Planning officials are moved to action

STEUBENVILLE – The city planning and zoning commission agreed Monday night to apply for a $1 million brownfield grant through the Clean Ohio Assistance Fund for asbestos abatement and demolition of the former RG Steel blast furnace located in Steubenville.

The commission also agreed to advertise for a request for qualifications for an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency environmental certified agency to oversee the grant.

“The River Rail Development Corp. has already spent $1.2 million for environmental studies and remediation. They plan to clean up the site and prepare it for future development. This is an excellent use for the brownfield grant. We may look at future grants for the site,” explained Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi.

Petrossi told planning commission members the Jefferson County Regional Planning Commission already paid for the asbestos assessment through the county’s U.S. EPA Brownfield Grant Program.

“The funds must be applied for by the city but there is no expense to the city to apply for this grant,” added Petrossi.

He also said the project will create 50 jobs.

Petrossi declined to discuss publicly what the River Rail Corp. plans for the 109-acre site.

In other matters, planning commission members unanimously approved a change to building permit fees.

The increase will be forwarded to City Council for appropriate legislation.

Petrossi’s recommendation to increase fees for new construction and building renovation work was first considered at the commission’s December meeting, but a decision had been delayed until Monday night.

“Our fees are currently based on 1965 rates. So we took the annual average rate of inflation and applied it to those 1965 rates. We then took that number and reduced it by 50 percent to make it more palatable. We took that proposal to a five-member construction advisory committee and the general consensus was to proceed with the new fees. We can’t continue charging 1965 building permit fees,” said Petrossi.

Commission Chairman Bill Hendricks suggested implementing the increase over a two-to-three-year period.

But Commission member Eric Exley said he “didn’t have a problem implementing the increase now. The cost will be passed on to the customer.”

The commission members also suggested revisiting the fees in two years.

“Remember, this will not be emergency legislation. Once it is introduced it will be read at three separate meetings,” said 2nd Ward Councilman Rick Perkins.

Following a brief public hearing, the commission agreed to request legislation from City Council to reprogram unused Community Development Block Grant funds.

“We are proposing to eliminate housing rehabilitation from the CDBG funds and use the money for street improvements, clearance and demolitions and code enforcement. We are running out of demolition money, so we need to supplement it. This will not deprive our citizens of any services from our office,” cited Petrossi.

Petrossi reported a draft of the new comprehensive plan has been completed and is undergoing revisions.

And Petrossi said contracts have been awarded to three contractors for demolition projects in the city.