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Youngstown council refuses to OK deconstruction plan

Published: Thu, November 19, 2009 @ 12:05 a.m.

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.



1ytownsteelman(680 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

Its going to be a long, hard battle to pull some of our city council members out of the dark ages. Mr. Novotny wrote the grant, and beyond that , he has passion for deconstruction. Would some unionized laid off city worker show the same passion and devotion that Mr. Novotny has displayed thus far?

I doubt that deconstruction would replace demolition, but both can be used simultaneously. Perhaps the deconstructors could work on a house first, removing the valuable materials before the excavator shows up. Mr. Novotny's young mind is full of fresh ideas which have been discouraged in this town full of grouchy old men who are set in their ways.

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2dd933(312 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

That's exactly right. The number of houses deconstructed will undoubtedly be small as compared to the total number of demolitions. Those houses that are deconstructed will be hand picked for the quality of the materials in them, thus the return from the sale of the material will be maximized. It is the "smart" thing to do. (Besides most of the buildings that are demolished have the aluminum, copper and any valuable hardware or glass removed already by free lance entrepreneurs. Those buildings can be demolished in the conventional manner Mr. Kitchen described so well.)

And as to hiring Mr. Novotny, it sounds to me like the council members want to hire a person who will improve their own interests instead of the guy who knows the most about the process. It's a one year grant, not a permanent position. I can't believe that the State of Ohio is actually sending money to the City of Youngstown and council is balking!

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3CitizenJ(34 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

Did Kitchen or Brown write a grant to get the funding for this???

The grant was received for the deconstruction process as a result of Novotny's successful application. It was not received for demolition, it was not received for Kitchen and Brown to decide what they want to do with it.

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4ytownhockey(12 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

Let Novotny at it. Its good to see some young blood trying to be proactive in this town. And how is this showing hostility towards a modern mechanized world? It seems to me that instead of senseless waste he is trying to turn trash into tresure so to speak. Will it be hugely profitable? Probably not, but in this town in this economy every dollar counts i would think

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5PhilKidd(189 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

What is going on?

Did not Councilman Brown sponsor the legislation?

Steve Novotny spent 10 months working to develop this program. He wrote the grant, created the funding for the program/his own salary. It is not local tax dollars. It's grant (bonus) money that can't be used for anything else but on establishing a deconstruction program. Of those laid off, who does DeMaine Kitchen feel is more qualified to run this program? Why didn't they write the grant? Since this controversy has been created, I've yet to hear a viable counter argument or suggestion.

As Deconstruction and demolition are not an either/or scenario. Deconstruction is a supplement to demolition. It salvages important materials and has the ability to create jobs or job training (ex. YouthBuild could help run the program) and can actually defer the cost of bringing down a structure over time. It's not "cute". It's an actual best practice in other cities.

Furthermore, it's an actual program that will be a part of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation neighborhood stabilization programming strategy. Why would you NOT want a city person helping to coordinate the program who spent 10 months familiarizing themselves with the process, met with national experts, actually did the physical labor, wrote the grant and raised his own salary? We are going to discourage this? What kind of message does this send? This is deeply troubling and if Brown and Kitchen are making this decision, they should be required to answer these questions.

Maybe I'm confused but I thought we were trying to be the leaders when it came to "right sizing" and innovative neighborhood stabilization strategies? Did we forget this or is the Youngstown 2010 plan just lip service?

As a community, we don't have much to show for it(regarding neighborhood stabilization) since the plan was launched. The city has yet to even address the basic components: landlord registration, housing inspection/code enforcement reform and/or strategic demolion. Basic yet fundamental stuff. Here, we have an innovative program to help compliment our demolition work and we end up playing politics.

It underscores are more fundemental problem: redistricting. Our ward districts are unconstitutional (one-man-one-vote) and need to be challenged. If we redistrict, we need to consider implementing at-large representation much like other local communities have. We are paying for not having it because we have too many voices representing too small of areas injecting too much politics into important scenarios/decisions that are too mportant to overall holistic health of the city at-large.

I hate to say it but this this situation is plain-old politics, folks. We should be better than this. We need to be better than this. People - nationally and internationally - are looking to us for solutions..and they are going to be asking us these questions when we turn the calendar to 2010 next year.

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6JeffLebowski(953 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

Sadly the qualifications that the councilman is so focused on seeing apparently weren't as important to the voters (all 15 that probably went to the polls to give them their seats). Pay the gentleman the $18.75/hr. that the state has covered from their end now or pay 4x as much per hour out of the city's pocket a few years from now when you bring in contractors?

Tough to get decent kickbacks from such a relatively small amount of money though, right Jamael and DeMaine?

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7JeffLebowski(953 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

Not necessarily, that would imply that these people have an understanding of principles of business.

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8jaxsdaddy(1 comment)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

This is a grant to develope a plan for taking apart houses. It will be paid to a independent contractor. A plan, not the taking apart of the houses, a plan on how to take apart the houses and what should be saved. The writer who wrote and applied for the grant would seem to have the right stuff to go forward with the program. His education and experance enabled him to write the grant A city worker would have to be hired, trained, benifits paid all expensive things.Oh yea wouldn't want a person who may be able to get the job done. Just keep doing the samethings as alway the are working so well for the city. No wonder Ytown can't get jobs.

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9ytownsteelman(680 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

I know government needs to have "plans" and "studies", but come on its not difficult to know what has value and what doesn't in an old house. Much of that is determined by the market for those items. Foundation stones are in demand for landscaping, cement blocks can also be reused, as can brick. Interior trim and doors may also have some resale value. We don't need a plan as much as we need a market for these used building materials.

I got to hand it to foxtrot though, he really doesn't have a clue what happens in the real world away from his sheltered keyboard.

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10JoshStack(1 comment)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

I'd offer to help as well, in sharing the research, legal templates, etc., that proves that deconstruction is a profitable alternative to demolition for communities.

We're building a deconstruction infrastructure in Syracuse, New York, working with other key groups in the City.


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11becky47(34 comments)posted 6 years, 8 months ago

This is exactly why Youngstown is in the situation they are in. Don't bother to try and move into the 21st century lets just stay the way we are and fill those landfills. The initial cost may be higher but the fact that the city can resell material obiously is lost on our city council. It has just been anounced that the Mahoning Valley will more than likely lose representation due to the declining population but yes let's pretend it is 1909 not 2009. When all the other cities are going green lets stay in the dark ages kicking and screaming.
The fact that here is a young man that was born and raised in Youngstown wanting to make the city better seems have been overlooked. This is a grant for 1 YEAR to include his pay of $39,000.00. Our city council will fight about this and like so many other grants that we failed to use this one will be returned too. And Mr Novotny will see the writting on the wall that the city is not ever going to be saved and take his knowledge and enthusiasm and go to a city that will embrace his ideas.
Do the city council realize the population drops the need for council members follows suit.

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