Legal issues may doom sale of West Chester historic schoolhouse

The sale of the historic Station Road schoolhouse is pending after a Butler County magistrate decided he needs to think about whether the court even has jurisdiction over the appeal of a zoning board ruling.

West Chester Twp. trustees agreed to sell the schoolhouse to the owners of Community Montessori School last May, but the zoning board nixed the sale.

Community Montessori School owners Todd and Jamie Minniear appealed the zoning board’s decision in Butler County Common Pleas Court. The two sides recently came to terms on the deal.

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Then Dave Lindenschmidt, who was a candidate for township trustee, and his neighbor, Gary Bolte, hired a lawyer and filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit.

A main argument by the residents’ attorney Tim Mara is that Minniear filed the zoning board appeal with his company J. Lyn Property LLC as the complainant, so the appeal must be dismissed.

“A person not licensed to practice law cannot file a notice of appeal in a court of law,” Mara told Butler County Common Pleas Court Magistrate Justin Lane. “When such a notice of appeal is filed it’s a nullity, it’s as if it never happened. So this court has no jurisdiction over this matter.”

The Minniears have an attorney now, but Mara said that cannot “rectify” the situation.

Jay Bennett was hired at the end of November to represent the couple and he told the magistrate the situation doesn’t have the same set of circumstances the rules about corporations and lawsuits were designed to prevent.

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“I believe to totally dismiss that, if that is where the court is leaning, would be incredibly harsh,” Bennett. “I understand the rule about not allowing corporate entities to represent themselves but when we’re talking about corporate entities we’re talking about share holders and officers and boards of directors and those types of things. My client is J. Lyn Properties.”

West Chester Twp.’s attorney Scott Phillips told the magistrate the residents should not be allowed to intervene in the case and try to undo what the township trustees have determined is best. He said had they filed their intervention motion when the case began in July they could have been at the negotiating table.

“When a proposed intervening party waits three months to file their motion to intervene at that point in time I believe intervention is inappropriate…,” Phillips said. “If they were concerned what was happening in this appeal they should have intervened immediately, we could have dealt with that issue and brought them and sat down with them to figure out if this proposed consent decree makes sense to them.

“We spent literally thousands and thousands of dollars and lots of man hours basically trying to come up with a proposed consent decree that we believe is fair and reasonable and is in the best interest of the township as a whole,” he said.

Lane said he is going to consider the jurisdiction issue and report his decision back to the attorneys this month.

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