Council discusses rules on revitalization area

Members of Marietta City Council’s planning, zoning and annexation committee learned Thursday that only the applicant can alter the size of a proposed community revitalization district.

Charles Sommer, who owns the Second Street building where the Original Pizza Place is housed, has applied for a nearly 110-acre district that would include about 10 blocks in the downtown and Harmar areas. Businesses located in the area would be eligible for liquor licenses, with the potential for as many as 15 new ones to be issued.

But owners of some existing establishments have opposed the plan, saying the city can’t support so many additional alcohol-serving establishments. Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, said there would be more support for the measure among some members of council, himself included, if the size of the district was decreased.

“The majority of … businesses in my ward would like to see it smaller,” he said. By approving the zone and opening up the new licenses, “we make it easier for someone to go into business.”

During the committee’s meeting Thursday at 304 Putnam St., city Law Director Paul Bertram III said council cannot alter the size of the proposed district. Only Sommer can do that.

“His application dictates the size of the revitalization district,” Bertram said. “It’s city council that says (yes or no).”

Because a final decision must be made before Nov. 25, Vukovic said there should be plenty of time for city officials to discuss the “wrinkle” over the size change with the applicant.

“Whose wrinkle? Council members’ wrinkle?” safety-service director Jonathan Hupp said.

“Yes sir,” Vukovic responded.

Hupp said changing the size of the proposed district would require the city to advertise details of it again for two consecutive weeks in the newspaper, which he viewed as an unnecessary expense.

After the meeting, Hupp said supporters of the revitalization district, including Main Street Marietta and the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, believe adding additional restaurants would do more than divert existing clientele from other restaurants.

“(They) think we’re going to bring in more heads,” he said.

But Vukovic said it gives new businesses an advantage because they would pay just $2,344 for a new liquor license, when their established competitors paid much more. Hupp argued that they did so because they bought existing licenses from other businesses, who had the option to sell them to the highest bidder.

Finance committee

Council’s finance committee also met Thursday, and approved a number of fund transfers, including $30,000 to replace a duckbill valve and head wall on the Ohio River near the city’s wastewater treatment plant. At a Wednesday meeting, Vukovic questioned whether the company that installed the equipment should compensate the city for the work.

On Thursday, city Engineer Joe Tucker said the city worked closely with Lock One Engineering on installation of the valves five years ago and from his perspective everything was done correctly. He said the equipment has been effective in reducing low-level flooding, and only the one in question has failed.

Erosion and undermining caused by water being funneled onto the area from above are responsible for the problem, and that will be addressed as the repairs are made, Tucker said.

Vukovic said he appreciated the explanation and he and Councilmen Denver Abicht and Harley Noland, both at-large Democrats, approved the transfer of $3,000 from the wastewater treatment fund and $27,000 from the capital improvement fund for the work.

The finance committee also OK’ed an appropriation of $5,000 for annual maintenance on a stream gauge placed in the Ohio River at Sardis. That amount represents 20 percent of the annual maintenance cost for the gauge, which will help provide advance flood warning.

The Washington County Commission is expected to pay $1,200 of the $5,000 amount, and Tucker said the city is in talks with American Municipal Power, which is constructing five hydroelectric facilities on the river, to kick in another $2,000. That would leave the city’s share at just $1,800, but it would be responsible for more if AMP’s board does not approve the agreement.

The gauge is part of an early-warning flooding system being constructed at a cost of $540,000, which is being paid for by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District and the U.S. Geological Survey. Tucker said it’s a major benefit for the city and region, and the entire system should be completed by the end of 2014.

Committee members did not discuss the Community Development Block Grant budget, as originally planned, because four council members were unable to make the meeting. Discussion on that topic will resume at the Oct. 10 finance committee meeting.