The aspiring business owner should have persuaded the neighbors early on, the councilman said.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Patrick Burton wants to operate a barbershop and beauty salon, just like his father before him.
He's got a building, the know-how and says he even has seven hair cutters who would join him tomorrow.
What Burton can't seem to do is convince a key group of neighbors or city council of his intentions and make his plans happen.
His odyssey through politics, city government and neighborhood issues is in its third year and likely headed for court.
Burton, 38, a mechanic at the Mahoning County Engineer's office, grew up on the East Side. His father operated a barbershop across from the family's Woodside Avenue home, which he started with one chair on the porch.
Burton envisions his own shop with six chairs for men, six for women and a dozen people working in the old Class Act Lounge building at Himrod and Loveless avenues.
Burton was surrounded by business owners while he was growing up, including family and relatives who ran other barbershops, tire shops and dry cleaners.
"It's in my blood, I guess," he said.
Obtained building in '97
Burton had a grass-cutting business himself, which is how he came upon the Class Act building. He was cutting the grass there for the owner in 1997 when he was offered the building and became the owner.
He spent two years preparing to open the business and approached the city planning board in early 2000 for a needed zoning change.
Fast-forward almost three years.
Last month, city council turned down the zoning change in a messy process that needed a law director's opinion to sort it out.
The interim was uglier than the council vote.
There were multiple planning board and city council votes on the zoning request because of objections from neighbors. There were a couple of long delays woven into the process, too.
In the end, there has been no approval, said councilman Rufus Hudson, D-2nd, because he and his colleagues are siding with neighbors.
Josephine Hulett, a longtime community and political leader who lives on Himrod, led the neighbors' objections.
They expressed concerns about how a business inside Burton's building would affect the neighborhood, such as noise and traffic. They wondered why Burton hasn't invested money in the building, which still has graffiti and a smashed sign.
They also fear what would happen if the barbershop leaves. The old Class Act bar was a constant source of trouble for the neighborhood. Residents don't want another headache.
No one in the immediate neighborhood wants the building to reopen, so Hudson and council support their view.
"I have to honor that," Hudson said. "It's hard for me to go against the wishes of all the people."
Burton should have worked early to persuade the neighbors, Hudson said. Burton may have alienated them so much with his repeated tries that it will be impossible to change their minds now, the councilman added.
Burton counters that he has tried to work out problems with the neighbors without success. Burton said he won't operate anything but a barber and beauty shop in his building. The shop will be a respectable place that won't cause the neighborhood any trouble, he said. He isn't investing money in the building until he knows he can operate the business.
Suspects political motives
Burton doesn't have any direct proof but suspects politics is behind his problems, not the merits of his zoning request.
Burton has been active in local politics in the past. After his first zoning request, he also tangled with Hulett when she sought a zoning change for a building on the North Side. He knows his tussle with Hulett didn't win him any friends in the neighborhood.
He says, however, that neither his dealings with Hulett nor any other political issue should matter.
"I've got to look at all perspectives here. It's not about a barbershop right or wrong," Burton said.
He expects to appeal the denial of his zone change to Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
Hudson said there is no politics at play.
Hudson said he and Hulett disagree on just about all political matters. On this topic, however, they do agree that the neighborhood's wishes should prevail.