Ruling on TJX injunction Friday

Brett Dickson of Lordstown, left, answers questions asked by plaintiff's lawyer attorney David Nichol, right, during testimony in a TJX hearing Tuesday morning before Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Peter Kontos. Photo .by R. Michael Semple

WARREN — A ruling on whether to allow a permanent injunction on the law that allowed Lordstown to vote on the zone changes needed to allow TJX Companies Inc. to build a HomeGoods distribution center is expected to be decided Friday, according to Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Peter Kontos.

Kontos will determine whether to issue the injunction based on approximately three-and-a-half hours of testimony presented Tuesday.

Attorney David S. Nichols, representing Lordstown Concerned Residents, argued that two sections of HB 292 were unconstitutional because they violated the state’s one-subject rule and its uniformity law.

Zone change opponents also argued property owners surrounding the proposed center would be irreparably harmed because of lost property value, possible flooding on their properties and increased traffic and noise problems if the project is allowed to move forward.

Attorneys representing the village and the state of Ohio argued the zone change critics failed to submit a court challenge in time because it should have been filed immediately after village council voted 3-2 in favor of the zone changes in June.

“Instead, they waited until after they lost the referendum vote,” attorney Matthew Ries, representing the village, said. “The referendum was their remedy and they lost.”

Approximately 76 percent of the voters participating in an Aug. 21 special election voted to uphold village council’s previous decision to change the zoning.

Three members of Lordstown Concerned Citizens, which is seeking a permanent injunction against the implementation of the zone changes, outlined their concerns about the project during court testimony.

Brett Dickson, a leader of Lordstown Concerned Residents, testified he went to all of the public meetings about the project. Dickson and other critics presented four alternative sites that are already zoned industrial and met all of the qualifications for the distribution center.

When they questioned why the residential property has remained the primary target for acquisition, Dickson said they have not been given answers.

“No one is against TJX,” Dickson said. “The issue is zoning, not jobs.”

Dickson said the distribution center is being placed in the most highly dense area for residential homes in the village. There are approximately 400 homes in this area of the village.

“I feel rezoning the 290 acres is a betrayal,” Dickson said. “I would not have purchased my home if I knew zoning near it would be zone industrial. We researched the area around the property before we purchased out home.”

Dickson said his home is approximately 1,000 feet from the proposed TJX property. He is concerned about water runoff into his home’s basement.

After objections from both Ries and attorney Nicole M. Koppitch, representing the state, Kontos said Dickson was not an expert witness on how water runoff from the proposed 1.2-million-square-foot distribution facility and adjacent parking lots would affect his property.

William Decesare, 2771 Hallock Young Road, said he is not sure what he will do if the distribution center is built next to his 1.8-acre property. Decesare said his property is about 50 feet from the proposed distribution center’s property line.

“When you bought your property, no one told you that the property would not be rezoned,” Ries questioned.

“No,” Decesare said.

Ries questioned whether he knew that a proposed buffer zone may be placed next to his property.

“I have not seen anything in writing,” Decesare said.

Martin Jones said his 1.8-acre property is between 200 and 300 feet from TJX’s property line. Jones and his wife, Karen, a village council member, purchased their property in 1985 and moved into their home in 1987.

Over the years, they have done approximately $75,000 worth of improvements on the house, including $15,000 on a deck.

Jones said he expected to have significant loss of wildlife around their properties. Jones previously lived next to companies with significant truck traffic and expects significant noise coming from the HomeGoods facility, which is expected to have 1,000 truck bays.

“There will be noise from the truck hitching and unhitching from the trailers and the smell from the diesel engines,” Jones said.

Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill, an active proponent of the project, testified he has not read HB 292, so he does not know the financial impact of it on a statewide basis.

However, he later added the project would add significant income tax and property tax dollars to the village and the school district.

Hill said he did not have anything to do with the preparation of sections 12 and 16 of the legislation.

The mayor described first hearing about a company looking to purchase property in the village in the summer of 2017 from representatives of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber. Later in the fall of 2017, he heard the unnamed company was looking at several properties in the village.

Hill said he was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement in January, because the unnamed company was preparing to announce its intentions to purchase properties.

It was around this period that it was learned the company also was looking at property owned by DBR LLC., which is a limited liability company, which involves family members of Councilman Ron Radtka.

Radtka, who also is selling some of his property to HomeGoods, did not participate in the council vote that approved the zone changes.