Group looks to tackle Ironton blight

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 29, 2007

People other than just Ironton City Council members are tired of seeing dilapidated houses in Ironton.

A group of local businessmen and others told council on Thursday night that they have formed a non-profit group to do something about the buildings.

Mike Lutz, an area manager for an AT&T call center, said he moved back to Ironton to raise his son and he wants to help clean up the town.

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“It’s really hard to drive two blocks in this city and not identify a building that isn’t a nuisance,” Lutz said. “Dilapidated houses are everywhere, it affects everyone.”

The group formed after member Rob Slagel and Lutz wrote letters to the editor in response to an article in The Ironton Tribune about dilapidated houses throughout Lawrence County.

The men started getting phone calls from other people with offers to help, so they, along with Ironton Port Authority Executive Director Bill Dickens, decided to form the group. Ironton attorney Mark McCown provided legal help.

The group, which doesn’t have an official name but is tentatively going by the Lawrence County Housing Betterment Organization, would file a civil suit with a court that says a certain house is a public nuisance as defined by the Ohio Revised Code.

If the court finds that it is, the owner has a designated time to improve it or tear it down. If it isn’t fixed within a certain time, the property can be put into the group’s control to fix the nuisance. The group wouldn’t take ownership of the property. The owner would have to repay expenses incurred before regaining control of the property.

Lutz said the group’s goal is to assist the city, which gets grants to tear down a few buildings a year.

“This is absolutely just to help the city,” Lutz said. “These houses take away from the marketability of the city when businesses look to locate here.”

While the group hopes to start in Ironton, it wants to expand to the whole county.

“It’s a Lawrence County issue,” he said.

The group’s final goal is to not have to exist.

“We want to put ourselves out of business,” Lutz said. “The goal is to make the city more attractive.”

Councilman Richard Price said it sounds like a great endeavor and asked where they were getting money to move forward.

Lutz said it would come from donations.

Councilman Rich Blankenship said he thought it was a great idea to have community involvement in this process and he was supportive of the idea.

“Something needs to be done so we don’t have buildings sitting around like this for years,” he said. He added that there might be ordinances that the council could help to expedite the process.

In other people speaking to council, Chad Walden said he was concerned about the noise from the school projects that will be taking place throughout Ironton. He said he supported the schools but was concerned about construction beginning early in the morning.

Randy Henderson, of BBL, said the crews don’t start before 7:30 a.m. and work until about 4 p.m. He said they have added fencing to keep kids out and are spraying thousands of gallons of water to keep the dust down.

“We’re not here to cause problems in the neighborhoods,” Henderson said. “We are here to build schools.”

Mayor John Elam said the recreation board would be interviewing five people next week for the open city recreation director position. He added the board has approved a three-page job description.

Elam said that on July 25, he will attend a meeting in Columbus and will find out if the city has been approved for $2.9 million to clean up the old Intermet site.

In items on the agenda, the city council passed an emergency ordinance to buy computers for the police department, amended the city budget to fix a sewer line behind Frog Town USA, and passed two resolutions so the mayor could apply for downtown development grants.

The council failed to pass a resolution to purchase Bobcat skid loader for the wastewater treatment plant.