Center delays zoning decision

LISBON -Center Township trustees were prepared Thursday to place a township zoning plan on the Nov. 4 ballot but decided to hold off until they clarify whether Lisbon residents have any say.

About 40 residents attended the meeting, all of whom appeared to be opposed or at least skeptical of the zoning plan being proposed by the trustees, who say this is a way to protect residents from neighbors who fail to maintain their property.

Trustee Joseph Csonka, who has taken the lead on the zoning issue, told the crowd that after holding several public hearings on the plan they were prepared to act and were not going to spend any more time responding to the same questions raised and answered before.

Lisbon-Dungannon Road resident Daryll Muir said while he had many concerns, chief among them is whether Lisbon residents could also vote on the plan since the village is within the township.

Trustees assured them only township residents could vote on the zoning plan. Muir remained concerned and asked the trustees to promise the issue would appear before township voters only, and all three did.

“We’ll make sure that doesn’t happen, I guarantee it,” said Ken Schreffler.

Muir was also concerned about the wording in the provision creating the township zoning commission and the board of appeals, which seem to indicate the trustees were free to appoint Lisbon residents to those positions.

Csonka recommended they hold off putting the plan on the ballot until he can meet with Andy Beech, an assistant Columbiana County prosecutor, to review this issue and the matter of whether Lisbon residents could vote on the plan. Csonka invited Muir to join him, and he agreed.

Later in the meeting, Csonka reviewed a copy of the resolution to put the plan on the ballot and it clearly stated only the unincorporated areas of the township can vote on the issue, which would exclude Lisbon.

The trustees appointed a five-member commission nearly three years ago to come up with a zoning plan that would be limited in scope and protect residential property owners but is not so overly restrictive it unreasonably interferes with private property rights or impedes economic development.

Csonka said if the crowd was there to talk them out of putting the plan on the ballot, that was not going to happen. He said the American way is to let the people decide, and that is what they intend to do.

“That’s the way the whole country is run. All we’re doing is putting it up for a vote,” he said.

Opponents said if the intention was to prevent residents from turning their property into a junk yard, why is the plan 110 pages in length and seem to address much more than trashy properties.

The trustees said there are likely things in the plan they will want to change after it takes effect, if the plan is approved, and there is a mechanism in place allowing them to do that.

“If there are so many things that are messed up in this, why wouldn’t you take a step back” and rework the plan before putting it on the ballot, Muir asked.

Csonka believes it is easier to fix the plan after it passes than rewrite the measure because opponents will continue to find fault with everything about it, thereby delaying placing it on the ballot.

“You remind me of Nancy Pelosi by saying you have to pass it before you know what’s in it,” said resident Tom Jones, referring to the infamous comment made by the former U.S. House speaker in regard to the Affordable Care Act.

Many seemed to know little about the plan, which is available for inspection at the Lepper Library in Lisbon or by going online at The Journal has also published a half dozen articles or so on the issue.

Csonka said zoning would likely prevent a landfill similar to the A & L Salvage dump south of Lisbon that was shut down by the state or an oil and gas injection well from being located in the township

“Without zoning, you don’t have a leg to stand on” until it is too late, he said, adding there come a time “four to five years from now when you wish your had it.”

Discussion then turned to the township’s decision to create a police department consisting of two part-time officers, starting in 2015. Muir seemed to be opposed to that, saying he moved here from outside Washington, D.C., to get away from government regulation. His chief concern is whether the township can afford it, or will they ask voters in the future to pass a police levy.

Trustees have set aside $50,000 right now, and township Fiscal Officer Becky Tolson reported their carry-over balance in recent years has been running around $900,000.

“I will say they have always done their best to be fiscally responsible,” she said of the trustees.