Federal court dismisses Land of Illusion lawsuit against Butler County and others

A federal judge has closed the door on a $190 million expansion at the Land of Illusion attraction in Madison Twp. ending the lawsuit filed against Butler County and dismissed claims officials showed ill-will against the owner.

The Butler County commissioners heard the zoning case in late 2020 and denied rezoning 206 acres across eight parcels off Thomas Road to a Business Planned Unit Development from the current agriculture, residential and general business classifications. Owner Brett Oakley wanted to make Land of Illusion a year-round facility with additional family activities, camping sites and a hotel.

He said the multi-phased project would be a $190 million investment in the county’s economy.

Oakley sued the commissioners, Madison Twp. and others in federal court claiming the action trampled on his property rights. The township was released from the suit months ago because they don’t control their own zoning. Magistrate Karen Litkovitz recommended dismissing the case against the county and U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott concurred.

“Plaintiffs did not have a legitimate claim to entitlement of approval of their preliminary BPUD application,” Dlott wrote. “Accordingly, Plaintiffs have failed to allege that they have a protected property interest.”

ExploreLand of Illusion contests federal lawsuit dismissal

Oakley also accused county officials of treating Oakley differently than other developers and showed “ill will and animus” against him. Dlott said there are no facts in evidence to prove that claim.

“Plaintiffs also have not pleaded facts suggesting that defendants made statements that indicated hostility towards plaintiff Oakley or towards his associated businesses. Instead, plaintiffs make the circular argument that defendants must have had animus against him because they denied the preliminary BPUD application, and that they denied the preliminary BPUD application because they had animus against him,” she wrote. “Plaintiffs’ argument also is undercut by their factual allegations that defendants approved for plaintiffs a specific zoning change in 2005 and ‘a number of variances and conditional-use permits’ between 2005 and 2020.”

Oakley’s attorney Scott Phillips said they had no comment and wouldn’t discuss a possible appeal.

The Butler County Planning Commission and the county Rural Zoning Commission denied the rezoning request. Neighbors opposed the expansion, citing concerns over noise, traffic and other problems associated with a development of this size and Oakley himself.

When they denied the rezoning request commissioners Cindy Carpenter and T.C. Rogers said the plan doesn’t match the township’s land use plan and would have a negative impact on neighbors. They acknowledged the land use plan is outdated — which Oakley highlighted in his lawsuit — but said the plan still isn’t right for the area.

“The high density commercial, recreational uses proposed in the preliminary development plan are likely to adversely impact the existing land uses and have detrimental effects on the surrounding rural and residential developments,” Rogers said. “Particularly with respect to the development’s density and intensity.”

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