Youngstown council refuses to OK deconstruction plan

By David Skolnick

YOUNGSTOWN — Not pleased with decisions by the city’s administration to develop a citywide plan to “deconstruct” vacant houses, city council refused to approve the plan without additional information.

Councilmen Jamael Tito Brown, D-3rd, and DeMaine Kitchen, D-2nd, said Wednesday that they needed to know more about the request before they could consider it. They had the proposal pulled from Wednesday’s council meeting during an earlier council finance- committee meeting.

The two demanded that more information be provided at a council community-development agency meeting in the near future before the legislation is considered by the full council.

The request calls for the city to use a $39,000 state grant to pay Steve Novotny, an intern for the past 10 months in Youngstown’s planning department, to develop the deconstruction plan.

Brown serves as chairman of council’s finance and CDA committees, and Kitchen is vice chairman of both committees.

The city received a $39,000 grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to develop the deconstruction program. Youngstown was among four cities of about 80 to receive state funding for the program, said Bill D’Avignon, director of the city’s community development agency that oversees the planning department.

Novotny, a 24-year-old Youngstown State University senior, wrote the successful grant application. The proposal called for the city to pay $39,000 to Novotny as an independent contractor to create a “deconstruction” program for Youngstown.

Deconstruction is a technique to systematically take apart a structure by removing portions of it that can be salvaged and sold rather than demolishing it.

“I don’t know if that’s the best person for the position,” Brown said of Novotny after the finance committee meeting. “What are his qualifications?”

Brown said he was “concerned” that the request to accept the grant included language hiring Novotny without any input from council’s CDA committee.

Kitchen was more blunt, questioning why the city is even considering a deconstruction program — which is more expensive and time-consuming method than using a wrecking ball to take down a structure — when there are hundreds of dilapidated houses desperately in need of being demolished.

“Rather than the new business of deconstruction, we need to take care of an old business: demolition,” Kitchen said. “Now is not the time to get fancy. Let’s not get cute. Demo now and worry about deconstruction later.”

The plan to employ Novotny also concerned Kitchen.

“You decide to hire this kid when we laid off some people,” he said. “There may be someone laid off who could do this job. The job wasn’t open to anyone besides this guy.”

D’Avignon said deconstruction should be a viable option when vacant structures are taken down. The items preserved during a deconstruction project could be sold for profit, and it diverts those items from landfills.

Novotny has said he has “a very broad knowledge” of deconstruction, focusing on it during his internship, has consulted with national experts in the field, has examined case studies on the subject and helped deconstruct a house on Brentwood Avenue last summer.

Council agreed Wednesday to increase the cost of some zoning permits for the first time in about 50 years.

It will still cost residential home- owner $10 for a zoning permit for a new fence, shed or deck. But the price for zoning permits for commercial and industrial buildings was increased to $25 and $75 for industrial buildings.

Council also agreed to offer another early-retirement/resignation deal to its ranking police officers to cut its long-term expenses.

City administration officials estimate five ranking officers will accept the buyout. The buyout gives each officer a year’s base salary paid over five years beginning no later than April 30, 2010.

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