B.J. Alan appeals Ross park rejection
The fireworks company plans to invest 1million to improve the East Side site for its distribution center.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- B.J. Alan Co. wants to relocate its chain-store fireworks distribution center from Wheatland, Pa., to the Ross Industrial Park on Albert Street.
It's part of a comprehensive improvement plan by the company to bring all of its consumer fireworks distribution warehouses to Mahoning County.
Mayor Jay Williams said his administration supports the company's move from Wheatland to the industrial park, owned by the Cafaro Co.
But the city rejected the project's plans because they were "found to be incomplete and/or to contain violations of the Ohio Building Code," according to a letter sent to B.J. Alan and the Cafaro Co. by Brenda L. Williams, the city's plans examiner, a position that makes her Youngstown's chief building official.
Williams said she has to deny occupancy permits to businesses that submit plans that don't meet the state building code.
Williams rejected the plans for 12 reasons, and said she had no choice but to do so because of the state code. Carmen S. Conglose Jr., the city's deputy director of public works, agrees with her.
"The code is there so the city's chief building official doesn't have to make judgment calls and leaves those decisions to the state," Conglose said.
The three key reasons the plan was rejected, she said, are:
High-hazard buildings, such as a consumer fireworks distribution center, can't be within 1,000 feet of a residential structure, an industrial building, railroad tracks or a highway. The Ross site is within 1,000 feet of all four.
There isn't an adequate smoke and heat ventilation system in the plans.
The building must be separated with walls to protect against a potential fire spreading.
B.J. Alan plans to invest 1 million in the Ross site to improve the facility, which is about 250,000 square feet, but to make the dozen changes recommended by Williams would cost the company an additional 1 million to 1.5 million, said William A. Weimer, the company's vice president and general counsel.
"We're willing to make some of the changes, and others we aren't willing to do," he said. "It wouldn't make economic sense to spend that much more money."
B.J. Alan and the Cafaro Co. filed an appeal with the Ohio Board of Building Appeals. A Nov. 13 hearing is scheduled in Ashland at the Ohio Department of Transportation District 3 office with the board having up to 30 days to make a decision.
Weimer is hopeful the state board will permit the company to move to Ross without the major expenses that he said aren't necessary.
"The city would like to have the owners do this project, but we can't ignore our duty to properly enforce the building code and protect the public," Conglose said. "If there's a way to assist them, we'll do that, but we can't bend the building code."
If the state board rejects the appeal, B.J. Alan is looking at a few other sites, including an expansion in Wheatland, for a facility from which the company distributes fireworks to chain stores, Weimer said. But the first choice for the Youngstown-based company is the industrial park on Youngstown's East Side, he said.
The company opened its 25,000-square-foot Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard location in downtown Youngstown in 1985. Because of its success, the business expanded and outgrew its current location more than a decade ago, Weimer said.
"We understand the [MLK] site is not sufficient in size, and we're working to keep the company in the city," said Mayor Williams. "We hope this will fall into place."
The company wants to move its location to house and distribute fireworks to its more than 40 permanent Phantom Fireworks showrooms and thousands of seasonal retail fireworks locations from MLK to a proposed 18 million, 350,000-square-foot site on East Calla Road in Beaver Township, Weimer said.
The proposal has met with opposition from some neighbors, who are concerned about safety and the increase of truck traffic. Weimer said he's willing to discuss the proposal with neighbors.
The company hasn't filed an application for a zoning permit with the township. The location is zoned industrial, and a consumer fireworks distribution facility is an acceptable use for that property, Weimer said.
If everything goes according to plan, the MLK location would be used to continue distributing fireworks to third-party wholesale businesses, Weimer said.
If there are problems, the company is looking at other locations, he said.
No decision has been made regarding a relocation of the company's corporate offices at the MLK site, he said.
The company employs about 400 year-round, most of which are full-time, and reaches a peak in June of about 2,100 full-time and part-time, Weimer said.