MOUNT VERNON — Deceitful and misleading is how Eriech Horvath, chief executive officer for Stone Works Partners LLC, characterizes comments city officials made about stormwater violations at the Village of Colonial Woods condominiums on Upper Gilchrist Road.
At the Aug. 12 council meeting, city officials told council members the developer's failure to pay more than $20,000 in fines is the impetus behind a proposed ordinance amending the city's stormwater regulations. The amendment allows the city to place a lien on a property owner's tax bill to collect any unpaid fees or assessments.
Horvath said there is no outstanding $20,000 fine. He also says he expects the city to be fair, consistent, and follow the laws and ordinances that are in place. He does not believe city officials have done so.
“We are very close to litigating,” he said. “They are taking my property from me. We have lost customers based upon things they have said. They have interfered with contracts.”
When condominium development started in 2007, Horvath had a memorandum of understanding with the city. He received a stormwater permit for the entire site which was good for the life of the project.
Between 2008 and 2011, development shut down due to the recession. Horvath said that when construction restarted in 2011, the city required him to get additional stormwater permits for each individual building. When construction started in 2017, he was required to get yet another stormwater permit for the entire site.
“Unfortunately, [the construction manager] started construction of the unit without a zoning permit,” he said. “Six months later, the city shut us down.”
Horvath said three things prompted the shut-down:
- No mulch for stabilization
- No zoning permit for that building
- No stormwater permit
The city fined Horvath $21,900: $20,900 for the zoning violation and $200 for the stormwater permit. The zoning violation was calculated as $100 a day from Jan. 1, 2017, to July 28, 2017.
Horvath said he was notified on Aug. 7, 2017, of the violation. On Aug. 8, he paid $100 on the zoning violation. Safety-service Director Joel Daniels waived the remaining $20,000 after Horvath showed him that the fine was not calculated according to city ordinance.
Daniels also waived the $200 stormwater fine after Horvath provided evidence that he paid for a stormwater permit. After resolving the fine, the city issued the zoning permit.
“There is no $20,000 fine in existence,” said Horvath. “This is the start of the city doing what they want to do.”
In September 2018, the city fined Stone Works $1,300 ($200 per acre) for a stormwater violation. According to Horvath, after a rain on Aug. 29, soil leaked under a silt fence and went onto a homeowner's property. The city's notice of violation to Horvath states that repairs and removal of the sediment were completed on Aug. 30.
“We cleaned it up the next day, and it never left our site,” said Horvath. “So they came and fined me for that minor event that stayed on my property and never left our property. That's when I told them 'this is wrong.' If you want to send me something appropriate, I will be happy to sit down and talk with you.”
In May 2019, Stone Works applied for a zoning permit for Building No. 2. The city has said it will not issue the zoning permit until Horvath pays the $1,300 fine. The city also said that Stone Works has to apply for a stormwater permit, even though the city has already issued two permits covering the entire site.
According to Horvath, the city is also now requiring that everything in the initial memorandum of understanding be completed before he gets the permit.
MOU requirements include widening Upper Gilchrist Road and installing a sidewalk along Upper Gilchrist from Coshocton Road to the entrance of the condominium development. However, the MOU states these improvements will be made when excavation for Phase II begins.
“We are nowhere near Phase II,” said Horvath.
Horvath said that when his attorney called city officials about the additional requirements, he was allegedly told “it doesn't matter if we can or not, we are.”
Changes regarding stormwater permits is not the only inconsistency. Horvath says the city selectively enforces stormwater violations. Multiple pictures taken during the county's parking lot improvement project on Chestnut Street show lack of silt fences to control sediment as well as sediment overflowing into the street and into the stormwater drain.
Pictures taken during the city's South Main Street/Parrot Street improvement project also show lack of silt fences and erosion control measures. Several pictures show that sediment overflowed onto the railroad tracks. Horvath questions whether the city issued any fines for those violations.
He also believes the city's stormwater ordinance lacks definitives. Pointing to language such as “up to the discretion of,” “as determined by,” and “in the opinion of,” Horvath said it is subjective rather than objective. He also pointed out that the ordinance has no appeals process.
“You can't be judge and jury,” he said. “That will not hold up in court.”
Horvath said that multiple attempts to resolve the zoning permit issue have failed.
“Every time they come up with more restrictions. [Mr. Ball] knows there is no $20,000 fine that is not being paid,” he said, adding that he has told the city if it wants to press charges, Stone Works is more than happy to defend itself.
“I just want an equitable, fair resolution and a good working relationship [with the city],” he continued. “Why am I fighting over $1,300? It's the principle of the thing. Most people would just write the check. But the problem is, it doesn't change. It's just a different thing next year.”