Tuesday, May 30, 2006

eminent domain debate is heating up

Sides are being taken on the eminent domain issue in Youngstown.

The debate is heating up over the proposed Lincoln-Rayen-Wood Development District project located between the YSU campus and the downtown.

I watched a city council meeting over the weekend (found here) which included statments from three people during the public comments section of the meeting. Speaking on behalf of property owners in the area were Colleen DiVito, owner of University Pizzeria & Italian Eatery; Marie LaCivita, owner of Youngstown Plant and Flower Inc; and Jim Villani, speaking in place of Joe Grenga who is owner of Grenga Machine & Welding Co. (There was also one additional gentleman whose name I did not get) If I got these names wrong, I apologize. It was a little hard to hear all the names via the internet stream.

One assertion was that they became aware of the project after the plans were designed. Another interesting concern/claim was if the city chooses to zone the area as "institutional" then the value of the propery dramatically falls. I don't know if this will happen in this case, or if this normally happens when re-zoning occurs, but one thing I do know is in January I ate a tasty pepperoni roll at the University Pizzeria place and used their wi-fi connection. The owners did a really nice job of rennovating the place and maintaining its upkeep. Depending on your view, the same cannot be said for other properties in the area, with the ouside of many of the properties adding to the vacant and uninhabited feel of the area.

Many will argue this last point is moot however. They contend it doesn't really matter how pretty you keep your property because essentially it's private property.

But Mr. Villani, owner of the Pig Iron Press (another longtime downtown establishment) on Phelps Street contends that the process of the Lincoln-Rayen-Wood Development was not perfect either. He claims that the process itself runs counter to the themes expoused by the Youngstown 2010 program. All of the three speakers did a nice job of expressing their points, but concerns about the problems with the process can spark a whole other debate.

Simply put, when people feel "shut-out" of the process, whether it is a justified or unjustified feeling, resentment builds. I have been involved in quite a few negotiations where the issue is one of mostly distrust between the stakeholders, instead of the plans on the table. In those cases, the trust issues needed to be worked out before a comprehensive solution can be brought forward. Mr. Villani suggested in his remarks that maybe all stakeholders need to start the process again to reach an optimal solution.

Maybe a plan can be developed which benefits the university with increased expansion, the city with increased connectivity, and the businesses with increased economic opportunities.

A new book came out in the city planning/urban design community named Designing Public Consensus which contains a case study highlighting Youngstown and the 2010 process. Written by Barbara Faga and her staff at EDAW, the book "presents examples of the interaction between architects, planners, landscape designers, engineers, and the public." Maybe there are tidbits in this book describing Youngstown that can be applied to the Wood-Rayen-Lincoln case.

A public meeting about the Wood-Rayen-Lincoln Development District will be held on Friday June 2nd at 2:30pm at the University Pizzeria. (133 Lincoln Avenue) Maybe people who attend this meeting will want to provide an synopsis of the meeting under the comments section of this blog posting. (subtle request for additional content)

(side note: EDAW's Atlanta offices can be found in the rennovated Biltmore building in the midtown neighborhood. It is a great example of a once down-and-out abandoned hotel filled with squatters that has become a beautiful building filled with restaurants, offices, and residences. I recommend Mickey's restaurant on the ground floor of the Biltmore, as their lunch menu is great and Mickey is a nice gal. I do not recommend the Toast restaurant on the back side of the building. And in case you are ever thirsty, there is club in the basement of the building that offers free martinis on Mondays.)

march 31 UPDATE It seems there was some type of press conference in front of city hall soon after I made this posting. Media reports of the press conference from Wednesday's papers can be seen here and here.

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