The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

April 28, 2012

Boat firm may want building in legal limbo

CONNEAUT — A yacht-building company may be interested in acquiring a building in the middle of a complicated legal dispute, city officials said.

The Maryland firm, identified as Eastport, is assembling high-end vessels in a section of a Harbor Street building facing a six-figure lien brought by the city, Law Director David Schroeder said at Thursday’s City Council economic development committee meeting.

“(Eastport) has a small but skilled labor force (in Conneaut), and they want to stay,” Schroeder said.

Boats are being built in a building that is part of a property foreclosure action involving the city that has stretched for years. It began with the demolition of a dilapidated factory that once stood on the property. After the owner didn’t act on citations, the city knocked down the building and then placed its cost on the owner’s tax bill.

When the cost wasn’t covered, the city took foreclosure action, and $360,000 in liens are against the property.

For a few months Eastport has maintained a small work crew in a portion of the building, Schroeder said. Discussions with the company’s attorney indicate the company would like to stay put and would even invest some money into the building’s upkeep and handle environmental concerns involving the property, he said. In return, the firm may want the title free and clear and the liens removed, he said.

Portions of the building are in poor shape and would present a maintenance headache for the city should it acquire complete ownership. While Eastport appears to be a “consistent” business that could relieve the city of the burden, officials must proceed carefully, Schroeder said.

“Whatever you do with this building, risk is involved,” Schroeder said. “Is there a perfect solution? No. We don’t have a perfect solution for this building.”

Several drums outside the building containing chemicals have been a source of concern. City Manager Tim Eggleston recently learned some of the barrels contain acetone, which can be used as a solvent.

“(The barrels) appear to be in pretty good shape and could be moved without incident,” he said.

The property is also undergoing an analysis to determine if the ground has been saturated by industrial pollutants. Results of that study are expected soon, officials have said.

Committee members also briefly discussed a rezoning application involving a vacant lot at Parrish and West Main roads. The owner of the property wants to rezone the lot from R-2 (residential) to B-2 (highway business) to accommodate Dollar General, which wants to build on the site. Neighbors oppose the application, and they filled council chambers Thursday night.

Ward 1 Councilman Doug Hedrick, committee chairman, said council must understand its role in the matter.

“We must be focused on the rezoning question,” he said. “Is this appropriate rezoning?”

Council President Thomas Udell said even if the land is rezoned, there’s no guarantee the store will be approved by other agencies that must give their blessing to such a project at that particular location. “It doesn’t mean they will immediately start digging a hole,” he said.

An ordinance dealing with the rezoning issue will be introduced at council’s May 14 regular meeting.

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