Athens Twp. decides to move ahead with Plains zoning

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The Plains community park

After nearly a year of conversations among area elected officials, a plan to establish zoning regulations in The Plains is moving forward for part of that unincorporated area.

Athens Township will soon be seeking volunteers to serve on a zoning commission that would be tasked with creating zoning regulations for the portion of The Plains located within the township (which would exclude the part of The Plains in Dover Township).

“After an extensive review by an ad hoc committee of the Athens County Regional Planning Commission that included recommendations that both townships form their own commissions or that the county Commissioners form a commission that would include both townships, those ideas have essentially been rejected,” Athens Township Trustee Steve Pierson stated in an email last Friday. “The Dover Trustees did not form their own commission and two of the three commissioners (as regional planning commissioners) voted against forming a county zoning commission. The Athens Township Trustees, however, are now moving ahead.”

The plan to establish a zoning commission for Athens Township began late last June when former Athens Township Trustee Eddie Smith revealed that residents of The Plains had expressed interest in the idea.

The Athens Township Trustees voted 2-1 last August to establish a zoning commission after residents of The Plains in Athens Township presented the Board with 146 petition signatures from voters in The Plains who support the idea of zoning regulations, well beyond the 78 signatures that initially had been requested by trustees Steve Pierson and Ted Linscott.

At that time, the Athens Township Trustees had intended to work with the Dover Township Trustees to establish regulations for all of The Plains. At a meeting last September, Warren Jeffers, a longtime resident of The Plains and current resident of Dover Township, presented his township trustees with 103 petition signatures collected from residents of The Plains living in the Circle Hill voting precinct (in Dover) in favor of zoning.

Typically, only signatures from 8% 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. Smith has said that Jeffers and other residents in the Circle Hill voting precinct had collected signatures from 37 percent of relevant voters. Regardless, the Dover Township Trustees didn’t make any decisions at that September meeting.

Because The Plains sits in two different townships, many legal questions have surfaced since last summer. An ad-hoc committee of the Athens County Regional Planning Commission was created last September specifically to analyze best options for establishing zoning regulations in the unincorporated area. Members of the committee included several members of the Regional Planning Commission and residents of The Plains who had helped gather petition signatures in each voting precinct.

After several months of meetings, the committee’s consensus was: either each township should establish its own zoning commission that could work together with the other to ensure that uniform regulations are created for all parts of The Plains, or the Athens County Commissioners could establish zoning regulations for all parts of The Plains.

The original plan for both townships to work together, which was considered the best option by the ad-hoc committee, hit a wall after the Dover Township Trustees in January voted against establishing a zoning commission.

Thus, the ad-hoc committee made a recommendation in January, which was subsequently passed by the Regional Planning Commission, that the county Commissioners consider creating zoning regulations for all parts of The Plains. Athens County Commissioners Lenny Eliason and Charlie Adkins were the only two Regional Planning Commission members to vote against the recommendation.

“The Athens Township Trustees are now proceeding without Dover Township and without the Athens County Commissioners to form a zoning commission and fund consulting services,” Pierson stated in his email last week. “I believe we have done this in a very exhaustive and deliberative manner by involving the Athens County Regional Planning Commission, the Dover Township Trustees and the Athens County Commissioners.”

Pierson said there are five permanent seats and two alternate seats available on the new zoning commission, and that the Athens Township Trustees plan to ask for volunteers soon. The township has also received a proposal from Round River Planning and Design, based in New Marshfield, to provide consulting services to the township zoning commission, Pierson said. (Bob Eichenberg, former Athens County planner, is involved with that firm.)

Specifically, the company would assist in gathering necessary information, creating a comprehensive plan and a zoning map for the area to be zoned, conducting public meetings, and drafting language for a zoning plan for a one-time fee of $28,600, according to a draft contract provided to The NEWS. Pierson said the trustees have asked the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office to review the contract and advise the township on potential next steps.

The next meeting of the Athens Township Trustees will be Tuesday, May 7.