SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio — City Council took action Monday (Jan. 25) to take care of its non-residential buildings, now and in the future.
It also said yes to legislation that aims to preserve the buildings of yesterday.
As expected, council approved two long-discussed pieces of legislation. One is a “dark store” ordinance, which seeks to ensure that all vacant non-residential buildings are registered with the city and properly maintained.
The other created a South Euclid Landmark Commission that will serve to preserve buildings deemed historically significant.
“I know these were ordinances that were a long time coming,” Economic Development Director Michael Love said during the online meeting. “I know the Planning Commission and Zoning & Planning Committee (of council) spent much time and effort in crafting both pieces of legislation.
“We do believe that implementing the dark store ordinance for commercial properties, similar to what we’ve been able to do for residential properties, will hopefully lead to the same levels of success in terms of ensuring that vacant buildings do get re-occupied and that we help alleviate the problem of property owners who choose to let one or two units of their strip center sit vacant without making any effort to try and get those storefronts leased,” he said.
“In addition, we also feel that the landmark legislation ordinance can lead to achieving much success here in the future in helping to preserve what we do want to preserve in our downtown district and other areas of the city, and helping ensure those structures have all the available incentives to them to be restored and be rehabbed in the future.”
The dark store ordinance makes building owners responsible for proper upkeep of property, including removal of weeds and grass mowing; registering the property with the city; and paying an annual fee to the city for as long as their buildings remain vacant.
The fee will be 15 cents per square foot during the first year of vacancy, 20 cents the second year and 25 cents the third and remaining years.
Before a vacant building is sold, it must be inspected and a certificate of compliance, at $200, will have to be obtained.
Only Councilwoman Susan Hardy voted against the dark store ordinance, believing the fees could be too high when considering the size of some buildings.
The landmark commission will consist of seven non-paid members. The legislation states that the commission will serve to stabilize and improve property values, safeguard the city’s heritage, enhance aesthetics, foster civic pride, promote historic preservation and strengthen the city’s economy.
Funding may be made available to preserve or enhance buildings the commission deems landmarks.
In addition, council passed a resolution — a companion to the dark store ordinance — that will allow Love to work with the owners of vacant buildings to find what could be temporary uses for those buildings.
“We also realize, in some cases, it can be difficult to find new tenants and get properties re-occupied,” Love said, “so we do want to do this for landlords who are really trying to improve their properties and make them attractive to new tenants.
“We want to incentivize them to do that and don’t want to seem putative through the dark store ordinance,” he said.
“The thought behind this resolution that Councilwoman (Jane) Goodman and Councilwoman (Ruth) Gray came up with would allow us to negotiate with property owners to actually use their properties for an alternative use, such as an indoor farmer’s market, flea market or bazaar, or some other type of civic use, for groups to have meetings, or things like that.
“(Or to) display artworks, as we did in the past with the storefront art initiative, or temporary gallery space. Just something to utilize the space.
“And, it helps the landlord in terms of getting publicity out about their space and hopefully attracting a new tenant,” Love said.
“It’s free marketing for them and, of course, it helps the city, as well, by not having the building be vacant and being used for some civic purpose.
“And, by (owners) agreeing to this, to allow space to be used, it would exempt them from having to pay registration fees, because the property would not be vacant. It would be used for some purpose.”
Pay to stay
Council also heard the first reading Monday of what is called a “pay-to-stay” ordinance.
Council heard from Molly Martin, director for strategic initiatives for the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, who said that the organization has lately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, been doing a lot of statewide advocacy for eviction protections and on rights for renters.
The CDC has extended until March 31 its eviction moratorium. Martin, no relation to city Housing Manager Sally Martin, said: “Ohio is one of only five states where landlords have the right to file for an eviction immediately after nonpayment of rent.
“And so, under a pay-to-stay ordinance, renters who are late on payment, if a landlord has filed a for an eviction for non-payment of rent, then that tenant has the right to pay the past-due rent and the late fees by the time of the hearing, and that would result in the dismissal of the eviction judgment.”
Martin said that, if there are also other reasons for eviction, such as damage to property, the landlord could still evict. The ordinance would only pertain to non-payment of rent.
“They should have the right to stay in their home for just one day late on rent,” Martin said, noting that not all renters have qualified for emergency rent assistance.
Currently, if a landlord receives payment of rent after filing for eviction because of non-payment, the eviction can still proceed.
The cities of Toledo and Yellow Springs, Ohio, have already passed such legislation, while Dayton, Cleveland and Cleveland Heights are in the process of considering such legislation.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Sara Continenza, who chairs council’s Recreation Committee, said the committee will next meet online at 6 p.m. Feb. 22 to further discuss steps being taken to limit the city’s deer population.
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