Back in 2004, Lisa and Howard Gray bought land on Pennyroyal Road in Clearcreek Township, borrowed $300,000, built buildings on the property, and created a successful self-storage business.
Business was booming–until neighbors filed complaints about traffic on the Grays’ driveway and a Warren County judge ordered the Grays to discontinue their business.
Although Clearcreek Township Planning and Zoning Director Jeff Palmer initially approved Howard Gray’s request to construct a storage facility on his land, the Township subsequently decided that Jeff Palmer made a mistake. Howard Gray says he bought the property along Pennyroyal Road solely based on Palmer’s zoning approval.
“Everything was approved,” said Gray. “He gave us permission to use the driveway–I have it in writing.”
The Grays’ land includes six acres in Warren County, zoned “residential,” and three acres in Montgomery County, zoned “light industrial.” Based on Palmer’s advice, the Grays decided to build their home in Warren County and their self-storage facility in Montgomery County. Unfortunately for the Grays, it now appears that the zoning inspector led the family astray.
After neighbors complained to Clearcreek Township that dust and heavy traffic from the road posed a danger to their children, the Township filed suit against the Grays in 2009. With the Grays’ driveway located partially on land zoned only for “residential use,” a Warren County judge ruled that they could no longer use this driveway to access the storage facility, which was deemed a “commercial enterprise.” The judge ordered Howard Gray to build a fence, block the entrance and help all tenants remove their belongings from their storage units.
The Grays appealed the ruling, but it was upheld in an Ohio appeals court. Despite the court rulings, Howard Gray allegedly continued to use the driveway to access the self-storage business, for which he faced contempt of court charges.
In a December 21st contempt of court hearing, Howard Gray was looking at fines of $97,000–$500 for every day he continued to use the road. However, Judge James Flannery lowered the fine to $1,750 after Gray promised to give up his five-year-long legal battle and concede defeat.
Due to rivers and a steep ravine, there is absolutely no way to access the storage facility from Montgomery County, so the recent court decision has rendered his self-storage buildings completely inaccessible. Moreover, the nature of the land makes it impossible for Gray to find a buyer for the business.
“It’s landlocked,” said Gray. “I talked to the banks. We’re losing it.”
It is estimated that Lisa and Howard Gray will lose over $60,000 annually in lost tenant revenue. Additionally, they still have to pay property taxes and mortgage on their now-inaccessible storage facility worth $300,000.
Judge Flannery rejected the Grays’ request for compensation.
Images courtesy of Jim Witmer, wdtn.com, whiotv.com, daytondailynews.com.