CIRCLEVILLE — The Long Range and Strategic Planning Committee for Circleville City Council heard information about the certified local government.
Sheri Theis, committee chair, said being a certified local government partners Circleville with the Ohio Historic Preservation Office to preserve historic buildings, sites and districts.
“It would establish a design review board and landmark district designation process,” she said. “Homeowners would then be eligible for grants to identify, evaluate, nominate and protect our community’s cultural resources. The strategic planning committee, in 2019, started this process and worked on revising the zoning code.”
Theis said after COVID, things came to a halt, so they’re picking things up again to move along on the process.
Tom Spring, a local attorney and former council member, presented some information to the committee on the process.
“This is an exciting program that several communities, both large and small across the state of Ohio, have adopted that made them eligible for grants to help with downtown and to help fund the review board and other enhancements,” he said.
Spring spoke about his interest in the process, citing his paper in law school, comparing what they did.
“One thing I quickly discovered when I looked at the law and actual practices in place, including three smaller than Circleville, and I thought if towns those size could do it, why can’t Circleville,” he said.
Spring presented examples of companies that have constructed their businesses inside historic properties, including a McDonalds that operates inside a 171-year-old colonial home in Maine, as they have been enforced by the Board of Zoning appeals.
Spring said all but one of the historic district review boards resigned two years ago and cited several concerns.
“They felt their passion, dedication and desire to make downtown better was going to waste,” Spring said. “They citied no support from the administration, no enforcement from the administration, constantly being told they can’t do this; they felt like they had no real power to preserve downtown and they had no training. How can you expect the best results from citizens if they’re not trained correctly?”
Spring shared what he felt are problems with the current code such as reliance on residency and downtown connections at the expense of expertise in important areas, and that the historic district review board overlay is limited to the locally-designated historic district and doesn’t protect other areas of the city and does not allow for the designation of local landmarks.
Spring went over the next steps, which include applying for certification with the Ohio Historic Preservation Office and then submitting an agreement outlining responsibilities and requirements.
Theis, chair of the LRSP Committee, said she felt they had the support of the administration and they’ll follow the next steps.
The meeting then shifted as Richard Verito, owner of Richie’s NY Corner Deli, brought up the topic of the vacant lots and that for many, they get $800 to $1,500 in rent and the renovations for the buildings are hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“You’re looking at an income of anywhere from $12,000 to $18,000 in income off that property,” he said. “This is going to sound terrible, but it’s easier to let the building go to crap, tear it down and now you have an empty lot you get $15,000 to $18,000 for one week. You have no property tax, no insurance and no tenet to deal with.”
Verito said there is an ordinance on the books that says there are no gravel lots downtown, however, there are such lots.
“I’m confused on what laws we enforce and what laws we don’t enforce,” he said. “I’m pointing out the elephant in the room here.”
Theis responded to Verito saying they were aware of the problem, but they’re trying to reconcile the issue.
Jeff Carithers also spoke on the issue and suggested increasing the fines for tearing down properties.
“There needs to be an open, honest discussion about what City Council can do and what ordinances you can enact and enforce,” he said. “I’ve always been an advocate that if you pass an ordinance and you say someone shall enforce, then that’s what it means and you need to make sure that it’s enforced. In the old days, you just had to pull up your pants, tighten your belt and get it done.”