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TIPTON — A man is being sued by Tipton County officials who claim his business property is being unlawfully used as a place for “sexual encounters.”

The Tipton Board of Commissioners, Health Department and Board of Zoning Appeals filed earlier this month an amended civil complaint to abate a nuisance and for Tipton County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Lett to issue a preliminary injunction against Robert Melby. Officials allege Melby’s property at 920 W. 350 North, Sharpsville, near Indiana 19 in rural northern Tipton County, is sometimes being illegally used as an overnight rental space, is discharging wastewater without the proper permit and is being advertised as a place for people to have sexual encounters.

The property in question, the former Souls Harbor Worship Center, was granted a use variance in August by the BZA to be used as an event center and wedding venue in an agriculture zone. The applicant at the August BZA meeting for the use variance was not Melby but instead was a third party.

Property records show that Melby purchased the property last October. The property was periodically being used as a church but was for sale at the time.

According to the complaint, the adjacent Heartland Church observed on or about March 26 more than 40 parked vehicles, some of which were parked on the church’s property.

Additionally, the Tipton County Sheriff’s Department has collected social media posts that indicate the building is being used for monthly, if not more frequent, gatherings and some overnight rental rooms with food being offered, as well as alcohol.

The sheriff’s department has also, according to the complaint, seen social media posts suggesting the building is being advertised as a place for “sexual encounters,” which is against the county’s zoning ordinance unless the property owner obtains the necessary permits.

According to the complaint, the building’s septic system has never been properly inspected or permitted to discharge effluent and/or gray water, i.e. wastewater, and that such discharge “is causing irreparable harm to the surrounding property owners.” The Health Department verbally advised Melby of potential health violations and followed up April 13 with a written notice, according to the complaint.

The county is requesting the court to order Melby to stop the discharge of wastewater pending proper permits, issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting Melby from hosting any events pending proper inspection and permits, not allow Melby to operate a sexually-oriented business and impose a fine of $2,500 per day for the continued violation of Health Department and county zoning ordinances.

Melby has not formally filed an answer to the complaint, according to the court docket. An email sent late last month to his attorney seeking comment on the lawsuit was not returned.

Tyler Juranovich can be reached at 765-454-8577, by email at tyler.juranovich@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @tylerjuranovich.

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