The Greenfield Exempted Village School District has filed a civil complaint for declaratory judgment against the Village of Greenfield in Highland County Common Pleas Court.

According to the complaint filed Jan. 13, the GEVS Board of Education “is initiating this lawsuit in response to the refusal of the Village of Greenfield to issue a variance to the Board in regard to the Board’s plan to construct a bus maintenance facility on property owned by the Board that is located in the village on the block bordered by Seventh Street, Eighth Street, North Street and McClain Avenue.”

The board is seeking “a declaratory judgment that the Board is immune from the Village’s land use-restrictions” as well as a declaration that the Board “need not comply” with Greenfield’s “zoning procedures,” as well as “any other relief to the Board that the Court deems just and equitable.”

As previously reported by Angela Shepherd, Greenfield’s Board of Zoning Appeals met in October to consider the variance request for the district’s proposed new bus garage planned for the practice field. That request was ultimately denied during a “vote only” meeting in November.

The court filing by attorney Nelson M. Reid of Bricker & Eckler LLP alleges that the village “does not have the authority to prevent the construction under the village’s zoning code or to otherwise subject the board, as an independent sovereign entity, to the village’s zoning code.”

The complaint says that the GEVS board has “made reasonable attempts to comply with the village’s land-use restrictions” but argues the board is “immune” from said restrictions due to being a “political subdivision of this state with the power to exercise eminent domain.”

As noted by Shepherd and the complaint, the Village of Greenfield approved an updated zoning code in January 2021. The complaint says that “the proposed facility would not be inconsistent with village ordinances” in effect prior to that update.

The complaint also argues the district’s need for a new bus garage, stating that the “current bus maintenance facility has become outdated and obsolete” and “does not have space for parking onsite.”

“Among other things, the proposed facility is only a few blocks from the maintenance facility that is currently utilized by the school district on the school campus,” the complaint says. “In addition, the facility would not be consistent with the surrounding area,” adding that there is semi-tractor trailer traffic in the area already.

According to Shepherd, during the Board of Zoning Appeals’ consideration of the project, GEVS superintendent Quincey Gray provided an article regarding “Brownfield immunity” that she believed applies to this situation. That is “based on a previous state court’s decision regarding municipal zoning and the state’s attempt to build in that municipality.

Reid cited that decision in the request for declaration that the school board is “immune from the Village’s land-use restrictions, and further, that it is immune from the Village’s locally prescribed zoning-approval procedures.” The complaint says that Gray “informed the BZA that while the Board was seeking the variance, the Board believed that it was immune from local zoning requirements pursuant to Brownfield.”

“Under Ohio law, the Board had no duty to comply with the locally prescribed set of procedures to obtain the approval of the local zoning agency, here, the BZA,” the complaint says. “Nonetheless, the Board made reasonable attempts to satisfy the Village’s local zoning procedures. Despite the Board’s reasonable attempts, the Village now purports to deny the Board approval to construct the facility on the property.”

The Board has also filed a motion for an “expedited case schedule.”

“Speedy relief is necessary to preserve the rights of the board,” the motion says. “The Board needs the aforementioned declarations so that the Board may proceed with a construction project on property owned by the Board, which involves upgrading practice fields for the football team and band, constructing related buildings for football and band and constructing a bus maintenance facility.

“If the Board is not able to commence the project by late February, that will likely impact the ability of the fields to be ready for the start of football and band practices.”