A request to annex a small parcel of property where a controversial billboard is located sparked a heated exchange between two city council members.
The exchange came during a public hearing Monday night on the request from Jeff Wilson, Wilson & Company Properties, for voluntary annexation of a 1.23-acre parcel at 4832 South Point Road. The property is adjacent to the eastbound Highway 100 lanes, just east of South Point Road/East Fifth Street.
There were mixed views among council members who voted 4-to-3 to reject a motion to enter a recommendation from the city planning and zoning commission into the minutes.
This is Wilson’s third attempt to get the property annexed. He became embroiled in a dispute with both Franklin County and the city over the digital billboard he erected on the site because he failed to obtain a permit from the county and because the billboard does not meet county or city setback requirements.
A brouhaha erupted between Councilman Tim Brinker and Councilwoman Connie Groff after Groff questioned whether Wilson had satisfied conditions set by the county in exchange for dismissing four misdemeanor charges against him.
Those conditions, she said, were that Wilson was to pay the county’s legal fees incurred in the case, obtain permits for the site and have the property annexed by the city.
Groff said she had asked County Commissioner Terry Wilson Monday about the status of the agreement and “as of 4 o’clock today,” the fees were not paid and no permits were issued.
Groff made a motion to table the hearing until Wilson presents a letter from the county indicating that he had satisfied the judgment.
Brinker accused Groff of having a personal vendetta against Wilson over the issue. He said her judgment was “clouded” by having a family member at the county level. Groff’s daughter, Scottie Eagan, is the county’s senior planner.
Groff in turn argued that Brinker may have a conflict of interest since he advertises his business on the billboard and advertised on it when he was running for council.
“That could go for election yard signs as well,” Brinker shot back.
“I just want proof that he satisfied the judgment,” Groff said.
“It’s a personal agenda,” Brinker said.
Brinker said he supports annexing the property “for the betterment of the city,” and said he trusts the recommendation of the planning commission which endorsed annexation. He said the city is not annexing the sign but the property which otherwise will be an “island” surrounded by the city.
Councilman Walt Meyer weighed in, saying that he felt the council would be setting a bad precedent because “he (Wilson) went against everything.”
Groff said she wanted consistency and “not bend the rules for one person.”
City Counselor Mark Piontek noted that nothing can happen for 15 days, which is the time set aside by law for public input before final action.
Piontek asked Groff to withdraw her motion and said that in the meantime he would contact the county prosecutor’s office and inquire about the judgment. He said the misdemeanor violations were dismissed against Wilson but that he wasn’t aware of any other court judgment.
Piontek was puzzled by the council vote to not enter the plan board’s recommendation into the meeting minutes.
“I don’t understand why you would not accept the letter. You’re not approving the recommendation, it’s just an administrative action,” Piontek said. “But that’s the vote you took.”
Piontek said the council would need to take another vote on accepting the letter in September when the matter comes back before them.
Groff, Meyer, Carolyn Witt and Mark Hidritch voted against the motion accepting the letter. Brinker, Joe Holdmeier and Steve Sullentrup voted yes.
During the June plan board meeting, it was pointed out that since Wilson’s last attempt at annexation in 2010, the city has proposed a larger annexation plan for several adjacent areas and Wilson’s property is in one of those areas.
Both the billboard and a house on the property would be nonconforming uses if annexation is approved. However, none of the billboards in the city comply with city codes, it has been pointed out.