Pictured are some of the West Main Street properties affected by the city's adjudication order. (HCP file photos.)
Pictured are some of the West Main Street properties affected by the city's adjudication order. (HCP file photos.)
Attorneys for the Southern Ohio Historic Preservation Investment Group, LLC have filed an 80-page notice of appeal by adjudication order by now-former Hillsboro building inspector Anton Weissmann in Highland County Common Pleas Court.

The civil case was filed Aug. 6.

According to court documents, “the Southern Ohio Historic Preservation Investment Group, LLC hereby appeals, to the Court of Common Pleas of Highland County, Ohio, the Adjudication Order of the City of Hillsboro, Ohio Chief Building Official Anton ‘Tony’ Weissmann, which was decided on July 18, 2019.”

The case involves a number of properties currently or formerly owned by Jack Hope in uptown Hillsboro, including 125, 127, 129, 131, 133 and 135 West Main Street. The Southern Ohio Historic Preservation Investment Group entered negotiations to purchase all of these properties except 135 West Main Street in April. Court documents say that Weissmann “placed the properties … as ‘uninhabitable’ and subject to a fine and prosecution,’ and that ‘demolition of the property can occur.’”

“This Adjudication Order comes even after an inspection by an Ohio Licensed Professional Engineer, paid by the City of Hillsboro, failed to agree with … Weissmann,” the filing says. “The Appellant had hired two independent Ohio License[d] Professional Engineers and were in the process of developing plans.

“Weismann renders the Adjudication Order without a hearing or formal meeting of the parties.”

According to the factual background outlined in the filing:

• Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings “expressed an interest in purchasing” Hope’s properties. Prior to April 13, the city, “under circumstances and authority that still remain unclear, completed an inspection” of the properties. After that inspection, now-former Hillsboro safety and service director Mel McKenzie “sent an email to … Fred Beery,” who is both Hope’s attorney and the city’s law director. Hope was not contacted regarding the inspection.

• On April 12, Weissmann “reported that the properties 125-137 West Main Street, Hillsboro were ‘unsafe for human occupancy at any time from this day forward’” and did not sign the report. A professional engineer was hired by the business at 131 West Main Street, who issued a report April 13 finding “‘no noticeable structural failures’ or concerns and that all ‘issues can be corrected as basic cleanup and maintenance.’”

• On April 16 — “without a hearing” — Weissmann placed notices on 125, 127, 129, 133 and 135 West Main Street “stating that the buildings were unfit for human habitation.” Two days later, Weissmann wrote, but did not sign, “an addendum to the Hope Buildings Report in which he stated that he could wait 10 days on which to give public notice of the condition of his observations of the property.”

• On April 19, the investment group entered a contract to purchase the five addresses from Hope, and on April 29 the group filed an appeal to Weissmann’s notice. The appeal was then “rejected as the company was not the then-present owner of the property.”

• For the other address not under contract by the investment group — 135 West Main Street — the City of Hillsboro “entered into a contract with Jack Hope to take ownership of the property … in exchange for the demolition of the building” April 29. Hope filed a second written appeal April 30.

• A licensed engineer Jim Miller, of a structural engineering company from Cincinnati was hired to inspect all six addresses on West Main Street. The report, signed May 1 and filed May 7, “does not agree with the stance taken by … Weissmann” and says that “only the building located at 125-127 West Main Street, Hillsboro is currently unfit for human habitation as it requires repair to the front brick facing.” The report says “the building located at 131-133 West Main Street, Hillsboro needs only minor repairs and is currently fit for human habitation.”

• After receiving the report, Weissmann “took no action to remove the postings from the building located at 131-133 West Main Street.”

• The Southern Ohio Historic Preservation Investment Group closed on the properties May 8, and an affidavit of pending transfer was recorded May 21 by the Highland County recorder.

• On June 8, a notice for an appeals hearing set for July 17 was posted on the six addresses, and “within a few days, the notice of appeals [was] removed from the properties without additional notice being given.” The hearing was postponed and not rescheduled.

• On July 18, Weissmann issued an adjudication order on 125, 127, 129, 131, 135, 137 and 139 West Main Street, although in this filing, it is noted that 139 West Main does not exist. On July 19, “the Southern Ohio Historic Preservation Investment Group, LLC submitted all required drawings and documents to obtain permits in relation to the property located at 125, 127, 129, 131 and 133 [West] Main Street.”

• Weissmann was terminated as building inspector July 25, and his interim licenses expired July 31.

The case lists 15 claims for relief:

• The July 18 adjudication order issued by Weissmann on 125, 127, 129, 131 and 133 West Main Street “is not valid as it fails to identify the owner or owner’s authorized agent for the property address listed [and] fails to identify any owner or owner’s authorized agents.”

• The adjudication order “is in error on its face” because it says “previous conditioned reports have been provided to you the owner over the past few years,” while the investment group “has not owned the property for even a year and no prior conditioned reports have been supplied.”

• No adjudication orders were signed by the safety and service director, and on some adjudication orders, Weissmann signed both as the chief building official and as the safety and service director, signing “on one line as Anton Weissmann and the other as Tony Weissmann.”

• Each adjudication order violates Section 109.2 of the Ohio Building Code because it does not specify necessary action “to comply with the order.” The fourth claim for relief says “the description of all conditions discovered are identical for each adjudication order regardless of the property address to which the order applies.”

• The fifth claim says “the description of all conditions discovered are identical for each adjudication order and provide only the most basic detail on the problem and in some cases no detail of work required to be in compliance.”

• The “description of all conditions for … 125, 127 and 129 West Main Street” includes “roofing to be made weather tight including all flashing and chimney.” This building does not have chimneys.

• The “description of all conditions for … 125, 127, 129, 131 and 133 West Main Street” includes needed repairs or replacement to “window frames, sashes and glazing” and “glass panes and wood members falling onto the public sidewalk.” The building is not missing any windows, glass panes or wooden members, according to the seventh claim for relief.

• The adjudication order refers to a need for “roof covering of acceptable material” but “fails to state what non-usable material was used as a roofing material.”

• The order states that “external cornices needs [sic] stabilizing and securing” at 125, 127 and 129 West Main addresses, yet those addresses have “no ornamental iron or external cornices.”

• The adjudication order “must contain only factual information” but was filed on properties including 139 West Main Street, an address that does not exist.

• The order describes “internal mortars that has eroded to an almost dry stacked situation” at 125, 127, 129, 131 and 133 West Main Street, but “no information is provided in relation to how a test was conducted to determine the state of the walls’ interior, which cannot be seen with the naked eye … how mortar located inside a 16’ wall could be weathered … [or] how this situation, if existent, can be fixed.”

• The order mentions a “structural failure of load-bearing wooden beams, joists and masonry walls” at 125, 127, 129, 131 and 133 West Main Street, but does not describe “where these failures occurred” or how to repair them.

• The adjudication order is “against the manifest weight of evidence.”

• The adjudication order is “unconstitutional as it seeks to deprive the owners of property of their said property without due process.”

• The appellant has had to “expend unnecessary amounts to hire additional professional engineers and prepare additional reports … employ legal counsel … [and] to appeal the improper adjudication order.”

The filing is seeking rulings declaring the July 18 adjudication unconstitutional, illegal, arbitrary and capricious, unsupported by the evidence and unreasonable; that the order be vacated and that all signage to the contrary be removed from the property; a ruling to reverse the adjudication order; a judgment in favor of the appellant for costs, including engineering costs, witness costs, associated litigation costs, attorney fees and court costs; and any other relief “as shall be necessary, equitable and proper.”

The filing is signed by West Union attorney David “D.J.” Osborne, Jr.

For additional information, see:

https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/UPDATED-City-investor-debate-over-uptown-properties/2/20/50908 and https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/UPDATED-53-days-and-counting-Section-of-U-S-50-remains-closed-in-Hillsboro/2/20/51697.