Decision dashes owners’ hopes in driveway dispute

The board unanimously denied the variance sought by Howard and Lisa Gray in a case that has sparked nationwide interest and sympathy from property-rights advocates and area residents.

After the hearing, Gray said he was unsure what they would do next.

“I don’t know,” Gray said. “I’ve got $400,000 of buildings I can’t access.”

The zoning board was ordered to reconsider the variance by Judge James Flannery, the same judge who earlier ordered the Grays to pay for a new fence that blocked their access to the rear section of their property off Pennyroyal Road in Clearcreek Twp.

The township ordered the Grays to stop using the land for business after complaints from neighbors, then filed a lawsuit in Warren County Common Pleas Court. The neighbors had complained about noise and traffic.

In December 2012, Flannnery ordered the Grays to stop using the driveway to access 60 garages or parking spaces where they operated their businesses. After resisting, the Grays erected a gated fence and stopped using the land, which is zoned residential.

The Grays appealed after the board granted a conditional variance in June 2013, which the Grays estimated would cost more than $100,000, largely for paving the driveway.

The board said the variance had to be denied without the conditions designed to protect the neighbors.

“Without those conditions, it really would alter the essential character of the neighborhood,” said Thomas St. Denis, vice chairman of the board.

The Grays’ lawyer noted the neighborhood was already changing, as commercial developments were under construction and planned, less than a mile east, at Pennyroyal Road and Ohio 741.

Before the court order, the Grays used the rear section of their property for tree removal, landscaping and storage businesses. They originally had permission from township officials to use the land for business.

At the hearing, the board was limited to deciding if the variance would meet three standards: affect the neighborhood’s character, be “in the public interest” and result in “substantial justice.”

While acknowledging the Grays’ hardship, the board said the variance would not satisfy the other standards.