Discrimination complaints near settlement

RESOLUTION — Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna, right, presents a resolution designating April as Fair Housing Month to John Barnes and Mattie Patterson. The two have served on Steubenville’s Fair Housing Commission for more than four decades. --- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — The city is preparing to settle complaints that its neighborhood conservation districts discriminate against minorities.

At Tuesday’s meeting, 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna introduced emergency legislation directing City Manager Jim Mavromatis to execute a pair of conciliation agreements with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. If approved, the agreements would end more than two years of legal wrangling over the impact NCDs have had on minorities.

The conservation district ordinance, adopted in 2014, was intended to “preserve the attractiveness, desirability and character” of residential areas by barring property owners from turning any more single-family homes into rental units, and requiring existing rentals to register.

To be designated a neighborhood conservation district, at least two-thirds of the property owners in the target area had to sign off, and every property owner in the zone had to receive and initial a fact sheet detailing his or her rights and responsibilities. Rental properties existing before a district was established were grandfathered in, as long as the owners remembered to renew their rental registry.

In October 2019, however, OCRC decided non-whites had been largely relegated to poorer areas not designated as neighborhood conservation districts since the ordinance took effect, creating a “disproportionately adverse effect based on the race of its residents.”

Council members declined to discuss the proposed settlement, nor did Law Director Costa Mastros respond to a request for comment.

During the meeting, however, Mastros told council the proposed legislation would have to be referred to the planning commission for its recommendation.

Normally, Mastros said the planning commission would have a full 60 days to issue its findings, but he asked council to “shorten the time the time (they) have to consider this from 60 days to 30 days, just because we have to move on this. You all have to get an answer to OCRC.”

Mastros said council needs to be ready to act on the conciliation agreements in June.

In other business, council unanimously approved rezoning a 7.228-acre parcel on Stanton Boulevard for public and semi-public (P) uses, so Steubenville City Schools can turn into a baseball and softball complex. The property had previously been zoned community commercial (B-2).

Superintendent Melinda Young had told the planning commission earlier this week her board tentatively plans to build dugouts, a concession stand, restrooms and equipment storage at the Stanton Boulevard property, “so long as all the funding is in place.” She said they hope to have an announcement within the next month.

Villamagna, meanwhile, also sunshined legislation declaring properties at 1317 and 1319 Wellesley Ave., 100 Harding Ave., 841 Lincoln Ave., 1228 Tweed Ave. and 624 N. Fifth St. to be unsafe and a public nuisance, and ordering their demolition.

He also introduced legislation authorizing the sale of two strips of land on University Boulevard — a 10-foot strip of land next to Super 8 as well as another small parcel on Franklin Avenue near Capri — to Franciscan University of Steubenville. In March, FUS representatives told council their board has been mulling turning Super 8 into a residence hall, but they’d need to reconfigure campus access. In addition to acquiring the parcels, FUS asked council to consider vacating Franciscan Way West.

Council designated April as Fair Housing Month, presenting a resolution of appreciation to the Steubenville Fair Housing Commission.

“I think you guys have done a heck of a job, we’ve never had any complaints about you and it’s important to note you work for free,” Villamagna said.

Fair Housing Commissioners Mattie Patterson and John Barnes, both 45-year members, were on hand to accept the resolution. Barnes pointed out that in addition to their duties within city limits, they now serve the entire county through the Jefferson County Fair Housing Center.

First Ward Councilwoman Asantewa Anyabwile told council she plans to allow anyone who wants to speak to address council members during the April 13 committee meeting to discuss changing the rules for addressing council during meetings. Anyabwile had asked council to do away with rules requiring the public to sign up by 4 p.m. the Friday prior to meetings, but the proposal was tabled indefinitely for lack of support.

Anyabwile said she wasn’t sure if she had to get council’s permission to let interested parties have their say during committee meetings, but 4th Ward Councilman Scott Dressel pointed out “all committee meetings that happen before meetings are open to the public at any time.”

Michael McIntyre, president of the Steubenville Branch of the NAACP, told council meetings with City Manager Jim Mavromatis and others “so far … have been very good, very promising. We’re very optimistic about what we may be able to do.” He and former NAACP activist Royal Mayor said they’d like to see more diversity in personnel, including supervisors.

Mayo said minorities have been passed over in the past for civil service jobs for no apparent reason, adding it’s going to take a “grow your own” program citywide to effect change.


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