Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Club owner ordered to fix up

Judge rules in favor of Amberley Village

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Hamilton County judge sided with Amberley Village Monday when she agreed to issue a court order giving the owner of the former Crest Hills Country Club three weeks to correct fire code and safety violations on the property.

Common Pleas Judge Melba Marsh told Amberley officials and representatives of the Ridge Club, owner of the Crest Hills property, to immediately work out a plan for addressing all the violations cited by the village. She said she will make the agreement a court order.

"The violations should be remedied," Marsh said. "It's a health and safety issue."

The ruling pleased Amberley officials and about 20 residents who attended the court hearing to show their support for the village.

"Judge Marsh did the right thing to protect the village," said Mike Gerson, a member of the Save Amberley Village Committee, a residents' group that has fought the Ridge Club's attempt to develop the Crest Hills site.

C. Francis Barrett, attorney for the Ridge Club, said he didn't think a court order was necessary because the club already had begun correcting the violations and expected to complete the task this week.

But Stanley Chesley, attorney for Amberley Village, argued for a court order, claiming that Ridge Club officials had lied to the village this past week about what they had done so far to correct the problems.

"I cannot trust that they understand the urgency of the situation," said Chesley, an Amberley resident who's representing the village on the issue for free.

The village cited the Ridge Club for more than 30 fire and safety violations on the 133-acre Crest Hills site. The violations included a disabled fire alarm system, exposed wires, improperly capped gas lines and substantial trash.

With the Crest Hills site no longer in use, Chesley said, the village was concerned that trespassers could accidentally set fire to the clubhouse and barn.

The citations occurred after the Ridge Club filed a lawsuit last month challenging Amberley's refusal to rezone the Crest Hills property to permit a proposed housing development to be built. The village's decision to keep the Crest Hills site zoned for a park thwarted a tentative $7.6 million sale of the property to a developer.

Marsh and Barrett questioned whether the village issued the citations in retaliation for the Ridge Club's lawsuit.

"This isn't retaliation?" Marsh asked Chesley. "It just curiously follows the lawsuit?"

Chesley and Mayor Charles Kamine said the citations had nothing to do with the lawsuit. The maintenance of the Crest Hills property became an issue, Kamine said, when some residents complained to the village that the grass at the Crest Hills property was getting too high.

E-mail skemme@enquirer.com

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