County Plan Commission denies Unger Mountain zoning requests

By Emma Rausch

The Wabash County Plan Commission denied three Unger Mountain zoning requests Thursday night, Sept. 7.

Unger Mountain, a 55-foot climbing wall, was built in 2016 on Sean and Natalie Unger’s property in the residential subdivision, Legacy Ridge Estates, and was intended for commercial use. The wall opened to the public in November with a grand opening scheduled for April 1, 2017, according to the Unger Mountain Facebook page.

The wall was built before it received zoning permission and permits from the commission, according to Mike Howard, Wabash County Plan Commission director.

On Aug. 3, the Ungers, represented by attorneys Mark Guenin and Doug Lehman, appeared before the commission to contend that the wall should be granted zoning permissions and presented three requests for the commission to consider.

“Basically, there were three things that (Unger Mountain officials) had requested,” Howard told The Paper of Wabash County. “They had requested a partial vacate of the plat of Legacy Ridge Estates and that was denied. (The second was) whether to vacate certain restrictive covenants of Legacy Ridge Estates. They were requesting certain covenants to be vacated or changed and that was denied. And they were requesting a replat of Legacy Ridge Estates and that was denied.”

When the plat was recorded in Legacy Ridge Estates in 1989, it had restrictive covenants, or a list of conditions, in place with one being “no lot shall be used except for residential purposes,” according to Pat Hess, an attorney for Michael Wendt who opposed the plan at the Aug. 3 meeting.

However, the property could have been replatted to circumvent the covenant.

“Basically, Legacy Ridge is three lots right now and to replat it in the way that they were doing —they were taking one of the lots and splitting it and creating a fourth lot — and when you do that you have to do what they call a replat of the subdivision,” Howard explained to The Paper. “And any replat of any subdivision in the county requires (the Wabash County Plan Commission’s) approval before it can ever be recorded and unfortunately this was not done in this case.”

The decision to deny the three requests was not made easily, Howard continued.

“We took all of the information that was basically either presented verbally or in writing by Mr. Lehman and Mr. Guenin and the Ungers, we reviewed it all and we just made a determination of whether it was compliant with what we thought our ordinance states as policy,” he said, later adding, “This decision, to me, was very difficult because I know the families. I think all the board knows the families and I think we’ve taken a lot of criticism, as far as a board, that we don’t want a climbing wall in the county and that’s not true at all.

“It’s just the manner in which this was done that was not legal, and if we were to pass something like this and approve it, it would open up a can of worms that nobody would want. Can you imagine if everybody in the county coming in and saying, ‘Well I own this lot in a subdivision. I’m just going to sell part of it.’ No. It’s just nuts.”

However, there is still hope for Unger Mountain.

“The (commission) board is very receptive and open to an alternate plan, which Mr. (Sean) Unger did present and we’re reviewing it,” Howard continued. “And it will be reviewed by the Board of Zoning Appeals. The alternate plan is just a relocation of the climbing wall and recreational facility that Sean would like to develop. (The new location) is just to the west of his house. That’s in consideration.”

The Ungers do have the chance to appeal the commission’s original decision, according to Howard.

“It’s my understanding that they have 30-days,” he said. “If they want to appeal, they have to appeal within 30 days. I believe that goes back to a hearing before the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals and then if the BZA was not to change the decision of the Plan Commission then they could appeal it on into the courts eventually.”

However, “the Plan Commission gave a favorable recommendation (to the alternate plan) last night (Sept. 7) for it to go to the Board of Zoning Appeals and it will appear before the Board of Zoning Appeals on Sept. 26,” Howard said.

Unger declined to comment, stating that he is not ready to do a full interview.

The Wabash County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting will begin at 7 p.m.

Posted on 2017 Sep 12