August 15, 2011
The future of a citizen-led referendum effort to block a Liberty Township housing development is now in the hands of the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Attorneys representing developer Charles Driscoll have until Aug. 18 to file written arguments with the court, while the Delaware County Board of Elections, represented by the county prosecutor’s office, has until Aug. 25, according to a decision handed down Thursday by the Supreme Court. After that, Driscoll has another three days to respond.
The referendum would give voters a chance to overturn a re-zoning vote from Liberty Township trustees that paves the way for Driscoll’s planned 148-housing development south of the intersection of Home Road and Ohio 315. Residents have complained the development would detract from the area’s character since its houses will be closer together than surrounding lots.
Attorneys for Driscoll argue that the citizens who led the referendum effort filed paperwork more than a month after a May 4 deadline, and that petitions presented to the public for signatures did not include a required map outlining exactly where the rezoning took place.
The Supreme Court has not said when it will make a decision. The upcoming ballot language must be finalized by Sept. 24, when absentee ballots are sent out to overseas and military voters, Delaware County Board of Elections Director Brian Mumford said.
“At this point, (the referendum) is going to appear on the ballot unless the court says otherwise,” Mumford said “If it’s too far in the process, it’s going to be on the ballot, but we just wouldn’t count the results of the contest.”
Donald McTigue, an attorney for Driscoll, asked the court to take up the case on July 26, less than a week after the Delaware County Board of Elections denied Driscoll’s request to throw out the referendum and certified it for the ballot.
In previous decisions, the Supreme Court has ruled that people signing the petitions might be misled where the rezoning took place if the maps don’t have outlines, McTigue said.
The Delaware County Board of Elections “abused their discretion and clearly disregarded applicable law and acted without legal authority” in letting the referendum go forward,” McTigue wrote.
The elections board, agreeing with an attorney representing the citizens behind the petition drive, ruled that the petition was legal based on a different interpretation of the law that establishes the filing deadline. Also, the board ruled that the petitioners met the legal requirement by including a map of the entire township with the petitions, even though the specific area where the rezoning took place was not highlighted.
Elections board members Jeff Burkam, a Republican, and Bruce Burnsworth, a Democrat, acknowledged in July that their interpretations of the law may be overturned, but that they would rather err on the side of the public.
Democrat Ed Helvey, who like Burkam is a lawyer, voted to block the referendum over the concerns Driscoll raised.