Miami Township Trustees to change BZA procedures
- Published: July 31, 2023
The Miami Township Board of Trustees plans to initiate several changes with regard to the Township’s Board of Zoning Appeals, or BZA. Among those changes, announced during the trustees’ most recent meeting, Monday, July 17, are further training for BZA members, the creation of BZA bylaws and the future hiring of a BZA administrator.
The BZA is a quasi-judicial body that adjudicates zoning appeals on behalf of the Township.
The changes come following a June 5 meeting of the trustees in which local resident Steve Wirrig, owner of the Wirrig family pavilion between U.S. 68 North and Meredith Road, laid out concerns regarding the transparency of the BZA and the actions of Zoning Inspector Richard Zopf.
The zoning inspector, according to Miami Township’s website, acts as a point of contact for the BZA and as administrative support for the Zoning Commission, which reviews potential amendments to the Township’s zoning code, and as a liaison between the Board of Trustees and the two zoning boards.
Wirrig’s concerns included the sharing of unapproved minutes from an April meeting of the Zoning Commission with the BZA by Zopf after the BZA requested guidance from the commission heading into a May 3 public hearing. That hearing was set to determine whether the BZA would grant Wirrig a temporary conditional use permit to hold a series of outdoor shows this summer and fall at the Wirrig family pavilion to be hosted by comedian Dave Chappelle; the request was approved 4–0.
According to Wirrig, he requested that Zopf send him “any BZA briefing notes” prior to the May 3 hearing, but did not receive the unapproved minutes, which he said included the commission’s discussion of what constitutes a “temporary use.”
“Why wouldn’t you send them to me?” Wirrig asked at the June 5 meeting of the trustees. “You don’t think those are briefing notes?”
“I didn’t know why I should send them — you didn’t ask for them,” Zopf replied.
Wirrig went on to say that the unapproved minutes had been read aloud at the May 3 hearing without him having advance notice that they would be read — an action he believed could have influenced the outcome of the hearing.
“It’s deceitful and ridiculous,” he said.
Wirrig also asked that, moving forward, Township employees and members of zoning boards not use personal email addresses when conducting official business; that Zoning Commission meetings be recorded for the public to view; that the meeting’s written minutes be more thorough; and that the BZA have a written procedure concerning when a member of the board should recuse themself.
In addition, Wirrig called for Zopf’s resignation, saying: “I want him out of his position; I have zero trust in him.”
Wirrig has spoken before the trustees with concerns about the BZA in the past; as the News reported last year, he raised concerns over transparency and perceived bias at a June 2022 meeting of the trustees. According to that report, Wirrig took issue with the 2022 appointment of Amy Achor to the BZA.
According to Wirrig, Achor, a neighbor to the pavilion where he has hosted Chappelle’s summer shows since 2020, had previously complained to him about the noise coming from the shows, which Wirrig perceived as a conflict of interest.
Achor recused herself from the May 3 hearing regarding this year’s shows.
Though Wirrig was not present at the July 17 meeting of the trustees, Trustee Chair Marilan Moir thanked him for bringing forward his concerns “in the spirit of improving the zoning process.”
Responding to Wirrig’s concern about the sharing of unapproved minutes between the two zoning boards, Moir said the trustees had spoken with their legal counsel and were advised that, though meeting minutes are part of public record, “Zoning Commission minutes should never be used as a directive for the BZA.”
“Distribution [of minutes] in connection with a public hearing is something we should never let happen again,” she said, and added that the zoning boards are welcome to read approved minutes from past meetings as they are posted on the Township’s website.
Moir went on to address Wirrig’s concern about how and when a BZA member should recuse themself from a public hearing when there is a potential conflict of interest.
“Since we don’t have procedures [for recusal], the action to be taken is that the BZA must create bylaws,” she said, adding that BZA members will also receive a two-hour procedural training from the Township’s legal counsel.
In addition, Moir said that as of July 19, all Township employees, excluding Miami Township Fire-Rescue employees, will communicate with the public via email addresses hosted on the Miami Township servers. She added that, moving forward, the zoning inspector will be required to keep a file for each zoning case, filed by street address, and that both those files and business conducted via Township email will be available to the public via public records request.
With regard to Wirrig’s request that Inspector Zopf resign from his position, Moir said that Zopf had not resigned, and that the trustees were “taking a more procedural approach.”
“We’ll separate the BZA and leave [Zopf] with just his inspector duties,” she said.
According to a document Moir shared with the News and sent to Wirrig, the Township will hire a person to orchestrate BZA hearings from start to finish”; as the point of contact for the BZA, Zopf previously aided the BZA in scheduling public hearings.
“We currently have a strong candidate for the job,” the document reads. “However, the process for BZA hearing request and the procedures for granting a hearing are not sufficiently clear at this point. When we have a clear job description and clear procedures, the position will be posted.”
Regarding Wirrig’s request that Zoning Commission meetings be recorded, Moir said the trustees had decided not to move forward with the recordings, as the members of the commission are volunteers, not elected, and their meetings are not public hearings.
“Although our work in addressing these issues is not yet complete, this is what we have accomplished thus far,” Moir said.
In other Township business:
• Following an executive session, the trustees approved a position description and employment agreement for interim fire chief for six months, which will be offered to Assistant Fire Chief Dennis Powell in anticipation of the August retirement of current Fire Chief Colin Altman. Trustees reported that they would present Powell with an offer for compensation at their next regular meeting Monday, Aug. 7.
• As the News reported earlier this month, the Township has, for several decades, had a fund in its accounts earmarked for Clifton Union Cemetery, which contains $4,245.91. At the July 17 meeting, the trustees reported that those funds have now been transferred to the Clifton Union Cemetery Board of Trustees.
Trustee Chris Mucher clarified that the Township does not oversee the Clifton Union Cemetery by itself, and thus could not issue funds from that account to the cemetery. Because the Village of Clifton is bifurcated by the line between Miami and Greene townships, and thus located in both, the cemetery is overseen by a board of representatives from both townships.
“The cemetery is an independent organization,” Mucher said. “It just happens to reside in both [townships], but it is owned by the cemetery board. They have all the financial responsibility for it.”
The next regular meeting of the Miami Township Board of Trustees will be held Monday, Aug. 7, 5 p.m., in the Miami Township Fire-Rescue community meeting room.