West Chester Twp. has incurred almost $500,000 defending itself against lawsuits, mainly on development issues, and another legal bill will start mounting with a suit by the Flying Pig Carwash.
The West Chester Zoning Commission denied development plans for a state-of-the-art Flying Pig Carwash as part of a Steiner + Associates development and now the owners have filed an administrative appeal to Butler County Common Pleas Court.
In July car wash owner Emilie Parry told the zoning commission she wants to build the “Taj Mahal” of car and pet washes on the south side of Liberty Way near where Steiner + Associates said it plans to build luxury condominiums.
“There are not a lot of car wash options, so we felt we want to give the people in the community more options for car washes,” Parry said. “We want to use the best technology, we want to be different, we want to have the Taj Mahal of car washes, where you don’t feel like you’re doing through this dingy, dark car wash.”
After several neighbors opposed the project because it doesn’t fit in with what is proposed for the area, the zoning commission voted 4 to 1 to deny it.
Parry’s lawyer filed the court action saying the decision was “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, unlawful, unconstitutional and unsupported by a preponderance of substantial, reliable and probative evidence.”
Trustee Board President Mark Welch said when this development was approved, it was supposed be an upscale, lifestyle development with high-end residential, restaurants, office space and shopping.
“We will simply defend our position on this and I think the zoning commission made a good call on this,” Welch said. “When the preliminary development plan was first proposed on this and approved in a public hearing in 2016, this is mission drift, there was no car wash in them.”
He said he is concerned this proposal would “open the door for a way different project” and he supports the zoning commission decision.
Several recent lawsuits and settlements have fueled some hefty fees, like the taxpayer-paid $94,829 bill for the federal court fight two years ago between the township and Dr. Mohamed Aziz over his controversial drug rehabilitation clinic. Neighbors came to trustee meetings in droves for months both in support of and against the facility.
Aziz sued claiming they were violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by enacting a moratorium on facilities like his. He claimed his addicted clients are disabled, and withholding approval of a facility that could help them is against federal law.
The drug rehab center is now open on Ohio 42 across from the Pisgah Youth Organization ball fields, next to the Hickory Dickory Tots daycare and in front of a residential neighborhood.
The biggest bill in recent years totaled more than $300,000 for West Chester’s long battle over a Kroger location. The lawsuit over locating a Kroger Marketplace at the corner of Ohio 747 and Tylersville Road was filed by Silverman and Company in April 2014 and ended two years later with a settlement.
Attorneys fees totalled $311,452 and the township paid out of pocket $168,744 of that amount because they chose to use their own attorneys from Frost Brown Todd and not the insurance company’s lawyers.
Township Administrator Larry Burks wasn’t at the township then, but he said using their own lawyers is crucial in most, if not all, cases because they know the township, its staff, its zoning and ordinances very well.
“It’s just a cost of doing business, sometimes developers want what they want and they’re willing to challenge people in court,” he said. “We can’t just sit back, we have to defend ourselves, otherwise they get an automatic judgment.”
Another big legal bill, $90,096, came with the swinger’s club zoning case that went to the 12th District Court of Appeals and was ultimately settled in 2016.
The township denied a sexually oriented business license to the Sandford Group, which wanted to open the Champagne Club.
A Butler County Common Pleas Court judge ruled the township’s former director of community development, improperly revoked the license based on an Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation letter that said that one of the club owners “may not meet” qualifications for licensing.
The only non-development case in recent years involved former township trustee and current state Rep. George Lang, which accused him of defamation and slander. It settled for $18,000.
The township incurred $79,141 in legal fees — Frost Brown Todd was not on the case — and the insurance carrier did cover the costs, minus a $2,500 deductible.
The case stemmed from comments Lang made at a Butler County Tea Party meeting in February 2013, where he claimed three police officers used excessive force while breaking up a bar fight at Win, Place or Show Sports Bar & Grill on U.S. 42 in May 2012.
Lang told the Journal-News previously he wanted to fight the lawsuit but settling was the prudent thing to do.
“I did what was in the best interest of the taxpayers of West Chester Twp.,” he said. “They (the officers) came down from asking hundreds of thousands, almost $300,000 in total, to $6,000 a person … the cost of the settlement was significantly less than what the cost of litigation would have been.”
Disputes over the historic Station Road Schoolhouse and Morningstar Baptist Church also went to court, but the legal fees were only in the $20,000 range.
Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.