Surprise in Bethel Twp. zoning fight; developers say they’ll reverse plans

Township was on the verge of hiring attorneys, appealing to Ohio Supreme Court over election decision

BETHEL TWP., Miami County — The Bethel Twp. trustees voted Friday not to hire lawyers to appeal a contested Board of Elections decision, after the housing developers at the root of the original issue unexpectedly asked to return the land to agricultural zoning.

In October, township trustees approved a request from developers Alex and Ian Bowman to rezone land at Dayton-Brandt and Agenbroad Road from agricultural to R-1AAA residential.

Some residents responded by filing petitions with the township trustees, seeking to have the full community vote on that rezoning in the May election. The trustees filed those petitions with the Board of Elections, but the Board ruled the trustees missed a deadline to do so, meaning there would be no public vote. A second elections board vote Wednesday night, after protests, had the same outcome.

That led the Bethel Twp. trustees to call Friday’s emergency meeting to discuss hiring lawyers for up to $20,000 to file an appeal.

A letter received Friday morning from Alex and Ian Bowman , developers of the land at Dayton-Brandt and Agenbroad Road, changed the trustees’ discussion. The Bowmans asked the township to reverse its October decision on the rezoning.

Township Administrator Andy Ehrhart said the trustees could not reverse their vote, but the landowners could file to rezone the land from the new residential designation back to agricultural.

“What we have realized over the past few days and weeks is that a dream about a few houses on some land is simply not worth the damage that this is causing,” Alex and Ian Bowman wrote in the letter.

“What we had hoped to be a positive for the township and its citizens is now being used by a vocal few as a cause to divide the township and to accuse and ridicule well-meaning leadership,” the letter said.

Trustees discussed how to handle the situation, among themselves and with Ian Bowman and several residents, some of whom were among those who filed protests with the elections board.

If the trustees were to challenge the Board of Elections’ decision, it would need to be filed as an expedited appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court by Wednesday, March 1, Ehrhart said.

A citizen protestor could appeal separately to the Ohio Supreme Court. One resident who hired a lawyer for the protest hearing said she had not decided what she would do after just hearing about the Bowmans’ request.

The trustees eventually voted 2-1 to not hire lawyers for an appeal. Don Black and Beth van Haaren voted no, while Julie Reese voted yes.

Reese said that after the missed deadline, she thought it was important for trustees to do whatever they could to address their mistake. Van Haaren said she would have considered the appeal more if the developers had not pledged to seek to return the land to agricultural.

“We are counting on you,” Brown told Ian Bowman.

Reese said she, too, believed the developers’ statement but thought the hiring of attorneys still should be considered. “If something goes wrong, we will miss the short runway we have to appeal,” she said.

The trustees reiterated Friday they had not intentionally missed a filing deadline and that they disagreed with the election board’s decisions.

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