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Critics fear stricter zoning could hurt East Palestine businesses

February 18, 2012
By KATIE SCHWENDEMAN - Staff Writer , Morning Journal News

EAST PALESTINE - Enforcing stricter commercial zoning downtown may keep businesses from moving to the village, Alan Cohen said this week.

Cohen, a village resident, was one of many to speak with council during a meeting called by Councilman Don Elzer, who is concerned about the preservation of historic downtown.

Elzer believes the current zoning allows for too much liberty with regard to changing aspects of historical buildings in ways that could detract from their historical value. He said the village's history is a marketable aspect and should remain that way.

"What prompted this was the construction of orange industrial storage buildings" in the residential area along South Market Street, he said.

"Before I had this meeting I talked to every business on Market Street and nobody wants to have their building established and have their neighboring building be an eyesore," he said.

Cohen agreed the village should be presentable, but noted that everyone has their own opinion of what constitutes an "eyesore."

"What you end up doing is telling citizens what they can't do. You want to attract businesses into town, and they won't come if it's too restricted It's not that I think it shouldn't be attractive, but how far do you want to go?" he said.

He added that within the last year around 13 village storefronts have become empty.

Village resident Rebecca Boggs also said the village's main concern should be attracting business to the area instead of "telling (them) what they can or can't do."

"I understand what you're saying but there are also businesses that will come in because you have those ordinances," Elzer said.

The area of focus for preservation is Market Street from Dairy Queen to the library and one block east and west along that route.

"I spoke with almost every business owner from DQ down to the library and almost everyone was in favor (of preserving that area)," Elzer said.

Business owner Terry Keresty said he doesn't want more "government control" but would like for downtown buildings to be maintained in some way.

Whether that maintenance would come through stricter zoning laws, building codes or general guidelines was debated.

Elzer said what he is more concerned about are unsightly changes to the design aspect of historical buildings or the construction of new unsightly buildings in historical downtown, which Planning Commission member Ron Turner said isn't necessarily covered by the zoning laws.

The laws were last revised in 1973 and anyone wanting to construct a building in the commercial area is not required to have a permit, Village Manager Gary Clark said.

At the close of the meeting Law Director Shirley Smith said if stricter zoning is to be enforced a new ordinance would need to be drafted to that effect.

"As you are revising your zoning you should look at what you have in place for the Architectural Review Board at the same time," she said.

Secretary Cindy Clark said the review board currently meets on an as-needed basis and has not held a meeting "in a long time."

Turner noted the board serves mainly in an advisory capacity and does not have the authority to "stop anything" from being designed or constructed.

Elzer said he would take everyone's suggestions on what should be included in the ordinance should they choose to go that route.



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