By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LOVELAND - Residents fighting the commercial zoning at a historic site on Ohio 48 now have an appeals court on their side.
The Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals Monday upheld a decision that the Loveland city clerk should have accepted referendum petitions submitted last year by Voice of the Electorate (VOTE).
Loveland had appealed an earlier decision by Clermont County Common Pleas Judge William Walker, who said the petitions were properly filed.
City officials claimed that VOTE official Paul Elliott did not properly certify the referendum documents - specifically a copy of the ordinance that was attached to the petitions.
The city said its clerk was the only person with authority to certify the document.
However, the three-judge appeals court said the certification could be made by anyone who examined the document.
"Appellants' refusal of the petitions constitutes an abuse of discretion," said the entry signed by Judges William Young, James Walsh and Stephen Powell.
Assistant City Manager Tom Carroll said he didn't know whether City Council would appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court.
"This is a very sweet moment for all the folks in Loveland who are engaging in democracy," said VOTE attorney Robert Newman.
Loveland has about 40 days to file an appeal. Even if officials decide against it, it's too late to get the issue on the November ballot, he said.
However, a second lawsuit by VOTE has held up construction at the site, and the group could try to get on the ballot next year.
More than 800 people signed the petitions, which protested council's 2002 decision to change the zoning code so residential properties of at least five acres could be rezoned for non-residential purposes even while surrounded by single-family homes.
The zoning amendment was passed to allow Hines-Griffin Joint Venture and Parrott & Strawser to include 16 acres of commercial space at the historic White Pillars property, which surrounds the colonial style-home once owned by Loveland's founder, Col. Thomas Paxton.
The developers, who are buying the wooded property from the city for $3.4 million, want to build 150 high-end, single-family houses and town houses along with the commercial project.
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