Residents urge Bexley to pass protest ban

A wavering Bexley City Council conceded to table a controversial ordinance to ban protesting targeted at residences after an extended debate at the Sept. 9 council meeting.

Council members, poised to vote down the ordinance in light of first amendment rights and with the belief that the standing laws exert adequate protection, met wild opposition from audience members, all in support of the legislation.

Harvey Blank, a doctor at an abortion clinic, witnessed protesters picketing in front of his Bexley residence on Broad Street in May.

"Preserving the sanctity of a home is surely important. I’m asking you to protect my freedom," Blank said.

Bexley resident Brian Wiehaus put himself in Blank’s shoes and asked, "How would I feel if I were the one targeted? If you can’t feel safe in your home in Bexley, Ohio, where can you? I think it’s safe to say that Dr. Blank does not feel safe."

City Attorney Lou Chodosh assured that in the event of a serious threat, there are laws against trespassing, menacing, stalking and disorderly conduct.

"I truly believe that if there’s ever a situation like this, you will be protected," Chodosh said. "I also understand the opposite fear – a fear of mind. If we tell people that they can’t do this, who’s next and what? It’s always a slippery slope when dealing with people’s rights."

Police Chief Larry Rinehart said the police department has responded to calls involving picketers, but hasn’t found any reason to legally remove them.

"We don’t have laws on the books that prohibit this kind of protesting," said Rinehart, whose only request is for adequate training time for officers in the event the ordinance is passed.

Mayor John Brennan said passing the ordinance invites protestors to the city who would claim the ordinance violates freedom of speech.

"My concern is in two weeks when the other side shows up," said Brennan, who pointed out that no one from the American Civil Liberties Union, or any other group opposed to the ordinance, was there.

The council also fears potential lawsuits addressing the constitutionality of the ordinance.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld similar legislation in Wisconsin, but the law’s leeway surfaces in how to appropriately enforce the ordinance.

Council plans to investigate potential language to give the police department more definite guidance in approaching protesters.

New police station

Bexley City Council members are seeking options to ensure the lowest construction cost for the proposed new Bexley Police Station.

According to design professional Dave King of Horne & King Architects, the original estimate for the project proved too low, but there are few opportunities to cut costs by scaling back the project.

"I would really like to avoid reducing the square footage," King said. "To save $1 million we’d have to do a significant adjustment – get rid of the elevator and stairs and do a serious re-evaluation of how we approach the building."

Mac Ware, the potential owner’s representative for the project agreed.

"The building is very efficient now," Ware said. "There’s not a lot of fat to trim. I think it’s important to keep in mind that the plans we developed are a result of the 10 years that we’ve talked about this."

City council members disagree on whether to request bids from contractors at this point.

Safety Director Jed Morison suggested the city move to request bids in order to break ground this fall and potentially save the added cost increase of breaking ground in the spring.

The city does possess the funds necessary to appropriate for the police station and, thus request bids from contractors, but council members want to make sure they investigate other routes before rushing into a project that will financially strain the city.

Council members will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Sept. 16 to discuss the issue further.

Capital gains

Capital University looks to the Bexley City Council to grant a zoning variance for a property located on Broad Street in order to create administrative offices for its alumni association.

The property at 2361 E. Mound St. is zoned for single-family residential use. The university asked that the city approve its use for institutional and educational purposes.

According to two representatives from the university, the house would still maintain the outer facade of a single family residential property with small signage offset from the door. The university would also landscape around the house, renovate the garage and pave the driveway.

Capital University owns the adjacent houses around the property, which are used for honors and faculty housing.

Two audience members spoke against the variance.

"The approval of this variance will create a dangerous precedent to all houses in the area and should be maintained and used as a single-family residence," Amy Lauerhass said.

Lauerhass pointed out that the university owns a dozen houses on West Mound Street outside of its original boundaries and insists the university is not a "good steward of its property."

Susan Plaisted asserted that a zoning variance is not the same as a building permit. The building needs to meet the handicap and fire requirements set forth for a business.

The Bexley City Council will hold a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 23 to continue discussion on the matter.

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