Pay lake gets approval from Bethel Miami Board of Zoning Appeals

At the August 26, 2015 meeting of the Bethel Township Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, the board approved the conditional use request from Three Springs Lake at 7745 Agenbroad Road to allow for a pay lake at the property. The approval was granted on three conditions. The conditions included that the property owners, erect a six foot high fence completely around the property by April 1, 2016, the owners maintain and enforce quiet hours at the facility between 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m., and that shields be placed on all lights to shield the surrounding residential areas.

This hearing was a continuation of the initial hearing held on May 28, 2016. At that time, the board tabled the request to allow additional information to be gathered regarding past and present operation of the property as a pay lake. At that time, the property owner, Chris Durst, was allowed to continue operation for 90 days with the understanding that no additional improvements would be made to the facility.

To begin the meeting, Jeff Green, Planning and Zoning, recapped the basic information covered the general information concerning the property and the highlights of the previous meeting. The property is zoned A-2 General Agriculture and has been used as a pay lake almost continuously since 1960 despite several gaps during which it was not in operation. At the initial meeting, 19 residents were for the continued use of the property as a pay lake and nine were opposed.

Before the presentations began, Jeff Butt, Board Member, asked the audience if they knew why the Sheriff’s Department was called to the 7700 block of Agenbroad on August 20, 2015. In addition, an employee of Three Springs Lake reported that around that time the business called the Sheriff to report that a Black Blazer had dumped trash on the property and that someone had taken their mail out of their mailbox and poured gasoline on it.

In addition, Neal Sonnanstine expressed his concern over a letter of complaint the board received implying that the BZA had already fixed their decision on the conditional use. He said, “The BZA does not meet behind closed doors, we don’t have secret meetings. I don’t know how I’m going to vote or how anyone else on the board is going to vote. It bothers me that a citizen would imply that the outcome is fixed.”

Green then formally opened the discussion of the case. With close to 40 people in attendance, he established some ground rules for the discussion. Since several issues were addressed in the previous meeting, the board would only hear new concerns. The previous issues included security and safety, increase litter and trash, increase in traffic, increase in noise and light pollution and improper drainage. He then opened the floor to the public.

Jane Simmons expressed her concern that the lakes would attract sexual predators. She suggested that the lake be required to build a six-foot high fence with three stands of barbed wire at the top. She also questioned the advisability of allowing a commercial operation to conduct business in a residential area. In addition, she wanted the township to regulate the location and size of the fire pits. She suggested that the pits be no larger than three feet in diameter and no more than two feet high. She also suggested that the pits be located at least 20 feet from the property lines and 1000 feet from a residence. She quoted Ohio Law, which prohibits fires from being built in roadways, which would be hazardous to fire, and EMS teams called to the facility.

Next Chris Connor, Attorney for the Three Spring Lakes facility addressed the board. He thanked the board for all of the time and effort the board and Green spent researching the last 50 years of the history of the property. He clarified that the owners will not permit campers, RVs, pop-up campers or fifth wheels on the facility. He did request that one camper be permitted on the property for the use of the staff and would be located next to the bait shop and removed at the end of the season. He also specified that the owners did not permit firearms or alcohol on the facility and enforced quiet hours from 10:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.

He also outlined for the board the season for operation. Generally, the facility would be open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. They would be closed on Monday and Tuesdays and operate from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and operate 24 hours a day Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In addition, he noted that patrons must sign in with and I.D. and the facility has two security cameras with plans to add two more. He also said that Three Spring Lakes plans to construct five pits and fires would be permitted in those locations only.

Connor summarized his remarks by saying that there is no evidence of increased crime in the area, property values have increased because the property is now being maintained and that Durst is invested in the Bethel Community and wants to do things the right way.

Connor was followed by Jack Carter, attorney for Randy and Natalie Donohue, who oppose the use of the property as a pay lake. Carter began by clarifying what he believes are the real issues concerning the property. He said, “This is not an issue about popularity for who wants the lake and who doesn’t. This issue is about whether a pay lake will have an adverse effect on the neighborhood. Do the negatives outweigh the benefits? Does the use of this property as a pay lake meet the general standards for the land use plan?”

According to Connor, “Durst believes if he can’t use the property as a pay lake, it can’t be used. A property owner is not entitled to use property for what is most profitable. Durst’s proposal is in violation of the zoning for a property of less than 20 acres. This request does not meet the township’s lot development standards.”

The board then took an informal vote for who was for and against the conditional use. The individual voting was to represent one family member from each household and reside in Bethel Township. Thirty-one people voted for the conditional use. Three voted against it. However, there were murmurings that the conditions for the vote were not followed.

The board again opened the floor for public comments. Randy Donohue of the 7000 Agenbroad spoke. He said, “I was never approached by Durst and when I asked him about the lakes he immediately had an unfriendly attitude and made derogatory comments. In addition, he didn’t do the proper paperwork until asked to by Green. In addition, after the May 28 meeting, no further development was to occur on the property. But, Durst continued full steam. He expanded the operating hours; patrons camped in tents next to the property lines, traffic increased, and noise increased. The township promised to conduct a traffic study, which was never completed. People have trespassed on my property; I’ve found beer cans, fishing tackle and caulking guns. A fence post was knocked down. Since May 28th, they have been allowed to do whatever they want without regards to the neighbors. I believe my property value will be negatively affected.”

Natalie Donahue also of 7835 Agenbroad said, “There was a time when no pay lakes existed. This was farmland. On April 29, the sign went up. On May 1, it opened. . My children lost access to our woods this summer, my husband can’t work in his garage with the doors open. There is no guarantee all visitor are family friendly. The lake is only 1.3 miles from the school. Since we don’t know who the patrons are, how can we ensure our children’s safety?”

Several township residents then spoke in support of the pay lake. One resident pointed out that other businesses also benefit from the pay lake experience an increase in business as well. In addition, several residents testified that they have noted only improvements as result of the pay lake being in operation including an increase in their property values because the pay lake is now being maintained, and a safe place for families to spend time together.

At the conclusion, Carter reiterated that vote should not be based on popularity but on what was best for the community and those living in the neighborhood. After much debate, the board approved the conditional use two to one. Two board members did not vote. Julie Reese excused herself from the discussion because she owns property adjacent to the pay lakes and Doug Gross did not attend the first meeting and could not participate in the second discussion.

In other action, the board approved a request from David and Kristin Niemeyer of the 4000block of Ginghamsburg W. Charleston Road to increase the height of their front yard fence from the specified four feet to six feet. According to Niemeyer, the request was made because the neighbors’ children were trespassed on their property leaving toys in their yard, which he ran over with his lawnmower, and to ensure their privacy. He indicated that the fence was several feet from the property line and set back beyond the townships right of way.

Brian Heelman, who represented the Blackburn’s who live next-door, said that his clients were concerned for the safety of their children. The six-foot fence obstructs the view from the Blackburn’s house down the road. They are concerned that they cannot see where their children get on and off the school bus. Heelman said, “This is about the children’s safety.

The board approved the six-foot fence with the condition that it not extend any further into the front yard.

In addition, the board approved a request from Emma Underwood of 6665 US 40 to allow for the minimum size for a residential property to be reduced from 31,200 sq ft. to 10,018 sq ft. The property is zoned Highway Business B-1, but has not been used for a business in 20 years. The request covers the two properties at 6665 and 6659 SR 40. The board unanimously approved the request.

The board also approved a triple variance for Honor Smith of N 341 HWY M-35 for a two-acre property on Dayton-Brandt Road just south of Agenbroad. The request was to allow an accessory structure to exceed the size of an allowed structure from 1600 sq. ft to 2500 sq. ft. The request also included a request to build the accessory structure before the primary residence and to allow Smith to live in a RV during the construction of the primary structure. The board approved the variances with the following conditions. The accessory structure can be built before the primary residence with a maximum size of 2200 sq ft. The primary residence must be built and occupied within 15 months of August 26, 2015. Moreover, the Smith’s cannot live in the RV after 15 months from today’s date.

The next meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeals is tentatively scheduled for September 24, 2015.

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