East Palestine councilman opposes zoning change

EAST PALESTINE – A change in zoning at the entrance to Village Park is illegal, according to a Village Councilman who is adamantly opposed.

Alan Cohen recently told the planning commission that changing the zoning from residential to business, or B-1, for Dr. Ortenzio’s chiropractic office on Park Drive is “spot zoning,” and illegal under Ohio law.

Cohen is a retired attorney and read aloud from the state zoning law book at the latest commission meeting.

According to the passage on page 428 of Baldwin’s Ohio Planning and Zoning Law, spot zoning is defined as the “singling out of a lot or small area for discriminatory or different treatment from that accorded surrounding land which is similar in character,” and furthermore, that “an allegation of spot zoning is generally the result of a request to zone a parcel of land to a more intense land use classification.”

The piece of land being considered is owned by Dr. Joseph Ortenzio and he has operated a chiropractic office there the last 35 years.

The property is currently zoned residential, but Ortenzio has been able to operate the business because on a pre-existing, non-conforming use permit approved in the early 1970s.

He approached the planning commission in January requesting it be zoned B-1 so it would have a better chance of selling, as he plans to retire.

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.

Cohen has adamantly opposed the zoning change on the basis that it will allow for a gas station, tattoo parlor, convenience store or other facility to take up residence at the entrance to the park.

The B-1 classification is the same as that along North Market Street through town, meaning that any business allowed on that street could locate on the re-zoned portion of Park Drive, if the change is approved.

Cohen said he doesn’t disapprove of those types of businesses, but doesn’t want to see them near the park. He also believes the change will remove any control the village has over that location.

As for the law, he said the change would be showing preference for Dr. Ortenzio and the commission shouldn’t consider something for the benefit of the property owner.

Commission Chairman John Turner argued the change would benefit the entire community because if Ortenzio can’t sell the building it will sit empty.

“I speak only for myself. It is the benefit of the community … for it to be marketed,” he said.

Commission members Chuck Doll and Gary Linhart were also concerned keeping the zoning as is would result in the property being unused.

The law Cohen quoted from also stated “spot zoning” is allowable if done for the best interests of the community as whole and not for the benefit of a particular individual or group.

Turner said he felt Ortenzio’s request was “legitimate” because the property has always been used to house a medical facility, and didn’t feel that going from residential to business there would be a drastic change.

“If it was in some other residential area where most of us live, no, we wouldn’t even hear of it,” he said.

The commission, despite Cohen’s urging against, then recommended the ordinance to change the zoning classification.

The ordinance was drafted by Village Solicitor Shirley Smith following the commission’s recommendation in January and has already passed a first reading of council.

Council will be presented with the ordinance for a second reading at its next meeting. Three readings and a public hearing are required before it can take effect if passed.

Cohen said he has already spoken with adjacent property owners who opposed the change, and they intend to be present at the public hearing that is yet to be scheduled.