About 30 Munson Township residents came looking for their voice last week, fearful that township officials were looking to take it away.
The residents had come to Munson Township Hall to question the township’s proposal to remove a portion of the zoning code that gave them their voice.
Section 519, regarding temporary activities such as circuses, festivals and art shows, now states “no certificate shall be issued unless the written consent of fifty-one percent (51 percent) of the owners of all residentially used property within 400 feet of the temporary use site is first filed with the zoning inspector at lease 48 hours prior to the commencement of the event.”
A proposal before the zoning commission would eliminate that language, which residents said left them vulnerable to a host of unwanted activities on neighboring properties. And all were familiar with one of those events that they said left them unable to get out of their driveways and disturbed what had been a peaceful neighborhood.
Resident Robert Cunningham said a neighboring golf course held a drive-through holiday light display, complete with music filling the air. He said he complained about the event, but was told township officials could not enforce or stop the event.
All of those in attendance said they were never asked whether they approved of such an event as is required before issuing a permit for the activity.
“If you’re directly affected by it, why shouldn’t you have a say?” Mr. Cunningham asked. “It puts the onus on the person that wants the permit. Why would you take that power away from us?”
Resident Joe Otto said the township needs to enforce its zoning, not change it. “You have a resolution, let’s enforce it,” he said.
Resident David Partington said removing the language opens the door to all sorts of events in residential neighborhoods. He used the examples of Alpine Ski Resort looking to boost income during a year of little snowfall with the hosting of a motorcycle hill climb event or a rock concert at the golf course. “These kinds of things concern me,” he said.
Resident Sandy Mueller said the golf course has already held one holiday display and is already talking about hosting a similar Halloween event.
Mr. Otto said he was unaware that the township was attempting to eliminate the portion of zoning code that would give residents a say, saying he only learned about it “serendipitously” through a flier placed in his mailbox. “I’m coming in here cold,” he said.
Residents asked the zoning commission why it chose now to eliminate this section of the code.
Commission member Dennis Medica said the board will review the code from time to time as “life changes,” such as developments in technology like solar panels.
He said the commission reviews those proposed changes, then submits them to the Geauga County Prosecutor’s Office and the county planning commission for review. Then, if the commission recommends approval, it is forwarded to Township Trustees who decide whether to accept, modify or reject the proposed change.
Resident Dawn Bastulli questioned if the provision is eliminated who will tell residents that an event is now being planned in their neighborhood. She said the township already failed to tell residents of the golf course’s plans and no one surveyed residents as the code now requires. “We have no way of knowing what you’re going to do,” she said.
Commission member Lenore Pikus said she has been on the commission for the past 12 to 13 years and never seen more than six people come to a meeting in all those years.
She said the township attempts to inform residents through legal advertisements, the township website and newspapers. Numerous changes to the code have been made over those years, she said.
She said the zoning commission often gets direction from the township zoning inspector who is out in the community and sees what is occurring.
“It’s a thankless job,” Mrs. Pikus said. “We’re trying to make it right, make it fair for the township and residents.”
A resident called, “Here we go again, it’s a done deal.”
Mr. Medica said the commission is a volunteer board and it takes input from the public. He said if effected residents are concerned about an event, he did not believe the zoning inspector would issue a permit for it. He said he could not recall what specifically drove this proposal.
Although the commission said it could deduce how residents felt about the proposed elimination of the language, residents called for a show of hands in opposition to the proposed change. All raised their hands to show that they felt the language should be left unchanged.