August 14, 2003


Plan board rejects request from Union School owner

The Village Planning Commission rejected on Monday a request from the owner of the Union School House to move the building’s parking lot. The planners stated that restrictions placed on the property prohibit the construction of the lot at the front of the old school.

At its meeting Aug. 11, plan board members voted 4–0 to turn down the proposal from Jonathan Brown, who owns the Union School House with his wife, Anna Arbor. Commission member Cy Tebbetts was absent.

Brown had requested that Planning Commission approve a change to the conditional use permitted at the school house’s property so that the building’s parking lot could be moved to Dayton Street from Union Street. According to a sketch Brown submitted to the plan board, two parking areas, with 28 total spots, would have been built on the building’s front lawn.

In addition, Brown submitted a proposal to subdivide the back of the property and convert the property’s existing parking lot into three residential building lots.

Brown said that moving the parking lot to Dayton Street would make it easier for the clients of the Union School House’s tenants to find the building and its parking area.

He said that since he and Arbor purchased the building from the Village they have “tried to preserve it, restore it.”

“We think we’ve made significant progress,” Brown said.

Opened in 1872 as the main school building for the Miami Township school district, the Union School House is included in the Yellow Springs Historic District. It also served as the administrative offices of the Village government for many years until 1992, when the Village moved its offices to the Bryan Community Center.

In 1995 the Village sold the building for $150,000 to the Park Meadows Development Corporation, of which Brown was the president. The following year, the corporation granted the property to Brown and Arbor. The Union School House, 314 Dayton Street, is now used as office space.

Planning Commission members said that they could not grant Brown’s request because it is prohibited by a restriction in the property’s deed.

The restriction says that the owner of the property cannot “erect any permanent structures in the area” between Dayton Street and the school house. Plan board members noted that a section of the Village Zoning Code defines structures as including parking lots.

The Village’s definition of structures indicates that a parking lot cannot be built between Dayton Street and the building, John Struewing, the Planning Commission chairman, said.

“This clearly is in violation” of the restrictions, Village Manager Rob Hillard said of the request.

Though she voted to reject Brown’s request, commission member Dawn Johnson cautioned board members that the deed restrictions on the property do not define what a structure is, nor does it refer to the Village Zoning Code. “Does our definition of structure meet the definition in the covenant?” she asked.

After the meeting, Brown said that he was surprised and disagreed with Planning Commission’s decision. “I think Planning Commission went too far in trying to be the organization that interpreted and wrongly enforced the no-structure provision” in the deed, he said.

Brown said that because a provision in the deed says that replatting the land behind the school house on Union Street is not prohibited, it was clear that the Village understood that the building’s parking area would be moved to Dayton Street some day.

Brown said he and Arbor would use the money from the sale of property to continue to restore the building, as well as pay down the mortgage.

“The whole project is taking more money and more time” than they had anticipated, Brown said.

Though few people regularly attend Planning Commission meetings, Monday’s session generated passionate interest from neighbors of the Union School House and others, most of whom spoke out against Brown’s request. During a public hearing on the action, at least 12 people spoke in opposition of the proposal, while another six raised concerns, though they did not expressly state their positions on the request. The commission also received 16 letters opposing or expressing concern for the proposal.

Many of the neighbors and others who live in the neighborhood said that they were concerned that moving the parking lot to Dayton Street would detract from the neighborhood’s residential nature. Some also expressed concern that the parking lot would increase traffic on the street. Mark Willis, who lives next to the property, said that building a parking lot on Dayton Street would “complicate the traffic flow” of the street.

Others said the proposal would ruin the historic nature of the school house. “It’s hard to imagine that a citizen of Yellow Springs would want to destroy the beauty and ambiance of this historic building,” said Carl Johnson, who lives next to the property.

Joe Lewis, who served on Council when the Village sold the school house, said that Brown’s proposal did not adhere to the restrictions the Village placed on the property.

Several audience members suggested that Brown modify his proposal and keep the parking lot on Union Street and build the houses behind the building.

Brown has 20 days to appeal Planning Commission’s decision with Village Council. Rather than hold another hearing, Council would consider the written record of plan board’s hearing and question “any of the parties represented in the record,” the Village Zoning Code states. The appeal hearing would be open to the public.

The code states that Brown would have to convince Council that Planning Commission failed to “adequately consider an important argument” during its hearing. Council would either affirm plan board’s decision or send Brown’s request back to the board for reconsideration.

Brown said on Tuesday that he likely will appeal.

—Robert Mihalek