By Peter H. Milliken
The city plans to close 3.9 miles of uninhabited streets, or parts thereof, on the East Side within the next few months and let them go back to nature.
Where possible, the city also plans to shut off unneeded water and sewer lines in the isolated area as part of the effort, known as the Sharonline Decommissioning Project.
The area is named for a Youngstown-Sharon, Pa., streetcar line that ran along Jacobs Road from 1900 to 1939.
Before the streets are closed, nine abandoned houses on them will be demolished using city demolition funds, and the city street department will coordinate cleaning up refuse dumped there.
Once the demolitions and cleanup are completed, the streets will be blocked with guardrails bolted to posts.
“This is, more or less, just to lessen the burden of the city to have to service certain areas,” said William A. D’Avignon, city community development and planning director.
The closings will relieve the city of having to provide police patrols, street repaving or snow and ice removal there.
Illegal refuse dumping there will be stopped; the city won’t have to service closed water- or sewer lines; and its waste-treatment plant will be relieved of some combined storm and sanitary sewer flow from those areas, city officials said.
“A lot of these streets pretty much have outlived their useful lives,” Mayor John A. McNally said. “This area is probably where we face our largest dumping problem.”
“The cost savings in the long run of not having to maintain or patrol these areas is really what the benefit is,” D’Avignon said.
“There’s really no defined cost of the project,” McNally said, acknowledging there will be labor costs for things such as demolition and guardrail barrier installation.
The annual cost savings the city will achieve from the street closures in terms of services the city will no longer perform there are “to be determined,” the mayor added.
The closure is consistent with the Youngstown 2010 plan, under which the city is to adjust its infrastructure, which was designed to accommodate 250,000 people, to its declining population, which now totals about 66,000.
“This is one way to basically begin the process of physically downsizing the city a little bit,” McNally said.
“It sounds to me like a very thoughtful and carefully considered approach to dealing with vacant land that’s not likely to be developed anytime soon,” said Hunter Morrison of Youngstown, a senior fellow in urban studies at Cleveland State University.
“The idea of decommissioning areas that are no longer being used and taking the infrastructure out, reducing the operating costs of the city, is something that’s been talked about for some years, but this, to my knowledge, is one of the first examples of a city acknowledging that that’s an urban development strategy for the future,” he added.
“Part of being sustainable is being economically efficient,” said Morrison, who helped develop the Youngstown 2010 plan.
“Youngstown’s poised to try this out and to document it carefully to see whether this model works. What can we learn from it?” he asked.
Among the longer street closures will be 2,035 feet of West Miltonia Avenue from Roche Avenue to Jacobs Road; 1,474 feet of Vittoria Avenue from Wardle Avenue to its dead end; 1,281 feet of Van Dyke Avenue from McGuffey Road to Edgar Avenue; 1,200 feet of Shannon Avenue from Houston Avenue to Lloyd Street; 1,149 feet of Josephine Avenue between Nelson and Miltonia avenues; and 1,000 feet of Carson Street from Shannon Avenue to McGuffey Road.
The city developed its decommissioning plan based on a neighborhood survey by Youngstown State University and the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.
City officials earlier had proposed an Eastside Decommissioning Project, under which 90 deserted acres would be abandoned and returned to nature.
In 2014, the city applied for a $323,500 Clean Ohio green-space conservation grant from the Ohio Public Works Commission, which would have required the city to promise that that acreage would forever remain in its natural state.
OPWC denied the grant application, saying it was incomplete because the city hadn’t received commitments from all landowners to sell to the city the land the city wanted to decommission.
D’Avignon said the city did not reapply for that state grant because some East Side residents did not favor making a commitment to keep the decommissioned land forever in its natural state and wanted to keep the door open for future use of that land if an opportunity presents itself.
“Any uninhabited streets should be cut off,” because they invite illegal trash dumping, said Warren Harrell, a founder of the Northeast Homeowners and Concerned Citizens Organization on the city’s East Side.
“It gives more flexibility,” Harrell said of the current plan because it allows potential future redevelopment of the closed streets.
Failure to complete the long-planned Hubbard Expressway link between Albert Street and Interstate 80 discouraged development on the city’s East Side, Harrell added.