Council approves Belleview neighborhood conservation

MAKING A POINT — From left, 5th Ward Councilman Willie Paul, Law Director Costa Mastros and City Manager Jim Mavromatis discuss an ordinance formalizing the annual bulk refuse pickup schedule as proposed by 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna Tuesday evening during a City Council planning committee session. -- Paul Giannamore

STEUBENVILLE — City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the Belleview Boulevard Neighborhood Conservation District after an hour-long debate among residents that echoed a two-hour debate during Monday’s city planning commission meeting.

Residents for the district noted they had met the requirements in the city code with two-thirds of the residents of the district, which includes the eastern end of LaBelle View, signing the petition to establish the district. The districts are intended to restrict the proliferation of rental properties. Opponents said it takes away property owners’ rights, isn’t backed by data showing it improves the city and could force poorer people to live only in certain parts of the city, as well as creating a hardship for people trying to sell homes and taking away the option of renting them out.

The Belleview Boulevard district is the 25th in the city.

Belleview Boulevard resident James Hostetler and his wife, Diane, were among the leaders of the petition drive for the district. James Hostetler said it would be unfair to vote against what 67 percent of the residents want based on a law that was passed by the city in 2014. Diane Hostetler told council there are 35 rental homes in the district and said there is a downward spiral in value for homes that become rentals.

Greg Varner, a resident of Alexander Manor East, noted his neighborhood was the first neighborhood conservation district in the city and it has had a positive effect since it was established in October 2014.

“Property values are up. Realtors want the properties because they know it’s a good neighborhood and will provide a good price to the person selling the home,” he said. “It provides security for the elderly who are shut in. They feel more secure. They know their neighbors and there are not a lot of rentals in the area. It really has bonded the neighborhood. I want to state I think neighborhood conservation districts are one of the greatest things we have done as a neighborhood.”

Ed Palombizio of South Bend Boulevard, who has spoken against the district for weeks, said four council members live in neighborhood conservation districts.

“Getting you to vote against it is like bringing caged lions a bushel of carrots and cabbage and trying to make them vegetarians,” he said. To those in favor of the district, he added, “I know the story, and you have fallen for it. The city is supposed to enforce its requirements but it has set neighbors against neighbors. You are fighting with me because they are not doing their job.”

After many of the residents involved in the debate had departed the council chamber following approval of the district, Alexander Manor West resident Denise White spoke during the public forum part of the meeting.

“We see the positive things coming from it. Our neighborhood has improved. I do not personally know any ordinance that has passed in this city that has been so popular. I started to doubt myself tonight, but our signatures were our votes. We voted ‘yes,'” she said. “We still appreciate what council and the planning commission did for us.”

During a planning committee meeting before the council session, 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna asked to formalize the city’s annual bulk trash pickup with an ordinance declaring it to take place on six consecutive Fridays starting with the first Friday in April for the spring pickup, and on six consecutive Fridays starting with the last Friday in September for the fall pickup.

City Manager Jim Mavromatis asked council to consider the potential impact on the four-day-a-week work schedule for the sanitation department that is supposed to see workers reassigned to other needed jobs on Fridays, such as pothole crews or weed cutting or cleanups of trash illegally dumped in yards and lots.

Law Director Costa Mastros said he wanted to write a separate ordinance dealing with charging people for those illegal dumpsites. He cited problems with holding property owners responsible for items dumped illegally by someone else.

Councilwoman at large Kimberly Hahn asked for a task force to crack down on building code violations, and Villamagna asked Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi for a two-week concentration identifying all the building codes in and around the central business district.

Petrossi said he has sent notices of violations to properties in the district and areas north and south of it, with a number referred to court. Another batch of notices will go out in April, starting with the city hilltop neighborhoods. Arlington and Oak Grove Avenue owners of vacant properties will receive notices within the next week, with violations to go into the court system in small batches to avoid overwhelming the court system.

Petrossi said a previous attempt at a task force got bogged down on certain streets and different code enforcers could move more quickly than others on inspecting a property. Petrossi told Hahn that he would speak to a demolition contractor working in the city about moving forward quickly with removal of burned-out structures on Oak Grove Avenue and North Fourth Street.

Mastros said his office has sent out a round of letters to property owners for liens and garnishments, with those to be filed four at a time in municipal court after no one came in for a payment plan or to make arrangements. Second Ward Councilman Craig Petrella suggested property owners who cannot afford to repair properties or sell them could turn them over to the Jefferson County Land Bank.

Fifth Ward Councilman Willie Paul introduced ordinances to ratify previous college education pay bonuses for the police and fire chiefs and to amend city code regarding sick leave and hospitalization for nonunion employees.

Villamagna introduced an ordinance to vacate the eastern end of Canary Alley off Braybarton Boulevard.

Council approved Mayor Jerry Barilla’s appointment of Kelly Hernon to fill an unexpired term that ends in September on the city’s recreation board.

Council presented a resolution recognizing March as National Nutrition Month to Sister Mary O’Connor and Justice Rainbow, recognizing the Unity Garden effort on Dock Street. The garden is in its 11th year, and Rainbow said, “It does not just cultivate fruits and vegetables, but the neighborly spirit. There is no grocery store downtown. Families depend on us. If we let that spirit go, we let our community go.”