By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Construction of a proposed 17-space parking area that would have eliminated most on-street parking in the city’s downtown has been put on hold, city officials say.
Mayor Terry Stocker said, unfortunately, it’s a delay that is coming “in the 11th hour” of the project.
Work on the parking area — which was to be located on the east side of State Street above the existing Donavito’s Italian Grille parking lot — was supposed to begin this month. The $150,000 project was fully funded through both the Ohio Development Services Agency’s community development block grant program and the city’s revolving loan fund.
The problem, then, involves an approximately 30-by-250-foot piece of property not owned by the city that was to become part of the parking area. Stocker said the city pursued the project — and even spent almost $30,000 on its design and specifications — based on a longstanding verbal agreement with the property owners to use the piece of property.
A few weeks ago, despite the city doing “everything humanly possible to comply with what they felt was important,” the property owners “decided they didn’t want to move forward” any longer, even though there was “very, very little encroachment,” Stocker said. The parking area also would have included handicapped-accessible spots, benches, decorative lighting and a crosswalk, further enhancing the city’s downtown and perhaps attracting new businesses.
Stocker said he’s disappointed by the change in plans.
“It is a piece of property not being used for anything. We felt everybody involved was embracing the project,” he said. “We put a lot of money into this project, and we still believe it’s a viable project.”
The property is handled by Carna Holdings. The company’s attorney could not be reached to comment.
At its June 25 regular meeting, Struthers City Council passed an ordinance authorizing the city’s law director, Dominic R. Leone III, to initiate the eminent-domain process, as the project is “in the best interest of the general public,” according to the legislation.
The parking area would alleviate congestion in the city’s downtown and also make it safer for pedestrians. Stocker noted that cars parked along the street block the right lane of the road, easily tying up traffic and making it difficult for other vehicles, including emergency vehicles, to pass through.
Plus, drivers of the cars parked there who try to exit or enter their cars must contend with the roughly 10,000 vehicles that drive along State Street every day.
Both Stocker and Leone said they hope the city can reach a deal with the property owners and said the city is willing to offer fair market value for the property. Leone estimated that appraisal of the property should be completed within the next few weeks and discussions between the city and the property owners could be wrapped up within the next couple of months.
In the meantime, the city is devising an alternative use for the CDBG funds that must be spent by year’s end. Stocker indicated that the amended project will consist of lighting improvements on State Street. The project will be presented to county commissioners for their approval in mid-July.
Stocker added that the parking area is simply on hold, and the city will definitely come back to it.
“We want to proceed,” Stocker said. “We feel it’s a very important project to the city, to businesses, to the traveling public.”