A misunderstanding over the city’s zoning code has snowballed for a local thrift store that began renting retail space at 2828 Mahoning Ave. in October.
The Family Outreach Thrift Shop, which also engages in a host of charitable activities throughout the community, is threatened with the prospect of being shuttered by the city after it received a summons to appear in Youngstown Municipal Court on Dec. 5.
The disagreement came to a head last week when the Youngstown Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals refused to grant the business a zoning waiver.
Under the city’s zoning code, strip clubs, adult bookstores, bars, tattoo parlors, payday lending operations, pool halls and secondhand stores are considered “regulated use” venues, which require approval from the city to operate.
The zoning board refused the waiver after it found that there are five other “regulated use” venues within 500 feet of 2828 Mahoning, contending there are too many similar operations in the area.
Also problematic, said Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, is the city’s contention that Family Outreach never sought a waiver in the first place, which is first required to obtain an occupancy permit — another document the business is currently without.
On the other hand, John Zucco, who owns and operates the store with his mother and father, says the city has unfairly revoked its right to operate because it is not yet selling anything.
“We weren’t operating — just helping those that needed clothes,” Zucco said. “We were going through the process of completing our paperwork, we have all the necessary licenses at the state level and we were in the process of restructuring our business to do more for the people who need us.”
Zucco found himself in front of the zoning board after an incident Nov. 17 when Zucco says both an inspector with the city and Ray made a random walk-through at a coat drive. Zucco says no sales were being made, but rather, along with his family, he was passing out free coats to those with vouchers from area churches.
In any event, the city’s legal department, on Monday, confirmed that with the zoning board’s final decision to deny the waiver, all subsequent appeals will have to be made in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
“I’m in favor of the services [Family Outreach] offers,” said Ray, whose ward is home to the store’s current location. “But you have to comply with the regulations in place. Being a responsible business owner means acquiring all the necessary documents and paperwork. We have to be careful with regulated uses — it was a risk they chose to take — and it requires the correct process.”
Without a permit and waiver, Family Outreach will not be allowed to operate. On Monday, the business was trying to raise community awareness for its situation, and Zucco said he hopes the community will help support its charitable services by getting involved.
“We’re looking for any help we can; an attorney, money, anything,” Zucco said. “I refuse to stop helping people in need because of a piece of paper. I understand there’s a law, but people need help, especially at this time of year.”