East Palestine officials work to address vacant building issues

EAST PALESTINE — Some changes need to be made in order to attract new residents and business to East Palestine and those changes include doing something about the vacant structures that are increasing in town, Acting Mayor Alan Cohen said this week.

Cohen said he has noticed more vacant structures in residential areas especially, and hopes something can be done to correct that through changes to the zoning code.

Cohen presented council with a draft new chapter to add to the zoning code and a proposed vacant structure registration form.

“In preparing it, I have read through at least a dozen similar laws in the state already passed and in effect in other municipalities. They are becoming more the norm,” he said.

He added that the draft was for the purpose of discussion and that any suggestions, additions or corrections to it are welcome.

He also said the new chapter includes an appeal process that would modify the current appeal process to allow appeals of all zoning board decisions to council as a whole.

“I think it is obvious the village needs something like this,” he said.

The new code outlines how vacant structures should be handled, including registration fees, and establishes a vacant structure plan, maintenance standards, violations and compliance.

The registration fees would be “reasonably related” to the administrative costs of the vacant building registration process, costs incurred by the village in monitoring the site, and/or to a reasonable and minimum annual rental amount that might be derived from the vacant structure if it were occupied or under lease, the draft zoning code states.

The fee structure would also be based on the duration of the time the building has been vacant, regardless of change of ownership, and must be paid in full prior to the issuance of any building permits.

Vacant property owners would be required to submit a vacant structure plan that must be approved by the building and zoning inspector, maintain the property at all times, and maintain at least a $1 million general liability insurance coverage.

Councilman Brett Todd said that before anything could be done with Cohen’s suggested new code, the village will need to have a building and zoning inspector in place in order to enforce the code.

The village has been withoutEast Palestine of a building and zoning inspector since the resignation of John Simon earlier this year.

Zoning violations have been handled by the local police department, which issues notifications and possible citations for high weeds, grass, junk motor vehicles and other things of that nature.

The police department found 14 zoning violations in the village during the month of May, according to its monthly activity report.

Cohen and others on council agreed a building and zoning inspector would be necessary. A development committee was set for 6 p.m. June 24 to discuss the matter. The meeting is open to the public.