Follansbee talks trees, slips, ballfields

FOLLANSBEE – One area for the city’s baseball fields, a slip along Lower Walnut Street and the removal of trees along Main Street were discussed by City Council on Monday.

After some debate, council agreed to explore the development of new baseball fields behind the Rite Aid store on state Route 2, while seeking a new business or businesses for space occupied by the city’s current ballfields.

In recent months 1st Ward Councilman Dave Secrist suggested establishing new ball fields on property east of state Route 2, where a pony league already has been created.

Secrist said the move would allow city officials to focus on marketing for economic development the land beside the Sheetz store and gas station on Route 2 and occupied by two other ballfields.

Both areas were part of 18 acres purchased by the city from Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel in 2003 for marketing it to potential businesses.

At council’s request, City Manager John DeStefano consulted an area business specializing in ballfield construction that found there was sufficient space for four ballfields behind the Rite Aid but not beside the Sheetz, as some had suggested.

Mayor David Velegol Jr. strongly opposed building new ballfields north of the Rite Aid, saying it had the most potential for development.

Following Monday’s vote, he said he was happy to reach a compromise since the designated area was limited to space behind the Rite Aid.

He and 1st Ward Councilman Vito “Skip” Cutrone said the presence of the two ballfields near Sheetz may be a deterrent to potential businesses considering that site.

But, Secrist said proceeds from the sale could go toward developing the new fields, which could make the new business more popular with residents.

The city owes about $360,000 remaining from a $1.6 million loan taken for all of the property, portions of which have been sold at auction for the development of the Sheetz and Rite Aid stores.

Previous councils planned to establish new ballfields at a proposed athletic complex on 30 acres above the former Koppers truck terminal and donated by Wheeling-Pitt, but the city has lacked the funds to clear and level the wooded site.

It isn’t clear whether about $70,000 in state grants secured for the project is still available.

In other business, council:

Authorized DeStefano to seek engineering proposals for an 80-foot slip along Lower Walnut Street affecting residences there and below it on Virginia Avenue Extension. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided about $290,000 for steel pilings to be installed along a portion of the road several years ago but he wasn’t able to convince the agency to award more for the remainder of the street. DeStefano said he will seek help from local state legislators.

Discussed the removal of two trees along sidewalks in the 800 and 900 blocks of Main Street.

Velegol said at least one of the trees was removed because a business owner complained it hindered the view of his business by passing vehicles. Velegol said it was justified because it helped a local business. But 5th Ward Councilman Tom Ludewig said the trees shouldn’t have been removed and should be replaced, possibly with smaller ones.

Third Ward Councilman Kathy Santoro agreed, noting the planting and care of trees for the city’s beautification has resulted in the National Arbor Foundation declaring it a Tree City USA for several years.

Cutrone said removing the trees sets a bad precedent, with the city obligated to remove others at business’ or residents’ request.

Secrist said the trees need to be trimmed more regularly to prevent them from becoming overgrown. Council agreed to replace the two trees with smaller ones recommended by a forester.