowed under Ohio law for spot zoning.

She recommended council forward the letter to the zoning appeals board for its determination regarding whether it should be considered an appeal.

“I wouldn’t just on my own determine that was not an appeal if he (Ortenzio) felt that was an appeal,” she said.