Steubenville discusses eminent domain use for growth

DISCUSSING CHANGE IN STEUBENVILLE — Ed Florak of the Jefferson County Port Authority urged City Council members Tuesday night to consider using eminent domain as a tool for economic development. -- Dave Gossett

STEUBENVILLE — Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna raised the possibility of eminent domain to acquire downtown property for economic development purposes during a lengthy City Council economic committee meeting Tuesday night.

“We have been handling people with kid gloves too much. We shouldn’t own properties and not take care of them. We are just adding blight by not enforcing the property maintenance code. People with old buildings should either fix their properties or sell them to someone who will,” Villamagna said.

He noted the city should acquire the entire 400 block of South Fourth Street from the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County south, “so we can approach developers.”

“Tear down the entire block, plant grass and put a fence around it and offer it for development. We should also look at the east side of the 300 block of South Fourth Street from Adams Street to Market Street, tear it all down and get it ready for development. The Catholic Community Center needs to be torn down. Maybe we can get a developer to build small shops on the property with a 1920s look. Developers don’t want to deal with the different property owners, so the city should step up,” continued Villamagna.

“We should approach property owners and we need to enforce the building code on all of the downtown properties. It is time to take a tough stance on some of these old properties or we are done,” remarked Villamagna.

He was supported by Ed Florak of the Jefferson County Port Authority, who said the city may want to consider the use of eminent domain powers.

“I came here 46 years ago when there was still a degree of prosperity. Over the years there has been a decline. It is time for the city to bite the bullet and use eminent domain. This town has to step forward and use muscle. Every year this situation gets worse. There are property owners holding onto property forever for themselves or their heirs. There is no knight coming in on a white horse,” said Florak.

Councilwoman Kimberly Hahn said she recently visited Wooster where the community took an entire city block and worked with a developer to demolish the existing buildings and create a new set of buildings in the same architectural style.

Villamagna used council’s economic development committee to announce a Cleveland developer has agreed to purchase the Frank & Jerry Furniture and Appliance Store on North Fourth Street.

“The developer also bought the Ribar used appliance stock. He is refurbishing Jerry Barilla’s building and will offer new appliances as well as second hand appliances. This is a good step forward for the central business district,” Villamagna said.

Barilla later told the Herald-Star that Mike Riley of Cleveland hopes to complete the purchase of the three-story building by the end of the month.

“My Riley has greater and higher plans for the building than I had. But I am very pleased and excited it will continue to be the home of an appliance business. He also has an eye on other properties in the downtown business district. He seems to be a player who wants to see Steubenville move forward,” Barilla noted.

The economic development committee also discussed the Jefferson County Land Bank and how the organization can be used in the city.

Villamagna urged Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi to send a planning office staff member to the annual auditor’s sale when properties with unpaid property taxes are auctioned.

“We need to look at obtaining properties we can put together for possible development,” said Villamagna.

During the regular meeting, council heard a second reading for an ordinance authorizing the city manager to purchase supplies for the service department for 2018.

And council members passed an emergency ordinance revising the city employee table of organization to allow the police department to hire an additional police officer.

Hahn announced volunteers are needed from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday for weeding at the city marina. “We are working hard and we will continue going at cleaning up the marina,” she said.

Hahn also announced she will be talking to students at the Franciscan University of Steubenville J.C. Williams Center Gallery at 9 p.m. today about the merits of Steubenville.

Second Ward Councilman Mike Johnson introduced legislation to establish Brady Estates as a neighborhood conservation district.

“By my count, this is the 23rd district and the largest neighborhood so far to take this step,” Johnson said.

Fifth Ward Councilman Willie Paul called for a finance committee meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 26 to discuss a series of budget workshops in October as the city prepares to work on the 2018 budget.

Mayor Domenick Mucci announced the city’s trick-or-treat hours will be 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 31.

And members of the DiCarlantonio family politely debated the Schalk family members on the merits of medical marijuana.

“I personally know people who have gone to the Cleveland Clinic for medical marijuana and have benefited from the medicinal purposes of the substance,” said Sarah DiCarlantonio.

“We need to consider the lives of our children and young people and how medical marijuana may affect them,” replied Jean Schalk.

And Louise Stubbs continued her three-year campaign to have an overgrown lot on North Fifth Street be cut down.

“The bad guys know the paths through that wilderness but the police can’t see in there. That is why there are problems back there. I would like to see the city do something about this,” Stubbs said.

Council met in an executive session following the meeting to discuss the law director’s position. Attorney Costa Mastros has filled the job on a temporary basis since former Law Director S. Gary Repella retired in March.

(Gossett can be contacted at dgossett@heraldstaronline.com.)


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