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Union Township neighbor sues Evans Landscaping owner alleging industrial park is public nuisance

Posted: 10:57 AM, Feb 20, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-20 19:48:58-05

UNION TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Hours after WCPO reported on Wednesday that Evans Landscaping owner Doug Evans was building an alleged industrial park on land that was zoned for open space and agriculture, a neighbor filed a lawsuit to stop him.

Jason Gordon, who complained for years that local officials were turning a “blind eye” to Evans’ commercial development while allowing him to enjoy tax breaks that are meant for farmers, filed a suit in Clermont County Court of Common Pleas.

“I've come to the conclusion that the only way to get my property value and driveway back is to file a formal complaint against both Doug Evans and Union Township for the misuse of the property,” Gordon said. “I'm going to ask the court system to force Union Township do the job of enforcement of their zoning regulations that they were elected or appointed to do.”

Evans' corporate attorney, Zach Peterson, and Union Township officials did not immediately return a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Gordon and his wife, Nicole, are seeking at least $75,000 in damages, plus attorney’s fees, in their suit against Evans and his holding company, Mt. Carmel Farms, LLC, which owns the property at 4370 Mt. Carmel Road. He is also suing Union Township and the township’s zoning director, Cory Wright, for allegedly violating his constitutional rights.

“Union Township and Cory Wright's inaction by failing to protect the rights of plaintiffs are arbitrary and capricious and violate plaintiffs' rights as property owners in Union Township to have uniform enforcement of its zoning regulations,” the lawsuit states.

When Gordon built a log cabin in rural Union Township in 2005, he was surrounded by woodlands and wildlife.

That changed when an elderly neighbor sold 11 acres of family farmland to Evans in 2012.

What happened next is the subject of a six-year fight involving the property owners, Clermont County and Union Township officials, the Ohio EPA and now the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Gordon claims that Evans stripped thousands of trees to build an industrial park while enjoying a tax break and zoning exemptions that are meant for working farmers.

WCPO spent six weeks investigating the Evans property at 4370 Mt. Carmel Road, including complaints that at least six commercial businesses – including a steel fabricator and an auto repair shop - have been operating inside buildings that were built to look like red barns.

“For years I have watched a pastoral old farm slowly turn into an unpermitted industrial park under the guise of agricultural use,” Gordon said.

Last month a federal judge sentenced Evans to 21 months in prison for minority contracting fraud. A jury convicted Evans in December 2018 of creating a shell company to win millions in government demolition jobs that were meant for minority and small business owners.

Evans is a high-profile figure on the East Side. He turned a high school landscaping job into a highly successful business that now employs 250. He is Newtown’s largest property owner, part owner of Ivy Hills Country Club, and owns vast acres of land under different holding companies in Hamilton and Clermont counties, including parcels that adjoin Gordon’s land.

Peterson accused Gordon of having a personal vendetta and, in a statement last week to WCPO, wrote that Evans has invested heavily in improving the land and surrounding property “for the betterment of the community as a whole.”

But the lawsuit states that Evans' new development is a “nuisance” and seeks damages for the loss of Gordon’s property value, substantial traffic and excessive noise and dust.

Gordon is also seeking an injunction to stop Evans’ alleged zoning violations and end his access to a one-lane gravel easement road across Gordon’s property that he says 200 cars and trucks now travel on each day to get to the new development.

Clermont County auditor Linda Fraley said she will likely remove the entire Current Agricultural Use Variation tax break that Evans currently has on the Mt. Carmel Road property after she viewed overhead photos provided by WCPO.