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Palestine OKs vacant structure measure

EAST PALESTINE — Over the past few years, village council and the planning commission have worked toward putting a vacant structure ordinance into the zoning code. Looking for ways to make improvements to the village, an easy place to look was Main Street, where there have been a plethora of empty buildings. The goal of an ordinance was to encourage property owners to keep their properties updated or make an effort to sell the property.

After close to a year of discussion and about seven meetings to iron out the details, council this week approved a vacant structure registration.

In the midst of finalizing the change, the village hired zoning inspector C.H. McCutcheon in February. Village manager Mark McTrustry and McCutcheon have spent the past few months gathering information for the program.

When the last zoning instructor left, the police department took over some of the duties, and McTrustry said one of the first goal’s was to give those responsibilities back to the current zoning inspector, McCutcheon. He is now in charge of overseeing the vacant structure program, performing building inspections and enforcing the rules on behalf of council.

Due to COVID-19 and catching McCutcheon up, the program was delayed. In August, the ordinance was reworded to change the dates of registration deadlines.

“This gave the owners an opportunity to get their registration filled out and turned in,” McTrustry said. “Along with the registration, owners are asked to submit a plan on what they are doing with their building.”

Whether it’s working toward renting their property or improving property to a usable state, the village wants to have a transparent and open line of conversation with the business owners.

McCutcheon and McTrustry have gathered information from the auditor’s website regarding vacant properties that were either already known or properties that were discovered when McCutcheon performed inspections.

In early August, McTrustry constructed a letter explaining the registration process and clearing up some confusion regarding the ordinance. A remind letter was then before the Sept. 8 deadline.

“I’ve also been looking into how some of the vacant structures are impacting our community,” McTrustry said. “Really the only way I could do that was to take a look at how the county auditor changed the evaluation of the structures. Some of them we’re relatively significant, but for some, there was very little change.”

Once the registrations are in, it will be up to McCutcheon and village employees to go out and visit each property to complete evaluation forms. The evaluation forms include important information to the safety force, including fire hazards, functioning stairwells and more.

“That information will then go to dispatch,” McTrustry said. “Heaven forbidden police or fire get called to one of these buildings, but they’ll have a lot of information up front that’s going to help their operation.”

While the ordinance is currently in effect for commercial properties only, it will take effect for residential properties in January 2021. The registration for 2021 closes at the end of January.

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