Editorial: Zoning makes good neighbors
Written by Jan Larson McLaughlin Sentinel Editor   
Wednesday, 28 August 2013 08:58
Jan Larson McLaughlin
Forget fences. Zoning makes for good neighbors.
Voters in some areas of Wood County have discovered that rules restricting their freedom can also protect their property.
But in an effort to extend their rights as landowners, residents of some areas in Wood County have consistently refused to enact zoning laws.
Those efforts sometimes turn out to be misguided, and end up costing landowners the opportunity to protect their property from unwelcome neighbors.
Such is the case now in Perrysburg Township, where voters have repeatedly rejected zoning in a large portion of the township. A mining business is planning to set up shop in that unzoned area - much to the dismay of some neighboring residents.
Though Perrysburg Township is one of the fastest developing areas of the county, nearly half of it remains unzoned, according to Kelly Hemminger, township zoning inspector.
Since voters have turned down zoning multiple times in much of the area east of Lime City Road, township officials have little authority to control how the land is used.
"If it's in the unzoned area, I wouldn't have much to do with it," Hemminger said.
For example, in zoned areas, the township can reject an incompatible land use, or at least regulate lighting, traffic congestion, air pollution, fire hazards, and impact on surrounding property areas.
Perrysburg Township isn't alone in its effort to convince reluctant voters of the value of zoning. Montgomery Township surrounding the Bradner area, and Jackson Township in the far southwest corner of the county, also remain unzoned.
It's not that township officials haven't tried. All three townships have put the issue on the ballot, only to be rejected by voters. Perrysburg Township's last effort in 2002 failed solidly by a vote of 506 to 235.
"People are scared of people telling them what they can and can't do with their property," Hemminger said, explaining the resistance of some voters to enacting zoning laws.
But in actuality, zoning helps safeguard landowners from incompatible neighbors.
"It protects your property values," she said.
Dave Steiner, director of the Wood County Planning Commission, sees it the same way.
"It eliminates hop-scotch growth patterns," Steiner explained. "You don't want a day care next to a steel mill."
In some cases, it takes a major property proposal to convince a region to enact zoning. When plans for the CSX hub were introduced in Henry Township, west of North Baltimore, that township already had zoning rules in place. Its neighbor to the west, Jackson Township saw it as a good opportunity to try again to get voter support for zoning - since growth was projected to spread west from the rail hub. But the residents wouldn't budge, according to Steiner.
"Both times it was shot down," he said.
Hold-outs against zoning exist throughout the state, Steiner said. "There are pockets of it in Ohio," he said.
Throughout the county, zoning laws have been used to keep incompatible businesses from locating in residential areas. And even in cases where zoning can't keep out an unattractive neighbor, it can often set up rules that make the relationship more bearable.
But it's up to the voters to decide. Do they want to give up their personal freedom to use their property however they wish - or risk the chance of an unwelcome neighbor changing the landscape of their neighborhood.

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