Lack of lot action causes frustration among council

Comment: Off

By LYDIA BAULER

STAFF WRITER

City administration has made another move toward resolving issues surrounding the Rensko Property LLC owned lot at 918 N. Countyline St., which was originally to be a 1,980 square-foot Tim Horton’s.

Mayor Eric Keckler announced the city sent the Westerville-based company a cease and desist letter on Friday of last week. The property owners have been asked to make the property “whole” and “bring the property up to grade,” according to the mayor.

This cease and desist order comes after the company failed to restore the now empty lot in a timely manner to a respectable condition after the company backed out and listed the property for sale. The company had been asked formally in writing in December to either address its intentions to build the restaurant or clean-up the property.

As the mayor reported in an April city council meeting, the company had agreed and hired a contractor to remove excess dirt and straighten the property out; however, the work has yet to be completed. While the city had been understanding that winter and wet weather prevented work on the lot, the mayor said the company has not moved forward in the three weeks of construction-friendly forecasts.

Further, Rensko has recently sold its topsoil to a contractor creating concerns that the lot will be left unleveled.

“They had sold their top soil that is in a big pile on the corner to a contractor,” Keckler said. “The worry on our part is that if they sell all that topsoil then we will end up having big bowls that would cause an issue with gathering water.

“We just wanted them to work with us to get the property in such a state that it wasn’t an eyesore or cause us to have an issue with EPA because of the dirt going into our sewer system.”

In order to address the EPA concerns and bring the lot up to standards set up by engineering office, the lot must be seeded to prevent run-off, the fence torn down and the lot leveled.

The mayor said the company has until Friday to address these issues and straighten out the lot or zoning citations will be issued.

A local realtor, Daniel Cochran, expressed concern that sanctions and negative publicity regarding the lot may scare off businesses interested in the lot or coming to Fostoria.

“I have a client that is interested in that property and who is keeping a close eye on what is being done to that current property owner,” Cochran said. “I have a real problem with sending someone like that a bill saying they’re breaking a city ordinance when I’m trying to bring business into this town. They’re watching what is being done.”

Cochran also suggested ordinances on zoning issues needed to be enforced consistently.

“If you want to start sending out fines, we have a city ordinance that says if a business goes out then they have 90 days to remove all evidence of that business,” he said. “The hardware store went out in August and it still had the old sign up when the new business opened.

“If you want to pick on people, you are going to ruin bringing new people into this town. If we are going to follow rules, which I completely agree with following zoning ordinances, then follow all of them and make everyone follow them.”

According to Keckler, the city strives to be supportive and cooperative with businesses as long as they put forth effort to comply with zoning codes.

“Contrary to some people’s opinion, we are not being business unfriendly,” he said. “I think we have given them ample time to do something with that property. We’ve been very patient — probably more patient than a lot of people would have liked. Now that there is a decent construction period coming up, we would certainly like to make them make that property meet our standards. We will be working with them to make that happen.”

The mayor added, “In almost anything we do with zoning when we are working with someone on a project, if they are making an effort to comply, then certainly there’s not a bunch of crazy fines involved. All we’re asking them to do is to not make that property an eye sore on our major thoroughfare. If they are willing to do that, then we are willing to work with them.”

Separately, the city council heard the first reading of a set of ordinances that would allow the city to join and utilize the expertise and buying power of NOPEC, a council of governments solely focused on shopping around for gas and electric aggregation programs.

In Ohio, local communities are allowed, by law, to join their citizens together to buy natural gas and/or electricity as a group and thereby gain “buying power” to solicit the lowest price for the group’s natural gas and/or electricity needs. The city has participated in the Natural Gas Aggregation Program for a number of years, according to Keckler.

An expiring gas aggregation agreement with IGS provides an opportunity to explore this option, which hopefully will secure the best energy aggregation for Fostorians.

“This gives us the opportunity to do a bit of research and what we’ve found is a council of governments called NOPEC that a lot of municipalities use,” Safety Service Director Deb Hellman said. “Their sole purpose is to collectively go out and shop around for gas and electric aggregation programs. We’re in a position right now to do the research with this council of governments and in the future participate in the program. We want to give our residents the best gas and electric aggregation that we can offer them.”

NOPEC does the useful work of vetting these companies so that the city is able to avoid experimenting to find a good fit, which is to the benefit of Fostorians, according to the mayor.

Keckler also said gas aggregation programs will continue in Fostoria though there is likely to be a break during which the city will revert back to Columbia Gas.

“There will be a break of at least 2-3 months where they will have to revert back to their Columbia Gas,” said the mayor. “They are welcome to shop around during that time, but – if they wait for just a little bit – we’ll get some information back out to them and they can sign up.

“Gas aggregation has not ended in Fostoria. This particular contract with this particular company has ended, but we will offer gas aggregation back to the citizens very soon.”

A simple sign-up process is expected and will be announced to the public in the near future.

In other business:

• The councilman for the second ward, Greg Flores, has resigned from his seat. Interested applicants from the second ward can pick up an application from the mayor’s office and submit a resume and cover letter by May 31.

• City council heard the first reading of a resolution authorizing participation in the ODOT winter contract for road salt.

• Council passed an ordinance amending the Permanent 2018 Appropriations by appropriating from unappropriated funds in the Fostoria Revolving Loan Fund.

Comments

comments

About the Author