Joseph Grenga says there will be a court fight if the city and Youngstown State University try to take his property as part of the Lincoln-Rayen-Wood Development District project.
Grenga, a professional engineer and owner of Grenga Machine & Welding Co. on Wayne Place, bought the former Hood Electric building and property at 128-130 W. Rayen Ave. in 1997.
His company uses the Rayen Avenue building for storage and some assembly work, and it's not for sale, he said, adding that a number of other businesses make use of the property as well.
Grenga said he attended a March 16 public meeting on the development plan and learned that his property is on the list to be acquired for the project. It appears to sit right in the way of a YSU-proposed extension of Hazel Street, which now runs from downtown north only as far as Wood Street.
YSU, as part of its campus master plan (which is tied into the city development project), wants to extend Hazel two blocks farther north to Lincoln Avenue and tie it into campus walkways. The goal is to encourage more foot and vehicular travel between the campus and the downtown business district, university officials have said.
The project would cut his property in half, Grenga said, calling the proposal to extend Hazel Street "worthless."
"There's no foot traffic there," he said, pointing to Elm and Phelps streets, which already parallel the proposed Hazel Street route. There's not much vehicular traffic on those streets either, he said.
No one has approached him about buying his property, he said. He said he bought the site because his facilities on Wayne Avenue are overcrowded.
Although no employees work at the Rayen Avenue location full time, it is visited and some work is done there daily, he said. He wants to do more business at that location but is reluctant to go to the expense of moving heavy machines to the building if he might lose the property.
He noted that he's been offered $350,000 for the property in the past and turned it down.
"I need the property," he said, warning that, should the city try to take it by eminent domain, "There will be a court battle."
Mayor's response Mayor Jay Williams said it is premature to discuss eminent domain when it comes to this area.
The city is awaiting a study of the location and after it is evaluated, a decision will be made about trying to obtain properties there, he said. But several steps have to be taken first: The city planning commission must recommend the proposal, and then city council has to approve it, he said.
"If there are properties we need to acquire, you first negotiate with property owners," Williams said. "If they don't want to sell, we have alternatives."
Among the city's options are adjusting the plan to accommodate property owners who don't want to sell, and as a final option, taking the land through eminent domain, he said.
"By no means is eminent domain the first option," he said. "Most people want to see progress. We're sensitive to the needs of business owners, but we'd all agree that progress is important. We don't use eminent domain as a threat. It's used when necessary as a tool for progress."
Colleen DiVito, owner of University Pizzeria & Italian Eatery at 133 Lincoln Ave., said she was told that the building in which her restaurant is located is also on the taking list for the Hazel Street extension.
She doesn't want to move, noting she started her operation in May 2005 and has a $350,000 investment and 14 employees. She said she is where she needs to be geographically to survive. "I could never relocate this business because I depend on the university [for customers]," she said.
The plan to encourage foot traffic between the campus and downtown won't succeed, DiVito said. Students aren't likely to travel downtown between classes. "It's just really kind of senseless," she said.
Marie LaCivita, owner of Youngstown Plant and Flower Inc. at 150 W. Rayen Ave., said she has been told recently that her floral wholesale company will be spared. "I want it in writing," she said.
"I still oppose the plan as is. A lot of us do," she said, expressing criticism of the proposal to rezone the entire 38-acre area as institutional.
Much of the area is now zoned for business and should stay that way, she said. If the university takes all of the land around her business, she will eventually be limited to selling the property only to the university, LaCivita said.
She said she plans to present her case to the city planning commission when it meets April 18 to vote on the development district project. "I'm for revitalization ... but taking businesses to build a school for business doesn't make sense," she said, referring to YSU's plan to build a new Williamson College of Business Administration building in the block between Rayen Avenue and Wood Street.
The site would be bordered on the east by Phelps Street and on the west by the proposed Hazel Street extension.
Hunter Morrison, director of YSU's Center for Urban & Regional Studies, said recently that the university will need the city's help in securing properties for the project.
He also said that viable businesses in the project area should be allowed to remain and should work with the city to find funds to improve their properties, if improvement is needed.
"We're hopeful that we can get everyone sharing the vision and seeing the benefits," said Dr. David C. Sweet, YSU president.
The university is already talking to a number of property owners to gauge their interest, he said. Not every property owner in the target area objects to the development project.
The Catholic Diocese of Youngstown stands to lose buildings housing its Catholic Charities Housing and Catholic Service Center along Phelps Street to make way for YSU's new business school building.
The diocese is willing to give up that property, said Monsignor Robert Siffrin, diocesan administrator, in hopes that it may be able to acquire some of a vacant car dealership property on Rayen to expand its chancellery offices.
YSU also wants a part of that property for its development plans, Sweet said.
Part of a diocesan parking lot off Wood Street will also be lost for the Hazel Street extension.
It could be a win-win situation for the diocese, Monsignor Siffrin said, adding that the diocese supports the university and the city's efforts to improve the area. Seeing various segments of the community working together is "encouraging," he said.
Earl Calvin, owner of an occupied apartment building in the 200 block of Phelps Street, said he's not sure what will happen at this point. Most of the property owners in the proposed new business school area appear to be willing to work with the university, he said. His property would also be needed for the business school building.
Adam Rutushin, who owns an occupied apartment building at 224 W. Wood St., said he is nearing completion of an extensive remodeling project on his building and isn't sure yet if the city intends to take his property.
"I'm not going to stand in the way of any kind of progress," he said, but he also made it clear that he doesn't want to subsidize this project. "They have to treat the owners of each property fairly," he said. The apartment building is his main source of income. "I want to be cooperative ... but I have a lot invested in this property," said Rutushin, a YSU alumnus.
He questioned the need to rezone the entire area as institutional and said that, should the project development drag on for years, he might not even be able to sell his property in the future. There's just a lot of uncertainty about the whole project, he said. Rutushin said he would accept a fair offer "with some regret" if his property is to be taken and would be reluctant to see the building demolished.
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A note from one of the affected property owners to Eminent Domain Watch
on April 2 2007 stated the following:
The City of Youngstown told me they wanted to go through my building to appraise the building and land. I was told by the city's representatives that if I didn't let them into the building, they would get a locksmith and have the door opened. I agreed to let two persons in; however, they came with at least six people (I was not present; one of my associates opened the building for them).
Since they went into the building, about three weeks ago, I have not heard from anyone from the city. I have not had any discussion, other than above, with the city or YSU.