Tonight’s committee meetings

There were two big items discussed at tonight’s committee meetings. My notes are posted below:

AUTO SALES — We discussed a proposal to allow auto dealerships in all parcels zoned C3 and C4. Currently, they are allowed only in C5. This proposal was raised by RLM Darrow, LLC, which owns Marhofer Chevrolet.

For those of you who don’t understand zoning and its connection with U.S. constitutional law, I’ll provide a quick synopsis. … Cities are allowed under the U.S. constitution to use zoning for city planning, but there are limitations. Chief among them: Generally, through zoning, the government cannot prohibit a property owner from conducting the commercial activity that it conducted on the property prior to the legislation.

I’ll use a drastic example: We can’t rezone Commerce Drive as “residential” and force the businesses there to shutter up. Beyond the lunacy of such an idea, it unconstitutionally deprives the businesses of property rights without just compensation. It also offends constitutional notions of due process. (If you want a deeper knowledge, read pp. 1223-60 of this article in the New York University Law, but please note I vehemently disagree with the article’s ultimate conclusion).

Although the city can’t just legislate someone out of business, that protection disappears if the pre-existing use is paused, or if the owner needs to rebuild due to calamity or renovation. Also, commercial lenders will sweat bullets if they learn such a contingency is out there. And I presume that is why RLM Darrow, LLC needs auto sales to be permitted on its parcel.

Please note, this is a separate matter from the re-zoning of three parcels that are adjacent to the dealership. That is not on the table now, and it might never be.

It’s also important to note that the legislation does not provide authority for anyone to open a dealership in any C3 or C4 zone. The legislation will make auto sales “conditionally permitted,” so council must still pass legislation to give a Conditional Zoning Certificate to any applicant who wants to open a dealership. At that point, we can (and will) discuss whether a certain car dealer, dealership and site plan are appropriate for a given parcel. That includes RLM Darrow, LLC, which will have to come right back to council to obtain its Conditional Zoning Certificate.

The ordinance has already had two readings. Tonight was the public hearing. Thursday will be the third and final reading and, presumably, there will be a vote.

In full disclosure, Ron Marhofer is my uncle (my mother’s sister’s husband). The Ohio Ethics Commission has provided to me a ruling that states I have no ethical limitations in discussing the ordinance or voting. … The people hired me to vote on important issues facing our city, so I won’t punt on any legislation unless there truly is an ethical limitation.

CREMATORIES — Travel north about 500 yards for the next highly disputed zoning matter. The crematory legislation is in its final week. Everything that can be said about cremation has been said. A team of three councilmembers drafted amendments to the original legislation (see bold text below).


(pp) Funeral Homes These facilities may be permitted in C-2, C-3, C-4 and R-B Districts provided that:

(1) Any cremation equipment shall be operated in conformance with all applicable local, state, and federal laws and shall be operated and maintained according to the manufacturer’s specifications. All crematory equipment shall be inspected annually for proper operation and emissions. A letter or other article certifying compliance shall be kept for life.
(2) If cremation equipment is operated, it shall only be an accessory use to the funeral home operations.
(3) Cremation equipment shall not be located in a separate building from the funeral home. No more than one retort shall be installed for every 6,000 square feet within the funeral home.
(4) Cremation equipment shall be utilized for humans only.

As legislators, we are rightly expected to have good intentions. But, the intentions must be coupled with craftsmanship. The term “proper emissions” raises more problems than it solves. How will Bruce Redmon ever know if his equipment is functioning at the proper levels? And what kind of emissions are we referring to — mercury, solid particulate? And who inspects the cremation equipment?

On policy grounds, the amendments mean very little. They require Redmon Funeral Home to do what it already was required to do, except that the crematory must be inspected annually instead of triennially. I can’t imagine any councilmember legitimately changing his or her vote based on the new regulations.

On Thursday, I will be proposing some additional amendments to clarify the language, but don’t misconstrue this action. I am firmly on the side of the residents. Burning bodies is something to be done in industrial areas, not neighborhoods.

OFFICE HOURS — If you think I’m wrong about all these things, feel free to stop by my office hours tomorrow (Tuesday) at 5:30 p.m. in the second floor conference room at City Hall. I truly enjoy discussing city business with residents. (My least favorite office hours are when Matt Riehl and I are left without visitors, and we’re stuck staring at each other for 90 minutes.)

THURSDAY’S MEETING — Council will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday to vote on the Marhofer and Redmon proposals, as well as other legislation.