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Leetonia looks to wall up zoning loophole

LEETONIA — Council is asking for a stricter zoning ordinance after a village resident used recycled tires to build a retaining wall.

Council held a heated discussion with zoning inspector Bill Pitts at its recent meeting regarding a property owner at the corner of Madison and Ridge streets who built a retaining wall out of used tires, with the promise to add a stone facade. Council asked village solicitor Walter Newton to clarify the ordinance to require a permit for retaining walls and any other structures and will hold a zoning committee meeting after the Dec. 2 council meeting at 6:30 p.m. at village hall.

Pitts reported at the meeting the village zoning ordinance does not address the material of a retaining wall and does not require a permit.

Village solicitor Walter Newton confirmed the ordinance does not define what constitutes a retaining wall. The ordinance states retaining walls must be “workman-like in manner” and “anchored,” but offers no definition of the terms. The ordinance also states if the wall is found to be not in “good structural repair” it must be addressed within 30 days of notification.

According to Pitts, the retaining wall in question meets the requirements in ordinance; however, it is in violation of Ohio EPA laws, which require a permit for a retaining wall using over 100 used tires, which the wall in question does. He said the property owner has been cited and provided a permit application, which is likely to be approved because it considered a beneficial use of used tires by the OEPA.

Mayor Kevin Siembida said multiple complaints have been made against the property and noted the wall may be okay with the OEPA, but not with the local community. He questioned why if fences and other structures require permits, retaining walls do not.

Siembida said the wall is affecting the property values of every homeowner in the area and said he is worried it will “spiral out of control and wipe out all the improvements that have been made (in the village).”

“This is not acceptable in the village,” he said.

Councilman Neal Bayless also voiced his displeasure with the retaining wall and the zoning ordinance’s lack of control of the issue. He said if zoning cannot prevent the current situation, there is no need for zoning at all, and said the people responsible for the lack of oversight should be held accountable.

Council approved the ordinance in December 2017 after Pitts and the planning commission spent approximately two years updating and changing the rules and regulations. Bayless, who joined council in January 2018, said the issue should have been covered in the zoning ordinance.

The ordinance is available on the village’s website, www.leetonia.org.

Pitts and Sue Strobel, a planning commission member who helped update the zoning ordinance, said they would look it over to determine if the retaining wall is in violation of the code.

Council can update the ordinance, but the wall in question would be grandfathered in, Pitts noted.

Also at the meeting, council approved the closure of the alley behind the post office next week while a property owner repairs a retaining wall. Council approved the closure after discussion about the wall, which Pitts said the owner said will be replaced with a concrete one.

Despite joining the rest of council in approving the closure of the alley, Bayless joined Siembida in suggesting waiting until council can address zoning rules regarding retaining walls.

Pitts noted the request is for the closure of the alley so vehicles are not damaged by rubble from the retaining wall. He said the property owner will be replacing the wall this week regardless of whether council closes the alley since the zoning code cannot prohibit the work.

khowell@salemnews.net

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