Activities at fair site questioned

By Deborah Guziak Record-Courier staff writer Published:

They, therefore, are allowed to continue, despite opposition from nearby residents.

Neighbors of the 80-acre property have been complaining to township trustees about problems such as dust, noise from loudspeakers, bright lights, high traffic and events at the site. Many of the neighbors said they don't mind the Portage County-Randolph Fair, but they do mind other events there, such as auto swap meets, which they claim are becoming more frequent.

About 40 residents came to a special meeting held earlier this month with Assistant Portage County Prosecutor Chad Murdock to seek a solution to their problems with the grounds. The residents also questioned whether the fair board needed permits to operate its events.

"These are uses that occurred before zoning (was established)," Murdock told the residents at the meeting. "The bottom line is that this is a done deal, and you're stuck with it."

Residents who complained of such problems as lighting, traffic and noise may find a solution in the township's nuisance ordinance, but Murdock warned them they'd better have several documented complaints.

Another concern of the residents is the intentions of the fair board, especially because the fair board sent a letter to Murdock asking for a conditional use permit for part of the fairgrounds.

Trustees and Murdock recently met with Douglas Kehres, attorney for the fair board, to discuss exactly what the fair board wanted.

Although no permit has been sought, Kehres said the fair board wants a conditional use permit to allow for parking on property that was purchased after the 1968 creation of township zoning. Because the zoning resolution existed at the time the property was purchased, it is governed by township zoning.

"We are not expanding anything into the area," Kehres said. "We would like to have a place to park."

Visitors at events other than the fair have to park on 38.38 acres of land purchased before the 1968 creation of township zoning. This land and events held on it are exempt from township zoning because it had been used for parking and the events prior to the 1968 creation of zoning.

Kehres said the fair board is willing to work out problems with its neighbors.

"Both sides have to be realistic," Kehres said. "Legitimate concerns need to be addressed." A list of events is forthcoming for the residents, Kehres added.

"We're not scheduling a hundred events," Kehres said. "There are about 12 events."

In 1991, the township filed a lawsuit against the fair board, alleging it was using the grounds to store boats, campers and other vehicles, thus utilizing the property in a commercial manner.

The Portage County Common Pleas Court decided that because the fair board had been using the grounds in the manner stated in the complaint before zoning resolutions were established, it may continue to do so.

The court also found the fair board and its lessees may continue to use the property for commercial swap meets, car auctions and other commercial events because the fair board had been using the property for many years prior to the effective date of the township zoning resolution.

Unclear in the fair board's operations was a clause that stated the grounds could be used for "commercial swap meets, car auctions and other commercial uses."

"I don't know what this covers," Murdock admitted, referring to the 'other commercial uses' phrase. "This needs to be defined."

Murdock also told the residents that unless there was an actual zoning violation, the township cannot interfere with the operations of the fair board. He also pointed out that trustees cannot police the fairgrounds in search of zoning violations, but the responsibility is the township zoning inspector's.

According to the court, 38.38 acres of land purchased before 1968 is exempt from the zoning. The other 47.76 acres, which was purchased after 1968, is not exempt from zoning. The unexempted acreage forms an "L" shape with the base of the L located at S.R. 44 and Fairground Road.

In March 1994, the township created an F-1 zoning district to cover fair operations. The F-1 district placed conditions on permitted use, including restrictions on hours of operation, security, lighting and trash. Permitted uses included the Portage County-Randolph Fair, animal shows, signage and parking.

The F-1 district also outlined uses that could be permitted conditionally. Such a permit could run for no more than three years, and the fair board would have to agree to abide by the restrictions for the permit to be issued. Restrictions included noise levels, dust, traffic and parking.

Conditionally permitted uses include home and garden shows, flea markets, civic events, arts and craft shows, antique shows or animal shows.

The F-1 district also regulated hours the grounds would be in operation.

The times of operation are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays through Thursday and

8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

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