Land of Illusion appeals $190M expansion dismissal

Land of Illusion Adventure Park on Thomas Road in Madison Twp. has Aqua Adventures park in summer months, Haunted Scream Park in the fall and a Christmas Glow in the winter. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Land of Illusion Adventure Park on Thomas Road in Madison Twp. has Aqua Adventures park in summer months, Haunted Scream Park in the fall and a Christmas Glow in the winter. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

The Land of Illusion attraction in Madison Twp. has appealed a federal judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit they filed against Butler County officials and others to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last month U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott cancelled a $190 million expansion at the Land of Illusion attraction by dismissing the lawsuit filed against Butler County and said claims officials showed ill-will against the owner were not proven.

Owner Brett Oakley filed a notice of appeal to the 6th Circuit on Friday but has not yet entered the actual appeal.

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. Oakley wanted to make Land of Illusion a year-round facility with additional family activities, camping sites and a hotel.

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

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 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.”

Oakley also accused county officials of treating him 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.”

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.

Oakley’s attorney Scott Phillips would not comment on the decision.

Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser said “they’re certainly within their rights of appeal and I have tremendous respect for the decisions of the district court that has rendered its decision in this case, and we will meet all challenges on appeal.”

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