MADISON TOWNSHIP — The Madison Seminary is well-known as a popular ghost haunt, but right now it’s being haunted by something else — a zoning and fire code dispute.
One year ago, Adam Kimmell purchased the Madison Seminary on Middle Road from Tim Cassell in order to restore it to its Victorian splendor, and to run it as a haunted house.
The building — erected in 1847 as a school and eventually used as an institution for the “criminally and mentally insane” — is well known as a paranormal hot spot. Kimmell, a long-time ghost hunter, said he wanted to “help it realize its full potential as an icon.”
“I’ve heard what sounds like whistling, a woman singing and chains dragging,” he said.
“After thoroughly searching the building after these audio impressions we’ve found nothing. I definitely believe it is haunted.”
But Kimmell has faced problems getting the Madison Seminary up and running thanks to zoning concerns.
After Kimmell bought the property, the Cassell family was allowed to continue to briefly operate an LLC called Ohio Cottage Inc. there until it could be moved in July.
Kimmell said about 30 days after the nursery moved to a new location, the Madison Township fire marshal closed Madison Seminary to the public and a temporary restraining order was filed against him to assure compliance.
He said, among other things that have caused serious strain, the building had to be rezoned, despite the same activities having been documented in public record as having taken place in the building for the last decade — and “despite a systemic failure to address the issue” prior to his purchase in September of 2016.
Madison Township Trustee Ken Gauntner said Kimmell must meet with fire, occupancy and zoning standards before allowing the Madison Seminary to be used as a haunted house that charges admission.
The township and fire department had asked Kimmell to meet with various code, fire and occupancy standards by Sept. 11, and he has yet to do so, he said.
“This building has a very interesting history and we’d like to see it preserved and used, but Mr. Kimmell needs to help us make sure all the standards are met,” Gauntner said. “We’re hoping to work with him because a lot of people love the building. We need to make sure the building is safe as far as fire hazards are concerned, correctly zoned and the occupancy standards are met.”
However, Kimmell said he has endured multiple issues with the zoning committee, including misleading and contradictory conversations and lost paperwork.
Kimmell said some people he spoke with told him the Madison Seminary was zoned residential (R-1, R-2 and R-3) while others said it was zoned commercial.
Gauntner said the zoning is clear.
“The building has been zoned as an R-1 suburban-residential since 1957,” Gauntner said. “We told Kimmell the zoning on the building needed to be changed. We want to see the building preserved and used as much as he does, but it needs to be rezoned or have a conditional use clause included. Also he needs to address fire compliance issues.”
Gauntner said in August a “Historic Venues” clause was written by the zoning board of appeals designating various places in Madison Township as having historical value for use. One of the places recommended for restoration and use was the Madison Seminary.
“Mr. Kimmell was asked to get to the zoning board office and to drop off his application for a zoning change and the $400 filing fee by Sept. 11,” Gautner said. “That way it could be in place by the Oct. 12 zoning meeting and he could be doing business over the Halloween sea son. But no one ever dropped off the request until last Thursday and there was no filing fee included. At this point in time, I have no idea what he intends to do.”
Kimmell said he believes favoritism was shown to the former owners of the buildings because Cassell was an Ohio state representative.
Gauntner said there was no way “politics” was involved in the building’s zoning, or any of the other decisions.
“The former owner of the building, Mr. Cassell, hasn’t been a state rep for probably a decade now,” he said. “To me, the accusation that politics is involved is frankly B.S. At this point in time, I have no idea what Mr. Kimmell wants or how to help if he does not contact us and work with us.”