Commercial buildings remain a concern

EAST LIVERPOOL — City council’s licensing and economic development committee discussed this week the matter of deteriorating vacant commercial buildings, with Chairman John Mercer saying not enough attention has been paid to the issue.

Mercer said he is looking at legislation from other communities to see how they address the problem.

“It’s such a shame we’ve let buildings sit 30 or 40 years,” Mercer said. “We spend so much time talking about rentals and no time talking about commercial buildings. We just let them fall apart.”

Committee member Brian Kerr agreed, saying, “Once they deteriorate to a certain degree, it’s almost impossible to repair them.”

Member Scott Barrett pointed out, however, that the state “ties our hands so much” trying to bring such buildings up to code.

From the audience, Denver Street resident Craig Stowers, a former council member, pointed out that legislation was passed three years ago giving the fire chief jurisdiction over inspecting commercial buildings but that nothing has been done.

“He’s fully staffed now and they have done zero. He probably hasn’t done one inspection. They were so concerned about safety, and have done nothing,” Stowers complained.

Fire Chief Bill Jones was contacted after the meeting in regard to Stowers’ remarks, and he agreed that such legislation was, indeed, passed, and that he has not had the time to implement it, but disagreed with Stowers’ assessments about his department and why the inspections have not been done.

“We are not fully staffed. For us to be fully staffed, we would have 30 firefighters, one chief and one inspector. If I could clone myself, I’d be more than glad to take on another job,” Jones said.

The department currently has 12 firefighters, the chief and no inspector, as well as the personnel who serve on the newly-implemented co-op ambulance service.

Jones said, “I’d love to be able to get to (the inspection program), but we’re not fully staffed and the guys are a young department. They’re training and getting acclimated to the job. Their time is full doing that.”

He pointed out he has been working to get the ambulance service up and running and said, “That has not left me a lot of time for commercial buildings. If we get a new zoning inspector, I’d like to work a lot with him or her on that ordinance, or if we get a fire inspector, that would help me a great deal.”

Mercer emphasized, “There is difference between safety issues and cosmetic issues. We have to make it difficult for people to let them just sit. We want them to be both safe and attractive.”

Stowers questioned why “the guy who owns all the buildings downtown” does not take care of them, with Mercer replying, “My assumption is they think the city has no means to do anything about it.”

Housing inspector Kayla Crowl said she was advised by county Land Bank officials that there is a move by all state land bank organizations to push the governor toward getting rid of commercial as well as residential buildings.

In a related issue, Mercer said he has had conversations with a Pittsburgh developer interested in renovating the Thompson building located at the center of Devon’s Diamond.

The building is currently in the hands of the Land Bank, with the city’s CIC having indicated an interest in having it turned over to that organization for possible development.

Part of that plan could mean its demolition, which Mercer opposes, and he has expressed his desire to try and save that and other downtown buildings when possible.

He said a tour of the building is being planned with the developer.

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