CLEARCREEK TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WDTN) - In 2004 Howard Gray bought land off Pennyroyal Road with an understanding. He knew the property spanned two counties, two townships and was zoned two different ways. What he didn't know is that down the road his gravel driveway would land him in court. Gray told 2 NEWS On Assignment if he knew then what he knows now he would not have bought the property at 2248 Pennyroyal.
Gray's property includes six-and-a-half acres in Warren County zoned "residential" and more than two acres to the north in Montgomery County zoned "light industrial." Gray built a home in Warren County and a storage facility in Montgomery County with the understanding tenants, including himself a landscaper, could use the driveway to access what he called Pennyroyal Self Storage.
Gray said both counties gave him their blessings and originally, Clearcreek Township's zoning inspector Jeff Palmer gave the Gray family his blessing too, but years later the matter ended up in the Warren County courts.
The law director of Clearcreek Township, Jill Mead, told 2 NEWS On Assignment Palmer made a mistake. She said the Grays should not have been allowed to use their driveway which runs through the residential portion of the property for commercial purposes.
Neighbors have complained about dust and traffic that endangers children. Mead has pictures of commercial vehicles coming and going near where kids play. A judge ordered Gray to stop using the driveway for commercial purposes. The court of appeals upheld that ruling. Mead admits that doesn't leave the Gray family with option other than the expensive task of building access through a ditch or culvert.
Mead remarked, "It's unfortunate, this whole string of events is unfortunate. No one not even the courts can deny there was inherent unfairness to the Grays." Mead said, however, the Grays have been in contempt of court by conducting business as usual.
The landscape did change the week of Thanksgiving when the Grays put up a fence on the county line. The problem is Mead doesn't think the fence will meet the judge's requirements.
The Grays were also to have turned over their list of tenants so the township could contact them and make arrangements for them to get their things. Tom Fath is one of the those tenants. He heard from Gray so he pulled his boat out of Pennyroyal Self Storage after five years of renting space there. He's not sure where he'll find similar storage space this late in the season.
Mead says the Grays can file for a zoning variance but it's likely the neighbors who have complained already won't go for it. They could put up barriers along their driveway and that might satisfy the neighbors, but there's no guarantee.
For now the Grays anticipate losing $60,000 a year in rent on top of being left with a useless $300,000 storage facility.
Gray summed it up this way, "We're going to still have a mortgage on the property, still going to pay insurance on the property, and we're still going to have to pay taxes on the property that we are not allowed to access."
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