Officials go over plan for project

Some property owners are worried the city will exercise eminent domain.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Property owners and others with an interest in a proposed downtown renewal project gave consultants and city officials input that ranged from excitement to anger.
Bill D'Avignon, the city's deputy director of planning, and representatives of D.B. Hartt Inc., planning and development consultants of Cleveland, explained an urban renewal plan Thursday at the Chevrolet Centre.
The plan would connect downtown with Youngstown State University and improve 38 acres in between.
Some people said they thought the plan was a perfect fit in revitalizing downtown. Others were skeptical about the city's intentions.
Property owners said they did not have enough information about the plan and what it would mean for their properties. Some are worried the city will exercise eminent domain, which is the right of government to take private property for public use.
D'Avignon said the plan will take about five years to complete. The first priority is to connect downtown to YSU by extending Hazel Street north to YSU, then rehabilitate and develop properties along the extension.
He said the city and YSU are working together to make the campus-city connection. YSU's plans also include construction of a new business administration building.
The 38-acre area is between downtown and YSU, specifically between Lincoln Avenue and Commerce Street north and south, and from Fifth to Wick avenues east and west. Some of the properties are owned by YSU and the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.
"It's very exciting but also somewhat uncomfortable," said Connie Shaffer, director of the YWCA. She said the YWCA board is working on its own development project, and she wants to ensure the YWCA is not overlooked in the city's project.
People both live and work in the area, and at the YWCA, she said. She wants the planners to keep the human element in mind.
"We're talking about change, and that will impact a lot of people's lives," she said. "We need to treat people with sensitivity and respect and help them transition to something better."
Although the consultants and city officials stressed several times that eminent domain is not the main purpose of the plan, some property owners remained unconvinced.
Long process
D'Avignon assured worried property owners the plan must go before the city planning commission and then city council, with at least two public hearings before council votes.
He said the funding for most of the plan is not yet secured and would not be committed until after council's approval.
He said city officials want to help owners with viable properties to apply for grants to make improvements. He said grants are available for improvements such as landscaping, new signs and lighting.
John Dahlgren, D.B. Hartt senior planner, said Youngstown has not used eminent domain in the past five urban renewal plans.
David Hartt, company president, said eminent domain could be used for some properties because many are vacant and owned by people who have left the area.
Hartt said the plan does not list properties individually, but in 56 property groups. Of those groups, 52 have significant problems that would require the work of a contractor to correct, and 49 are valued at less than half the cost of new construction.
Excluding property owned by the Diocese and YSU, there are 31 parcel groups with 21 owners, he said.
Hartt said, however, that the main emphasis of urban renewal is to improve buildings and restore viable buildings to their full potential.

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