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Some Building Owners Slip on Their Sidewalk Duties
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Gina Mowen found her trip downtown Wednesday to be more treacherous than she had anticipated.
Mowen was here to take her two children to the Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology. Nearly falling as she walked the two blocks from her car to Oh Wow!, the Austintown resident says she was surprised at the poor conditions of the sidewalks.
“They were covered with ice. It was slippery,” she remarked. “I didn’t want my 2-year old walking because I knew she would fall down so I carried her.”
Downtown pedestrians encountered a variety of conditions during the first half of this week. Some downtown landlords and their employees are up before dawn to shovel, plow and salt the sidewalks along their properties. In other cases, however, sidewalks by some parking lots and buildings not in use, such as the Legal Arts Centre, are left unaddressed, despite city requirements.
Downtown businesses and property owners are responsible to provide daily snow removal for the full frontage of their place of business according to city ordinance, said Martin Hume, city law director. The requirement is also part of a “memorandum of understanding” the city circulated last year that states the city will remove snow in front of public buildings and spaces.
“The city responds to complaints and seeks to have owners voluntarily comply. Those that do not are subject to up to a $250 fine,” the law director said. While some complaints about the sidewalk have been brought to city officials, the law department is not involved in addressing them, Hume said.
“This past snow has been particularly bad. The snow and the ice are absolutely horrendous,” remarked Sharon Letson, executive director of Youngstown CityScape. “This last snow really threw us into a tailspin.” Business and building owners have an obligation to clear the properties they are responsible for, she emphasized.
“Who’s responsible at your house? Who’s responsible? It’s the building owner,” she continued.
“We have some downtown business owners who always make sure that from one end of their buildings to the other will all be cleared,” Letson said. Others do not. “Some of our buildings downtown are unoccupied but they’re still responsible for the sidewalks.”
“People need to do more,” said Suzanne Barbati, Oh Wow!’s president and executive director. “There’s too much ice and it makes it difficult for our clients to park their car and get into our business.” Oh Wow!’s location on Central Square has limited on-street parking nearby, requiring patrons to park elsewhere and walk to the children’s center.
Some business owners do more to maintain their properties and others do very little, Barbati said. “The conditions of the sidewalks speak for themselves. It’s ugly out there,” she remarked.
Barbati reported she has received complaints since winter began from customers “who have had difficulty traversing the sidewalks,” including adults bringing children in strollers. On Tuesday, a group of wheelchair-bound customers visited and it took 20 minutes to get them into the building.
“We’re in Northeast Ohio. People need to have a plan to remove the snow from their business properties before the snow falls. If we want people to come to downtown Youngstown, we have to be prepared and it doesn’t look like we were very prepared during this last snowstorm,” Barbati remarked.
“We’ve had people fall and come in with blood streaming down their face,” she added.
One of the areas on West Federal Street where ice has accumulated is the sidewalk in front of the Peggy Ann Building, where Friends Roastery occupies the ground floor, although the foyer leading into the building was cleared. Friends’ owner Mitch Lynch acknowledged he “took a little spill” the night before going to get a pizza.
“This is our responsibility,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to work with the city.”
Friends’ main location is in Salem and he is in the process of opening another in Fellows Riverside Gardens in Mill Creek MetroParks so he has a “time issue” right now, but added he isn’t making excuses.
Two downtown workers questioned by The Business Journal seem to take the conditions in stride.
“There’s a few areas where it’s a little icy but for the most part it’s not too bad,” remarked Gina Strickland, who works in PNC Bank’s wealth management office. “Businesses need to salt the sidewalks a little better. For the most part they’re pretty good, but there’s some areas that could be salted better.”
The sidewalks were “more icy than usual” Wednesday afternoon -- some were well salted while nothing has been done on others -- “but you have to be careful,” said Gretchen Griffin, who works for Huntington Insurance. “You have to pay attention to what’s below. You have to make sure you have boots on or something that’s going to protect you.”
“We have contacted the mayor’s office and expressed our concern. I expect that they’re doing what they can. It just needs to be a higher priority,” Barbati said.
“As business owners and property owners we have a responsibility to take care of the property that we manage and that we own, and if we don’t do that then we should be fined according to the current legislation that’s on the books. So I think there’s lots of ways to go about this,” she said.
Copyright 2015 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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