NEW PALESTINE — When the New Palestine Board of Zoning appeals rejected a plan by the owners of a popular restaurant to open an event venue in town, the owner of the business, Ron Adams, vowed he’d object.
Now, Adams has filed a lawsuit against the board after it denied the zoning change. Adams and his wife, Tamey Adams, who own Round the Corner Grill, 19 S. Bittner Road, are accusing the board of violating state law in its vote against the proposal. They also accuse one member of a conflict of interest.
The couple’s attorney, John Merlau, said the board violated the state’s Open Door Law when members wrote their votes on secret ballots and then didn’t disclose to the public how individual members voted.
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Anyone wanting to know how the board members voted had to ask for the paperwork following the meeting, a violation of the state’s transparency law, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also says a BZA member who has a relative living near the proposed venue site should have abstained from the vote.
The petition, filed earlier this month in Hancock County Circuit Court, states the decision by the board was arbitrary, capricious and constituted an abuse of discretion.
“There’s a judicial review and a complaint on a violation of the Open Door Law, and we’re really concerned about the one board member not being disqualified,” Merlau said.
The petition argues that the secret ballot made the entire action “illegal.” Merlau is asking the court to void the vote with instructions to grant the special exception in order to prevent the BZA from continuing the illegal voting practice in the future.
Members of the BZA did not return calls seeking comment, although board member Clint Bledsoe did text the Daily Reporter that he could not comment on the issue. Brandee Bastin, president of the New Palestine Town Council, said she could not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit states BZA member Chester Mosley should have been a “disqualiﬁed member” because his daughter and son-in-law live next door to the property and were the original complainants as well as the main opponents to comment at the BZA meeting.
Merlau said his clients were not treated fairly because the board refused to disqualify Mosley and appoint a substitute member as required by statute.
“Hopefully, things will get corrected,” Merlau said. “I think the court has got to be concerned with the non-disqualification.”
The Adamses have invested $110,000 in the building at 121 E. Main St. and sought to change its zoning status from “storage” to an “assembly hall.” The couple had been holding events there for some time; they were seeking to formalize a variance after the town received complaints about noise.
The vote was taken by secret ballot at the BZA meeting Oct. 21, and the board’s president, Adam Axthelm, announced the result without revealing how the individual board members voted. After that, the board adjourned the meeting, which had been attended by several people to hear the discussion.
Secret votes by governing boards are not allowed under the state’s Open Door Law. When the Daily Reporter objected, the board released the vote results the next morning. Axthelm and board members Mike Evans, Bledsoe and Mosley voted against the proposal. Kathy Hall voted in favor.