Continuing coverageCoupled ordered to pay in driveway dispute

The Clearcreek Twp. couple whose fight to maintain use of their home driveway for their businesses conceded defeat Friday.

Howard and Lisa Gray said they will comply with a judge’s order Friday to stop using the driveway for commercial purposes and will pay a $1,750 fine.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do with the property. That’s the next step,” Howard Gray said after the hearing.

The Grays’ fight, which was the subject of a Dayton Daily News story Dec. 1, gained national attention.

The Grays live at 2248 Pennyroyal Road, west of Ohio 741 on the extreme northern edge of Warren County in Clearcreek Twp., a traditionally rural community where home-based businesses are common and generally accepted. Their commercial land in Montgomery County’s Miami Twp. is just inside a special commercial zone established in anticipation of development around the new Interstate 75 interchange at Austin Boulevard.

Homes, some on multi-acre lots, surround the Grays’ land on the east, south and west. Commercial properties and a church border the Grays’ land to the north.

In 2004, the Grays say they invested about $300,000 in the garages and storage buildings on about three acres of their land in Montgomery County after receiving assurance from Clearcreek Twp. Planning and Zoning Director Jeff Palmer that access would be permitted via the long driveway leading off Pennyroyal Road to their home.

The buildings house the Grays storage and landscaping businesses.

Following complaints from neighbors, Clearkcreek Twp. ordered the couple to stop using the driveway to access their commercial area. While sympathizing with the Grays, Warren County Common Pleas Judge James Flannery subsequently ordered the couple to stop using the driveway to get to their businesses. Flannery also found they were entitled to no compensation under the law.

Friday’s hearing was the latest in a series stemming from motions filed by the township’s lawyer after the Grays failed to follow court orders barricading the drive and clearing out tenants of their storage business. The couple faced fines of as much as $100,000 — $500 a day — if found in contempt of court.

After the judge’s order, the Grays took down their business sign, but erected two new ones protesting the actions. They also appealed to the media.

During the Friday hearing, the lawyers and Flannery questioned the Grays, and Palmer. The Grays said they were trying to comply with the orders, but there was confusion about the tenant list and fence construction. Palmer acknowledged the fence built for the Grays blocked the drive, although it was not erected according to specifications in the judge’s orders.

Flannery found the Grays in contempt, but gave them until 4 p.m., Jan. 4, to reimburse the township for costs associated with carrying out his orders.

“This has to stop,” Flannery said during the hearing in Warren County Common Pleas Court. “Like it or not, the law is against you.”

“The law is above all of us,” Flannery said. “You must do what I say.”

The judge said he hoped to avoid ordering punishment, if the Grays failed to make the Jan. 4 deadline.

“You have obviously suffered a great deal,” Flannery said.

The Grays rented storage space to more than 20 customers. Flannery ordered them to cooperate with building a barricade blocking access to the property and turn over their client list to township officials charged with arranging for the emptying of the buildings.

On Friday, the township’s lawyer, Jill Mead, said she has been receiving email and phone threats and subjected to criticism, including an on-line discussion headed, “Jill Mead sucks.” She said previous lawyers working on the township’s behalf were responsible for the situation.

Mead said she had filed no complaints regarding the threats.

“I presume it will die out,” she said.

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