The Highland County Court of Common Pleas granted a judgement in favor of the Greenfield Exempted Village School recently in a dispute with the village of Greenfield about the approval of a zoning permit allowing the district to build a school bus garage on a property known as “the practice field” between North Seventh Street, North Eighth Street, McClain Avenue, and North Street in Greenfield.
Greenfield City Manager Todd Wilkin informed Douglas Karnes, an architect for McCarty Associates, and Greenfield Exempted Village School District Superintendent Quincy Gray on Feb. 21, 2021 that the proposed bus facility portion of the district’s project was not a permitted use of the location under the village’s land use plan.
Under a new zoning ordinance that became effective Feb. 18, 2021, the practice field was zoned as a “Neighborhood-Urban” area. While a bus garage would have been permitted under the prior zoning code, it is not a permitted use under the new ordinance.
Wilkin advised Karnes and Gray to request a variance from the Greenfield Board of Zoning Appeals to allow for the construction of the garage. The district filed the application, but it was denied.
A section of the village’s zoning code reads, “the variance will not permit the establishment of any use which is not otherwise listed as a permitted use or a conditional use in the zone or district in which the subject property is situated.”
Court documents state, “It is unclear to the Court as to why Mr. Wilkin directed Mr. Karnes to file a request for a variance since it was a legal impossibility.”
According to the court’s analysis, “The Plaintiff at the suggestion of the Defendant’s City Manager acting as the zoning inspector applied for a variance which as previously discussed herein, was an act of futility as it was legally impossible to obtain a variance.”
The court cited the case of Brownfield v. State (1980) to determine if the school district is required to comply with the zoning/land use restrictions of the village. The case stipulates a two-step process to make the decision.
First, the district must make a reasonable attempt to comply with the zoning restrictions.
Second, the court is required to consider the essential nature of the governmental facility, the impact of the facility upon surrounding property, and the alternative locations available for the facility to determine if the proposed use is immune from the zoning laws.
The court decided that the evidence is overwhelming that the school district made a reasonable effort to comply with the regulations.
The court also decided that the project would have minimal impact on the surrounding properties by only increasing traffic in one section of town while decreasing it in another.
Additionally, the court determined some of the permitted land uses under the zoning requirements would cause greater impact to the area than the school bus garage, and that there were no other reasonable alternative locations for the project.
In its final judgment, signed by Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss, the court ruled that the school district’s use of the practice field to construct a building that includes a school bus garage and maintenance facility is immune from zoning codes that deny approval of a permit for the project based on that use if the project complies with other applicable provisions of the code not related to that use.
The village of Greenfield was ordered to pay for the costs of the proceeding.
Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.