By Elise Franco
Township officials know that without the help of other Mahoning County agencies they’ll get only so far in their efforts to clean up the old Flower Mill — a property neighbors call an eyesore.
Residents who live around the mill, at 4575 S. Canfield Niles Road, have asked for weeks what can be done to clean up some of the mess on the property.
Several people voiced concerns at an Oct. 26 trustees meeting about the large, dilapidated building, high weeds and piles of street grindings on the property.
Zoning Inspector Dave Morrison said a citation was issued Oct. 28 regarding the dozens of street-grinding piles dumped at the front of the property in August.
“The citation is for stockpiling the grindings,” Morrison said. “They’re given a reasonable amount of time — in this case, 30 days — to remove or relocate the material.”
Morrison said there has to be a 4- to 6-foot barrier between the piles and the residential development across the street. He corresponded through email with the property owner’s partner, Jim Steiner. “He wasn’t happy about the citation, and at this point I don’t know if they will comply within 30 days.”
Property owner Shari Francis declined to comment. Her attorney Rob Bouffard of Boardman didn’t return calls for comment.
Trustee Marie Cartwright said previously that after Francis purchased the land several years ago, Steiner tried to have it rezoned from agricultural to industrial to open a towing business there, but his request was denied by the zoning board.
Morrison said rezoning the property in that way would be considered spot zoning, which he knew residents didn’t support.
“I suggested they apply for a conditional-use zoning variance so that the land would revert back to agricultural when they were done,” he said. “To my knowledge, they haven’t done that yet.”
Mary-Helen Smith, county board of health environmental health director, said Steiner isn’t violating any board of health regulations.
She said because the grindings were “processed into a usable construction material,” no permit was required to dump them on the land, and there’s no time limit on how long they can remain there.
“The property owner filled out a notice of intent,” she said. “But they’re not required to obtain a permit because they meet the exemption.”
Morrison said he’s also spoken with Steiner several times about high weeds growing along the property. He said the weeds were sprayed and have since been cut down.
But those aren’t the only issues residents have with the five-acre property.
Besides the greenhouse, two other structures sit on the land — an occupied home at the back of the property, and a smaller, vacant house that Trustee Martha Zarlenga said could have structural problems.
Morrison said the only way to deem the structure a nuisance and eventually have it torn down is to have either the health department or building inspector determine that it’s uninhabitable.
Zarlenga said she’s spoken with the Mahoning County Board of Health and is trying to work with the county building inspector and sanitary engineer’s office to see if the vacant structure can be condemned.
“Because of the condition of the house there, it hasn’t been lived in for years. ... There’s all kind of problems with the foundation, and neighbors are concerned about animals getting in,” she said.
Smith said an inspector checked the structure twice — most recently Oct. 28.
Zarlenga said she’s still waiting to hear back from the county building inspector and sanitary engineer’s office on routes they may be able to take.
Smith said that for the health department to deem a structure a public-health nuisance, it has to show rodent harborage.
“We aren’t structural inspectors, so we look at it from a public-health perspective,” she said. “We would have the ability to abate if we find a combination of rodent harborage, standing water and a food source.
“Although we saw few gaps, there’s no evidence of any rodents. From a health and hygiene perspective, the structure is reasonably weather-tight and rodent-proof.”