Howard and Lisa Gray have been involved in a six year dispute with Clearcreek Township in Warren County, Ohio over the use of a driveway that they obtained permission from the Clearcreek TWP official. Now, because of complaints of neighbors the couple faces nearly $100,000 in fines and contempt of court charges.
The Grays on storage and landscaping businesses and their land extends across two counties. They were using their residential driveway in Warren County to get to buildings on the Montgomery County portion of their land. The buildings house their storage and landscaping businesses.
After obtaining permission to use their own driveway on their own land from the bureaucracy of Clearcreek TWP, neighbors began complaining to the TWP and they ordered the couple to stop using their driveway to access their business.
Attorney for the Clearcreek TWP in a court filing last Monday said, “We realize that, several years ago, (the Grays) were given bad advice. That in no way excuses their current behavior, which is to continuously ignore and, in fact, thumb their noses at the court’s orders.”
Wait, what? Bad advice? First it's their land. It's their driveway. They shouldn't have had to "obtain permission" from any government bureaucracy to use their land to drive across. Second, when they did approach the almighty Clearcreek TWP, they didn't "advise" them, they gave them permission, which I find silly that anyone has to obtain permission to drive across their own land.
The Grays live at 2248 Pennyroyal Road, west of Ohio 741 on the extreme northern edge of Warren County in Clearcreek Twp., a traditionally rural community where home-based businesses are common and generally accepted. Their commercial land in Montgomery County’s Miami Twp. is just inside a special commercial zone established in anticipation of development around the new Interstate 75 interchange at Austin Boulevard.
Homes, some on multi-acre lots, surround the Grays’ land on the east, south and west. Commercial properties and a church border the Grays’ land to the north.
In 2004, the Grays say they invested about $300,000 in the garages and storage buildings on about three acres of their land in Montgomery County after receiving assurance from Clearcreek Twp. Planning and Zoning Director Jeff Palmer that access would be permitted via the long driveway leading off Pennyroyal Road to their home.
In 2006, after complaints from neighbors about noise, dirt and traffic, the township notified the Grays they would have to quit using the driveway to get to their commercial buildings. The Grays had added a landscaping business, worsening traffic and noise problems, according to the township.
So let's get this straight. They had to pay a tax, the government calls it a "permit" to construct their driveway. This was authorized, not advised, by the same people that now was to keep them from using what they paid for. Things were fine for two years, until neighbors began to complain and we come to find out that the township's population was exploding at this time, doubling in size to nearly 40,000 residents.
In 2009 is when the TWP filed a lawsuit in Warren County asking the court to deny the Grays access to their land in Montgomery County via their driveway.
According to the TWP the business that the Grays are involved in is not a home business because the equipment they use is stored outside the home. Attorney Jill Mead, representing the TWP, said, “The township’s policy is that legitimate home occupations are acceptable. If a commercial enterprise is being run on a residential property and does not qualify as a home occupation, it is unacceptable. Generally speaking, the township responds to complaints."
The Grays were also given a court order to build a fence and entry system around the buildings, along with helping the TWP move out about 50 of the storage tenants. They were also told to take down the sign for their storage buildings along and they were not compensated for the loss of the use of their driveway.
The Grays did comply with the order and paid for their own fence instead of paying the township to hire a contractor to build the fence. They also replace their storage sign with one that reads, “Is this America? Clearcreek Twp. and their courts have closed our family business after they approved it six years ago. Our American Dream has been turned into an American Red Tape Nightmare."
The Gray's attorney, Andrew George, says that the Grays deserve compensation. “All of this stems from a government mistake. It’s up to the government to fix that,” George said.
While the parties involved have worked out an agreement to close the driveway at the Montgomery County line, Gray is very unhappy, as any of us would be. He said, "I’ve been here since 2004. They’re actually taking my land.” The driveway closing has not taken place yet.
Now the Grays are facing contempt of court charges and fines that could be as much as $97,000. Talk about a government shake down!
Should they ultimately comply, they will not face the charges or the fines, but will have to pay the costs of the fence and at least $7,500 in attorney's fees, which bring it to a total of $13,000.
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