Union Twp. roundup: New coffee shop, DAV gives thanks, and a trustee sounds off
By Brett Milam
The Union Township Board of Trustees met on July 8 to discuss a variety of matters involving zoning, the Disabled American Veterans, and accusations of illegality and corruption.
In two public hearing cases, the township heard about a coffee shop redevelopment and a smoke shop.
Emile El-Chammas applied for development of a coffee shop at or near 884 Ohio Pike next to the State Farm office.
Cory Wright, director of planning and zoning, said it’s a challenging site “just because of the dimensions associated with that.”
He added that El-Chammas brought the project forward at this stage to determine viability.
The use will primarily be for a drive-through, with a modest co-working space above. There will be light parking in the back for workers, Wright explained.
Trustees approved the request.
In the second hearing on the smoke shop, Thair Hasan was the applicant on the redevelopment request. The shop, located at 483 Ohio Pike, would specialize in cigars.
The property used to be Miller’s Auto Service and sits next to Olive Garden.
Wright said the proposal would bring some new life to that commercial corridor, particularly given how that site has been neglected for the past few years.
Hasan plans to improve the parking and the building itself.
Scott Rogers, architect on the project, explained how they’re going to cover the concrete block on the facade of the building with thin stone.
The garage bay doors will be filled in with glass.
Trustees approved the request.
DAV thanks the trustees
Steve Smith, commander of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter #63, presented to the trustees about the chapter, as well as to thank the trustees for allowing the Chapter to use the Union Township Civic Center to host its monthly meetings.
Throughout the previous year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the DAV has had to meet at various other locations because the Civic Center was closed, such as a local church gymnasium.
“My main purpose for being here tonight is to thank you for allowing us to come back in,” he said, saying they had their first chapter meeting at the beginning of July at the Civic Center. “It’s a lot more convenient, it’s a great facility, it’s very convenient for our members.”
Smith noted that the DAV #63 also serves Brown County residents since the county doesn’t have its own designated chapter.
He recounted the history of DAV, such as Cincinnati Judge Robert Marx, who served in the first World War, returned and created the DAV. Last year marked the 100-year anniversary of the organization.
“We are having a banner year. We are reaching out more and more to disabled veterans,” he said.
At times, Smith said the DAV can step in and help “fill the gap” when the United States Department of Veterans Affairs is unable to.
One of the programs the DAV has spearheaded is the Boot Brigade to combat the more than 500-some veterans who are considered homeless in the Cincinnati region. The DAV donates food, clothing, Kroger cards, and under the Boot Brigade program, winter boots to the homeless veterans.
“What we do is extremely important,” Smith said.
Anyone would who like to support the program by donations of gently used or new winter boots can contact John Plahovinsak, Chapter #63 adjutant, at email@example.com.
Stronger door-to-door solicitations regulations considered
In a continuation of discussions from the June meeting, the trustees again held off on officially codifying new regulations on door-to-door solicitation and sales pitches.
The language of the draft proposal would be to charge solicitors a $150 fee and for them to be processed by the police department.
When the original resolution regarding door-to-door solicitation was passed, there was a $25 fee to register and to show an ID.
In addition to an increased fee, the new regulation would also require a more extensive background check and details on the would-be solicitor, and curtail hours, not allowing solicitation from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. or Saturdays and Sundays or legal holidays.
There are exceptions to the regulations, like an individual who isn’t necessarily selling something, such as those affiliated with a religious group. Farmers markets, newspaper delivery, school kids selling Girl Scouts cookies and such, would also be exceptions.
Political groups, under the First Amendment, are an additional exception.
Michael Logue, trustee, said one way to look at the issue is that the fee represents a consumption fee, keeping taxes low and bringing revenue in.
“I feel it protects the property rights that residents already have,” Logue added.
John McGraw, trustee, said his experience with solicitors is that “most people don’t like them,” and would prefer more regulation to make it harder for them to do that.
Robert McGee, trustee, said he thinks all the trustees are in agreement that someone coming door-to-door banging on the door can be obnoxious and bothersome.
“We’ve had many people request us that we do something about it,” he said.
Resident proposes giving ARP money back to taxpayers
The trustees held a public hearing for its 2022 tax budget, a statutory requirement each year before submitting the budget to the Clermont County Auditor.
Glenn Rudolph, resident, spoke during the public hearing, saying between the aforementioned police and fire tax levies of 2020 and the revaluation of real property values, Union Township residents have “stepped up.”
Rudolph also talked about the American Rescue Plan, signed in March, noting that the township would be receiving $5 million under the Plan distributed in two disbursements into 2022.
“From my perspective, that’s a windfall. It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t in the budget. Nobody expected to receive it and that money should go back to the property owners,” he said.
The other benefit of rebating it back to taxpayers, Rudolph said, is that it prevents the money being spent by the township. He worries about “budget creep.”
In other news items from the meeting …
Scott Gaviliga, police chief, said the police-worn body cameras are officially up and running. He said he’s pleased with the product and thinks it’s going “really well.”
According to OhioCheckBook.com, the township paid $15,888 to Axon Enterprises, Inc. for the body cameras on Feb. 24. Money for the body cameras stem from the November 2020 General Election, where voters approved a 2.0-mill levy for the police department (as well as a separate one for the fire department).
Ken Geis, township administrator, said the township is under contract with the old Frisch’s and car wash in Mount Carmel.
He explained that the township started the process long ago as a continuing project to address rundown, blighted spots in that area.
McGraw ‘tired of’ insinuations of illegality and unethical behavior
During trustee comments, McGraw brought up public participation, re-addressing a point made at the prior meeting two residents made about the way Logue was accosted by another resident.
McGraw said his approach to public participation is to allow residents to have ample time to have their say.
“We’re all elected officials, we signed up for this, and sometimes the questions are hard, and sometimes they’re uncomfortable, hard and we don’t like the way people present them. It’s happened to me many times, I don’t think it’s our position as a Board to cover for each other,” he said, adding that it would be different if he had an answer to a question that another trustee didn’t have.
However, he did apologize to Logue, if Logue felt slighted that he didn’t intervene, and added that they could always re-examine whether they need ground rules for public participation.
He also took issue with insinuations that have floated out on social media and elsewhere that the township, or McGraw himself, has seen or engaged in illegal and/or unethical behavior.
McGraw re-litigated campaign literature — that he had with him — that he said Logue disseminated when running for former trustee Matthew Beamer’s seat, which carried such insinuations. He zeroed in on the insinuation that joint economic development districts, known as JEDDs, are illegal or unethical.
“So, I’m basically just laying it out here that I’m tired of people saying somehow there’s something illegal or unethical going on, and I just want to address that that’s not the case,” he said.
Logue responded that first, he doesn’t need an apology regarding public participation because residents are allowed to speak. Secondly, he cautioned bringing up campaign materials during the “public time” of the trustees.
“I understand your sharing a grievance of that. I’m here to serve the people and be a servant leader and do the business of the township,” he said.