The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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February 6, 2013

Occupancy permit plan resurfaces in Conneaut

CONNEAUT — A program that would submit Conneaut property to inspection prior to sale or rent has risen from the ashes.

City Council has begun very preliminary talks on an occupancy permit program aimed at improving housing in Conneaut, a sore point with residents for years. As outlined at Monday night’s finance/ordinance committee meeting, property-owners would have to purchase a permit — which includes a municipal inspection of the premises — before a house or apartment sees a new dweller.

As proposed, permits would cost $75 and last one calendar year, regardless how many times occupants come and go within those 365 days

The inspection, which is key to the program, dominated discussion. The city, most likely Planning/Zoning Manager Deanna Gates, would examine properties inside and out. Council was told the inspection would not be exhaustive, just enough to ascertain the property meets minimum standards laid out by the International Property Maintenance Code.

“It can be as involved as you want it to be,” said Councilman-at-large Neil LaRusch, committee chairman.

If property fails to make the cut, owners will have the opportunity to make corrections, officials said.

Law Director David Schroeder said the proposed plan would represent “a dramatic departure in procedure” regarding Conneaut’s approach to housing. “It’s a means to stay on top of (property) conditions in the city,” he said.

Council members wondered if Gates would have enough time to conduct property inspections in addition to her other duties. City Manager Tim Eggleston has indicated Gates is up to the task, LaRusch said. Some council weren’t so sure.

“I can’t see one person doing the job,” said Council President Thomas Udell. “I’m concerned with passing an ordinance that can’t be handled.”

The scope of inspection could be pared back to just the essentials to give Gates some breathing room, Schroeder said.

LaRusch, who chaired an ad hoc citizens’ committee looking at housing issues prior to joining council, said he would investigate the housing standards followed in other communities.

Similar inspection programs have surfaced in recent years, only to be rejected by council. The poor condition of some housing in town has been the top concern of residents who attend community forums. Since then, council has approved legislation aimed at improving buildings, most recently a law that requires owners of vacant or foreclosed properties to register the structures with the city.

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