Parking issue blocks housing project

EAST LIVERPOOL – A proposal to construct an apartment building on the corner of West Sixth and Jefferson streets hit a snag recently when the Board of Zoning Appeals denied variances needed for the project.

Petitioner John E. Richman, agent for property owner Paul A. Johnson Jr., addressed the BZA about the project, stating the housing is needed due to the hospital’s new residency program. The lot in question is just down the street from the hospital.

The plan called for about 18 units on three floors or possibly 20 on four floors, with zoning laws requiring 1.5 parking spaces per unit. Richman told the board the parking requirement was excessive and was asking for one parking space per unit.

In addition, a variance for relief of minimum rear and side yard setback distances was being sought.

Several people spoke in opposition to the plan, including Suzanne Mercer of West Sixth Street, who owns several properties nearby and has lived there 21 years.

Mercer’s opposition was based primarily on parking, which she said was at a premium in the neighborhood already, also saying the city does not need any more low-income housing which was once welcomed as a way to boost population to bring in Local Government Fund monies, which she said now have diminished.

Mercer also pointed out that the property proposed for the apartment building is unkempt and with grass only mowed a few times a year.

Her husband, John, also spoke, representing nearby Holy Trinity Parish, saying the church is opposed due to parking issues and because the property owners have not been good neighbors, with a burned building sitting unsecured and drug needles found around it.

Additionally, Mr. Mercer said his perspective from working at another hospital was that 80 percent of hospital residents are married with children and are looking for homes, not apartments.

Brian Stowers, a landlord himself, told the board Richman’s idea sounded like a good idea but with more parking added. He also said the housing should be opened up to anyone.

Stowers said setbacks are in the city code for a reason and also voiced his concern about the heating and cooling units on a building that size making noise.

Resident Mike Garner told the board he wanted to live in his home until they carry him out feet first and that his family moved to the area to bring hope, renewal and revival to the area and there are enough slumlords in town that the city does not police. He also voiced concerns about parking.

Denver Street resident Craig Stowers also was concerned about parking, which he said is always a problem in the middle of the day when he speculated 90 percent of the cars parked along Fifth, Sixth and Monroe belong to hospital employees. He said he did not think the apartment building would be pleasing to the eye.

Palissey Street resident and Community Improvement Corporation member Fred Kane supported the project, saying he would love the opportunity for the apartment building to be built in the East End and was glad someone wanted to put their own money into a new building.

Kane questioned those who said there is a shortage of parking, saying he “bet if I had a pistol I could shoot down Sixth Street right now and never hit a car.”

During discussion that followed testimony, member Brian Vaughn said it was disheartening not to have a hospital representative present to shed light on whether there is a need for the housing, saying he would have a hard time approving the request without hearing all sides.

Member Dan Painter said he can’t see turning away someone who is willing to develop a new building downtown, saying, “If we did that, Mr. Stowers would be out of business. He takes old buildings and refurbishes them. He doesn’t always sell to high income people; if he did, he wouldn’t have a business.”

Planning Director Bill Cowan recommended approving the request by Richman with a plan developed for parking, such as looking offsite for additional vehicles.

Despite Cowan’s recommendation, the board voted unanimously to deny the request.

Conversely, the board voted unanimously in favor of a request by Soaring Eagle LLC for a special exception for multi-family use in the downtown central business district that would allow development of buildings at 415-427 Market St., 104-110 W. Fifth and/or 134 E. Fourth St.

Plans call for residential housing on the upper floors of the former Brooks building with retail stores on the ground floor.

Multi-family use is allowable in the business district with a special exception approved by the BZA.

Todd Alexander spoke on behalf of the petitioner, saying the housing is not necessarily low income with plans calling for market rate housing.

Brian Stowers also spoke in opposition to this project, saying he doesn’t understand why someone would want to live in a building with 44 units, which he said would be “huge.”

Stowers said that, due to lack of trust in what people propose versus what they actually do, he thinks of it becoming another Heights Manor or Woodland Hills (both low income housing complexes in the city).

Stowers said he likes the idea but would like it better on a 10-acre site.

Speaking in the favor of the project was Councilman Sherrie Curtis, who said council and other city entities are trying to turn the city around and have invested considerable money with Better City LLC.

“We have great plans for the city, but it is one step at a time,” she said, adding that all of council has been vocal about its opposition to low income housing but this program is for working people.

Saying, “I can say we are struggling to come up with enough money to provide for our community,” Curtis asked the board to support the project.