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Couple claims P&Z discrimination

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By Jonna Spelbring Priester

General Manager

A New Castle couple recently charged with violating a Henry County Planning and Zoning ordinance now is circulating a petition for the removal of the agency’s enforcement officer.

Bob and Ann Cook, who live on Scobie Lane, claim Greg Derossett is discriminating against them because they are disabled.

Bob Cook said Monday their disabilities stem from a 2005 accident on Shelbyville Road in which they were hit both from the side and head on.

Additionally, Ann Cook suffered injuries from a horse riding accident, but in a phone call Monday, Cook did not give a date for the accident.

Cook cut that telephone interview short Monday saying that he was “talking with people.” Tuesday, Cook provided the Local with a statement, but refused to answer any further questions about the situation, unless the questions were submitted in writing.

The statement, he said, had been reviewed and okayed by his attorneys, who he refused to name. He said only that one was an attorney “here in town,” and two were “ADAs.”

In the statement, the Cooks reiterate their claim that when they purchased their property, one of the provisions “was that we be allowed to live on the property in our park model trailer while building. That provision was added to our deed restrictions at the time of purchase of the property. The restriction was prepared by the law firm that represents Henry County Planning and Zoning.”

In the statement, the Cooks write that “after spending over $116,000 for the property and building materials we have been charged by Greg Derossett of Henry County Planning and Zoning with the crime of living in our park model trailer on our property while overseeing the building of our geothermal, wind and solar powered log home.”

In a conversation with the Local in September, Bob Cook said construction of their Scobie Lane house was delayed in 2007 because of Ann Cook’s accident.

Cook said the couple started on the house in 2008, and have material for building the home on site. But, he said, the contractor they paid “did half the work, skipped out with the money.”

He also said in September that construction of the home also has been delayed by rain and wind.

Cook told the Local at that time that he estimates he needs eight months to finish the home. At the time he contacted the Local, Cook said work had been done in the early part of September on sewer lines. “Geothermal requires a lot of planning,” he said, in explanation. He added that the couple planned to have an energy star house, and that it would be “probably the first one in Henry County.”

He also said he had to dig the foundation three times.

Also at the time, Cook said that when they purchased their property, they had an exception to their deed restrictions, that would allow them to “live in a trailer for one year.”

He said, in September, he was seeking a variance, but that he had not yet applied for anything that would enable the couple, and their family, to continue living in their “Park Model” trailer.

Cook is incensed that he has been cited for violating the county’s ordinance. “All we’re after is more time,” he said. “Everything is paid for.”

In the statement provided on Tuesday, the Cooks also state that they are being discriminated against because they are disabled.

They also state that Derossett has been provided with receipts for building supplies, but “Derossett has stated that we are not building a house.”

In September, Cook said that he can’t afford a new contractor to finish the work, and as such has to complete it himself with help from friends and neighbors. In their statement, the Cooks refer to the use of subcontractors.

According to deed records, the Cooks purchased their property in two parcels. The first parcel, tract No. 3 of the Bruner-Morse Farm Minor Subdivision, was purchased on Nov. 9, 2006, for $42,500, and contains 5.4 acres. The second parcel, tract No. 2 of the same subdivision and containing 5.1 acres, was purchased on June 17, 2008.

But there also are deed restrictions associated with the property, and those were filed Sept. 19, 2005.

Those restrictions specifically state that, among other things, “no tent, camper, school bus, or recreational vehicles shall be used as a residence, either temporary or permanent. Campers and tents may be used for recreational purposes only and must be set back a minimum of 50 feet from the center of the existing road.”

After questioning, Cook said the exception that would have allowed them to live in their camper while building their home was good for one year, but later said the exception was never filed. He also said that they did not contact the attorney who drew up the deed to find out why that exception wasn’t filed.

Planning and Zoning records show that the Cooks applied for a building permit in 2008 for a two bedroom single family dwelling from a kit with an estimated value of $24,000. Building permits are valid for one year, and there is no record for a new permit.

The file also shows that the Cooks applied for a permit on July 22, 2008, to build a carport, which was later constructed. They also applied for a permit to build a storage building on the same date they bought the property in 2006. That building also was completed.

Also in the records are letters from Derossett to the Cooks dating back to Dec. 10, 2007.

The first letter references a complaint about a recreational vehicle being used as a residence on the property. The letter stated the situation needed to be resolved by Jan. 3, 2008.

Three days later, Derossett sent another letter, giving the Cooks an extension because of “unusual circumstances,” and gave an “absolute deadline” for a solution to the issue of May 1, 2008.

“This office will allow them to stay in this camper while they are building their home, this time frame will be for no more than four days a week while their home is under construction.”

In a third letter, dated March 28, 2008, Derossett offered an extension to the couple to continue living in the camper, because of Ann Cook’s injuries and “revisions to the floor plan on the home to be built.” That extension was valid until July 31, 2008.

On April 14, Derossett sent a final letter, stating that building must be started within 30 days.

“If significant progress on your home has not been made at this point, you will be required to discontinue the use of the camper as your primary residence on the property,” the letter states. “Significant progress is defined as footers poured and walls started. There will be no extensions past this date as to the use of the camper as a residence. If these conditions are not met, this matter will be referred to the Henry County Attorney for prosecution.”

And on June 16, Henry County Attorney Virginia Harrod sent a letter to James N. Martin, of Dinsmore and Shohl, stating that she had been contacted by Planning and Zoning regarding “your client’s failure to comply with Ordinance 1591, section 16, stating that it is unlawful to use a recreational vehicle as a residence.

“The Planning and Zoning office has tried to work with your client, but they still remain to live in this recreational vehicle with no forwarding improvement to the construction of their home. Please contact my office or have your clients take care of this matter within ten days from the date of this letter.”

On Sept. 30, the Cooks were charged with failing to comply with the ordinance.

In a letter to the editor, Cook states “there are at least 40 other people in the county” living in recreational vehicles as their homes.”

Henry County Judge Exeucitve John Logan Brent said that isn’t entirely accurate. “There are people that have hunting campers,” he said, “but they’re not permanently living in them to my knowledge.”

Derossett said some county residents, do live in campers in Laker Jericho — where doing so is permitted.

Hunting campers do not count, he said, because they are not full time residences.

In the statement issued Tuesday, the Cooks say that because “no action has been taken on the part of Henry County Goverment to resolve the issues of Mr. Derossett’s discriminatory actions ... we decided to distribute a petition for his removal. We have yet to hear from Judge John Logan Brent or any of the magistrates regarding this matter even though we have spoken with various county employees.”

Brent said that he has not received a direct complaint from the Cooks about Derossett. He said that if they believe they’ve been discriminated against, Kentucky law has a specific process.

“KRS calls for a process if somebody has a complaint against the Planning and Zoning enforcement officer, and that is to go before the Board of Adjustments and plead your case with them,” he said. “Never has that been done.”

“That is their due process, to go before the Board of Adjustments,” he said.

Brent said last week Derossett has done his job. “The facts are ... (the Cooks) are in violation of our ordinance,” he said. “They’re in violation of their deed restrictions ... that they were made aware of when they purchased the property.”

E-mail us about this article at editor@hclocal.com.