By Kayla Beard
The original story can be found here in the Athens News
The Plains community park

The Athens Township Trustees voted in August, 2018 to establish a zoning commission, the first step in the process of creating zoning regulations in the unincorporated community of The Plains.

The future of zoning regulations in The Plains remains up in the air after the Dover Township Board of Trustees voted last Thursday against a resolution to establish a zoning commission.

The resolution had been introduced in response to citizen petitions in favor of creating zoning regulations in the part of Dover Township that comprises a third of the unincorporated community of The Plains.

As for the other two-thirds of the densely populated, census-designated area that’s located in Athens Township, zoning regulations still appear likely after the Athens Township Board of Trustees voted last summer to establish a zoning commission, the first step toward enacting zoning.

An ad-hoc committee formed by the Athens County Regional Planning Commission that has met regularly since last September to discuss potential options for establishing zoning in The Plains had come to the conclusion at the committee’s last few meetings that the best course of action would be for both Dover and Athens townships to collaborate on efforts to create zoning.

One idea had been for the townships to establish a joint zoning commission composed of Regional Planning Commission members, a concept that was shot down by Athens County Assistant Prosecutor Zach Saunders at the committee’s last meeting Dec. 21.

“Dover Township needs to have its own zoning commission; Athens needs to have its own zoning commission,” Saunders said, explaining that the members of each commission must reside within the area to be zoned, which would be different for each township.

Since Dover Township voted against establishing any zoning commission, however, the idea of a joint commission is no longer feasible.

Dover Trustee Stuart Neal confirmed in an email Friday that he and fellow Trustee Harold Sycks voted “no” on the resolution, after which Board President Chris Russell abstained due to the established majority. 

Neal said he voted against the measure because the majority of Dover Township citizens that he has spoken to who “border Athens Township” did not want zoning in their area of The Plains.

“It’s a VERY SMALL area of Dover Township,” Neal wrote in the email. “If passed, the consulting fees would have to come out of the ‘General Fund’ that ALL the Dover Township residents pay through their taxes.”

Athens Township Trustee Steve Pierson previously estimated, based on conversations with consulting firms, that each township would have to pay around $25,000 for its own consultant, though were the townships to work cooperatively, they could hire one consultant to serve both entities.

The Athens Township Trustees already had agreed to pay 80 percent of the fee for a shared consultant, were the townships to cooperate. 

“Even though Athens Township offered an 80/20 percent split of consulting fees if we passed the resolution, there were still too many unforeseen costs/unknowns,” Neal wrote in the email Saturday. “We would have to have two separate ‘Zoning Commissions,’ five (people) with two alternates, also an ‘Appeals Board’, (and a) zoning code enforcer/officer.”

“Dover Township has a much smaller budget and ‘General Fund’ than Athens Township,” Neal continued. “With all the known and unknown costs coming from the ‘General Fund’ (for zoning) we (would) not be able to maintain our roads throughout Dover Township.”

The NEWS was unable to get in touch with Dover Trustee Harold Sycks for comment on his vote.

Warren Jeffers, a longtime resident of The Plains and current resident of Dover Township who serves on the Regional Planning Commission’s committee on zoning The Plains, had presented to the Dover Township Trustees 103 petition signatures collected from residents of The Plains living in the Circle Hill voting precinct (in Dover Township) at a Trustees meeting Sept. 6. Typically, only signatures from 8 percent of the voters in a given precinct who voted in the last governor’s race would be needed to require the township trustees to establish a zoning commission. Jeffers and other residents in the Circle Hill voting precinct collected signatures from 37 percent, Athens Township Trustee Eddie Smith previously reported.

Since the petition was not formatted correctly (as no clear requirements for such a petition have yet to be found by zoning proponents), it could not be submitted to the Athens County Board of Elections for approval, an action that if accomplished legally would have forced the Dover Trustees to form a zoning commission.

The Athens Township Trustees voted 2-1 last August to establish a zoning commission and already have begun the process of identifying potential commission members. This came after residents of The Plains in Athens Township, including Brian Dearing – who also serves on the Regional Planning Commission’s committee, presented the Trustees at that August meeting with 146 petition signatures from voters in The Plains who support the idea of zoning regulations, well beyond the initially requested 78 signatures. 

Steve Pierson confirmed in an email Friday that the Athens Trustee board plans to discuss next steps for zoning at its regular meeting this Tuesday. The zoning committee of the Regional Planning Commission is also scheduled to meet this week, on Thursday, to discuss final recommendations.