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Township tackles fighting the blight



Published: Tue, July 3, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The township was addressing most of the complaints, but sent two new violation letters because of the paper.

By ROGER G. SMITH

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

BOARDMAN -- Lou Rescineto was curious.

The zoning inspector wondered what the 14 reader responses concerning the township were about, as listed in The Vindicator's May series on blight.

Were they problems his office had been dealing with? Were they new issues that had gone undetected?

Boardman was the only Mahoning Valley community that asked to explore the newspaper's findings in more depth. In virtually every case, township records show the zoning office either knew about the situations or had acted before the series.

The list is a profile in the workings -- and sometimes the frustrations -- of government offices that are in charge of enforcing standards meant to stave off blight. The first thing to know, says Rescineto: "You can't make everybody happy immediately."

Concerns listed: Indeed, there were 13 concerns raised about properties in the township (one response didn't contain a specific complaint). Half were about issues his office already had acted upon before the newspaper series appeared.

For example, take the run-down fruit stand at Lockwood Boulevard and Shields Road, the subject of two complaints.

In March, township trustees decided something had to be done. The property owner wanted the structure to be torn down but didn't have the money.

Rescineto asked a contractor in the township, Joseph Sylvester Construction, to volunteer and knock down the stand at no charge, and the company did. The township road department hauled away the debris.

The project was six weeks in the making and the property was neat and clean by late April, yet the complaints came to the newspaper.

Others take time: The zoning office knew of other problems on the list, but some will take a lot more time, such as the abandoned gas station at Southern Boulevard and Indianola Road. An explosion and fire closed the store in October 1998.

The township has spent the past year trying to figure out how to get the spot cleaned up. Trustees recently hired an Akron law firm specializing in environmental issues because of underground gas tanks there.

No resolution is in sight.

Two new violation letters were sent because of the newspaper series.

In one case, the zoning office sent a letter to the owner of a residential home with a pickup truck that had plastic covering a broken side window. The property owner has agreed to fix the problem by next week.

Another property owner who got violation notices from the township before the series got another afterward because the cleanup wasn't complete.

Yearly complaints checked: The township zoning office checks 700 to 800 complaints a year. That means going to see a property once and checking back, sometimes twice, to make sure violations are cleaned up.

If a violation is found, the office sends property owners a letter outlining the problem and gives seven days to fix it.

Ninety percent of problems are cleaned up after the first letter, Rescineto said. A second letter giving owners five days to clean up is sent if the first one doesn't work.

"Sometimes they need a second letter to give 'em a little push," Rescineto said. "I don't want to go to court. I want to give them as many chances, within reason. You can tell if someone is blowing smoke and you can tell if they're sincere."

The frustrating part comes when complaints are lodged and a property may look bad but doesn't violate zoning code standards. People live in communities with zoning laws for a reason, Rescineto said. Residents depend on the office to enforce the legal standards and protect property values, he said.

When bad taste collides with the law, there is little any zoning officer can do, Rescineto said.

"There's some things that look bad, but it's not a zoning violation," he said. "Right or wrong, I've got to interpret the book."

rgsmith@vindy.com




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