A member of the Board of Zoning Appeals for St. Albans Township summed up the past few months of controversy in the village of Alexandria. He was speaking to a lawyer representing Scioto Materials, a company attempting to build a new asphalt plant on the southeastern edge of the village.
“Your PR, in my words, sucks,” Fred Pettey told Aaron Underhill, a lawyer for The Shelly Company affiliate Scioto Materials, during a hearing on Wednesday night.
The company had done nothing to explain its proposal or respond to community concerns, Pettey said.
“I really think if you guys had really come out and explained everything to start with, we probably wouldn’t have near the problems we got right now,” Pettey said.
Many in the village of 500 people and surrounding areas are furious about proposals by Scioto Materials and another company, Mar-Zane Materials, an affiliate of Shelly & Sands, to bookend the village with new asphalt manufacturing plants on its northwest and southeast sides along Raccoon Creek.
About 30 people were able to claim seats inside the township firehouse in Alexandria for the hearing, while a dozen more stood in the back. Other residents brought their lawn chairs and sat in the parking lot to listen to the hearing through a loudspeaker.
Thomas Frederick, the former St. Albans Township Zoning Inspector, had cited Scioto in March for beginning construction of an asphalt plant on Tharp Road, just off of Rt. 37, without a zoning permit. The notice of violation halted further construction of the plant. So during the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting on Wednesday, Scioto Materials appealed a violation.
Shelly Company’s lawyer Underhill made several arguments against the citation. One, he said, is that the company hadn’t begun construction. Two, he said that if they had begun, they wouldn’t be in violation, because the land already had been in use as an asphalt plant in the same location in 2006. Underhill also suggested on a technical point that an asphalt plant isn’t a “building,” which confounded many in the room.
The BZA members showed a picture of a large form filled with rebar, one that appeared ready to be filled with concrete. A representative from Shelly, who did not enter his name on the record, objected and said that the picture was from another property.
After Underhill’s long description of why he believed Shelly should not be cited for a violation, Pettey interrupted him to say that, in his opinion, if Shelly had communicated better to the Zoning Board, and the rest of the town, there would not be a dispute in Alexandria today.
Pettey let it be known, in this comment and others, that he is in favor of the asphalt plant being built. His comments often received shouts of objection from the packed house.
After Pettey’s “your PR sucks” comment, Underhill conferred with the representative from Shelly. He returned to the podium and said, “We do want to work in a spirit of cooperation. We’re willing to engage in conversation with your new zoning inspector, and table this appeal on the premise that we will file for a zoning permit, but under protest. And if it were denied, we’d come right back here in front of you” to continue this appeal.
Mark Altier, of the Licking County prosecutor’s office, said that he appreciated the company’s comments, but that Shelly officials were missing the point of the hearing. Altier said that township regulations say there shall be no change in the use of land without a permit issued by the zoning inspector. It does not require a building or structure; a permit is still required.
Underhill said that the zoning violation did not mention a change of use. It was about a building being constructed.
“By filing the application, I want everyone to understand, we are not consenting to the point of view. We can agree to disagree,” Underhill said.
Dean Schiller, a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals, then noted that the letter of violation from Tom Frederick was written on March 15, 2023. The letter of appeal was written on June 22, 2023, which is outside the 20-day window allowed for an appeal.
“We received a second violation notice. … That one was dated June 6,” Underhill said.
“Right. What happened with the first notice? And why was it avoided?” Schiller asked.
“I wasn’t involved at that point. … I was only hired a few weeks ago,” Underhill said.
Altier said he believed that if the appeal was outside the 20-day window, the company lost the ability to appeal.
“Why are we even here?” Schiller said.
Eventually, the BZA agreed with Underhill and Altier that the hearing should be tabled until a later date. Before the hearing was adjourned, Shiller took time to pull up pictures he had taken of the property the previous day. As he connected his computer to a television screen, Pettey brought up a suggestion.
“Something I would like to look into, for every ton of asphalt they produce, we charge them 25 cents a ton,” Pettey said.
Residents in the audience yelled in response.
“This is irrelevant!”
“It doesn’t matter if we don’t have the plants!”
“You’re gonna screw us all!”
Woody Fox, the current St. Albans Township Zoning Inspector, said, “To let the public know: That is not currently in our zoning resolution. It would require the zoning commission to change our resolution to even attempt to do something like that, and it shouldn’t be discussed tonight.”
The room burst into applause.
When Schiller began to show his pictures, Underhill and the representative of Shelly Company argued that the person best able to answer Schiller’s questions about the property was not present, so he delayed showing more. After the meeting, however, Schiller showed The Reporting Project a picture that appeared to match up with one that prompted the violation citation. In the first picture, a large pad form is ready for concrete to be poured. Schiller said the second photo shows that all evidence of construction has been removed.
After the meeting was adjourned, residents who attended said they were disappointed.
“That was a shit show,” said Stephanie Taylor, a community organizer with the group called “Clean Air and Water for Alexandria and St. Albans Township.”
“I thought it was a zoo,” said Alexandria resident Sarah Chaulk. “It was so unprofessional.”
One of Chaulk’s biggest concerns is why Alexandria was not availing itself of legal representation being offered by the Village of Granville and Denison University, both of which have joined the protest against the asphalt plants over concerns that any environmental issues on the sites of the proposed plants could pollute the drinking water supply for Granville and Alexandria.
Chaulk said that Clean Air and Water for Alexandria will be looking into possible legal representation for themselves.
“We obviously have some issues with our board of zoning appeals,” said Alexandria resident Carianne Meng. “It’s a good thing we have more time, but Shelly has a long way to go; they have a lot of bodies to satisfy.”
A resident who had come to the meeting with a written statement she was prepared to deliver instead was seen crying as the hearing spun out of control.
“It seems like those of us who have been researching the zoning resolution since we first found out about this in March seem to know more about it than the very people that are on the BZA, with the exception of maybe one member,” she said.
Caroline Zollinger writes for TheReportingProject.org, the nonprofit news organization of the Denison University Journalism program, which is funded in part by the Mellon Foundation. [email protected]