EAST LIVERPOOL - Who knew what when regarding a proposal to build low income housing on the former Riverview Florist property dominated discussion at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.
The issue was first mentioned publicly at a meeting last week of the city's Community Improvement Corporation (CIC), when it was noted that the person who had made the proposal decided to pull out of the deal, having missed the deadline by which to complete environmental studies on the property.
At that meeting, CIC President Sam Scafide said it was "a done deal," and after the meeting, Councilman Ryan Stovall said City Council would have opposed such a measure anyway.
Tuesday, Elysian Way residents Kim and Jay Smith addressed council about the proposal, which they learned of in the news account of the CIC meeting.
Mrs. Smith said the news "concerned" them because they had chosen to locate to the city when they were searching for a new home seven years ago.
She said when she heard about this "seemingly behind-closed-doors deal" she was "very angry," saying her tax dollars went to pay for the Riverview property and would end up going to pay for the low income housing.
Referring to the environmental study, Mrs. Smith asked, "Did you ever do an economic impact study? Our police department is working its tail off. Our cops are over-run already at LaBelle and Fawcett Apartments. Did they think about our fire department, which is already overburdened?"
Smith said such housing attracts gangs and the drugs that come with them and asked who was on the committee who thought it was a good idea and when the deal was struck, noting, "No one knew anything about the deal until it fell through."
Becoming emotional, Mrs. Smith noted that the proposed location of the low income housing is around the corner from her home, she told council she has two small children and is already frightened for the children who live in the existing low income housing in the city.
Her husband offered much the same arguments, saying they made the choice to stay in the city, noting, "When everyone else was heading for the exit, we were coming in."
Mr. Smith said he had been excited about the original plans for the Riverview property, saying, "I saw some promise," but is now disappointed in the way it has ended up.
He said it was a disappointment and what he felt was a breach of trust when he read that the CIC was negotiating for low income housing when officials had promised the property would be used for industrial development.
Stovall agreed with the Smiths, presenting a list of questions he said he wants answered at the next council session regarding the housing proposal, which will be posed to city planning Director Bill Cowan, who also serves as executive director of the CIC.
Among the answers Stovall wants are when the plan for the property changed to include any type of residential housing; why the CIC believes more low/moderate income housing is needed in an area already saturated with such housing; who decided on the change and why; whether any council members were aware of the proposal and why other council members were not asked for input; and who was involved in the negotiations.
Three council members are assigned to the CIC board, and only one of those, Councilman Ray Perorazio, indicated any prior knowledge of the proposal.
Councilman Russell Dray said he overheard Cowan mention the proposal and said he felt it was "a bit underhanded" that no one else knew. He was the one who advised other council members what he had heard, according to Councilman Sherrie Curtis.
Councilman Chuck Wade, also a CIC member, said the only way he would favor housing on the property is if owner-occupied condominiums in the $150,000 to $200,000 range were to be built, saying he wasn't on council when the Riverview property was purchased but would have been opposed had he been.
Perorazio said he knew the "deal was in the works," and that he had been assured by Cowan the issue would be brought before council before any decision was made by the CIC.
Admitting he was unaware council had "lost all control of that property" when it was transferred to the CIC, Perorazio said that council, nonetheless would have to approve any sewage and water service for it.
"I don't think they meant to be underhanded or sneaky, and I don't want to discourage them from looking for ways to develop the property," Perorazio said.
Curtis said council will not cooperate in "any way, shape or form" with low income housing but said she did not believe the proposal would have been approved by the CIC, either. She said council was blindsided by the proposal and people think council is involved in a conspiracy.
Service-Safety Director Ryan Estell also weighed in on the issue, saying that, while he was not involved, if someone had come to him with a $100,000 proposal, it would be his obligation to bring that to council, much as Cowan contacted Scafide to set up a CIC meeting to discuss the issue.
"It was their obligation to take it to the full (CIC) body. They can't just ignore it. I don't feel there was any intent to go behind council's backs," he said, adding, "Negotiate is a very heavy term for what took place."