Village in court battle with U-Haul rental firm

by Sheldon Ocker

In a dispute whose beginnings date to 2016, Richfield Village is attempting to enforce its zoning code against the operator of a business that rents U-Haul trucks and trailers and cold storage units.

After efforts to find a solution through negotiations failed and following village council’s rejection of the company’s proposed zoning change, the village filed suit in Summit County Common Pleas Court on March 1 of this year. A trial date has been set for Oct. 5.

The defendant in the suit, known as SIM, has conducted a rental business on Brecksville Road for more than two years. The village is asking the court to force SIM to stop doing business at the location because it violates the village zoning code. An additional defendant in the case is M&D Realty Richfield, LLC, which owns the property.

According to court documents, Brian Frantz, Richfield planning and zoning director, began working with SIM owners to find a location for their rental business in 2016. After one site outside the appropriate zoning district was rejected, SIM, in April 2017, found a location at 3508 Brecksville Rd. and asked for a zoning variance to accommodate cold storage units outdoors.

The village granted a zoning change in August 2017 but only for an indoor facility. During a public hearing, the village maintains that a representative of SIM told the Planning Commission that the company would operate its business totally indoors.

In court filings, Frantz said he received a complaint that SIM was in violation of the zoning code by keeping cold storage units as well as U-Haul rental units outdoors on the property. Frantz said that neither SIM owner, John Agoston, nor his representatives made an effort to comply with the zoning code.

“They haven’t responded, so we sued for compliance,’’ Richfield Mayor Mike Wheeler said.

An effort was made to negotiate a solution. In March 2021 M&D asked for a zoning variance to allow U-Haul trailers and trucks to be rented outdoors on the property. It was eventually rejected.

SIM has continued to conduct business at the Brecksville Road property.

“We worked with them for so long, and they just wouldn’t comply with the zoning that was there,’’ said Wheeler. “We’d would love to have a U-Hall in town, but it has to be zoned for that.’’

In a court filing by SIM, the company argued that rental units are “parked’’ on the property rather than “stored,’’ and thus SIM is complying with the zoning, making a distinction between conducting business outdoors and merely using the outside space as an “accessory use’’ of the property, allowed in the zoning district.

The village disagrees, arguing “the outside of the property is akin to [a] showroom for goods and inventory,’’ which would not meet the legal definition of “accessory use.’’ ∞

Photo: Richfield Village is challenging in court the parking of U-Haul Trucks on property at 3508 Brecksville Road.