Apartment complex at Whitwell a go

Published 12:06 am Sunday, September 25, 2016

Neighbors remain opposed

Although neighbors to the former Whitwell School remain opposed, the building on the roughly 50,000 square-foot property will soon become a 10-unit apartment complex.

Owner of the property and developer Jack Hager’s plan to split the building into three separate buildings, separated by breezeways, has been approved by Lawrence County building official Bill Toole, who was present at Thursday’s Ironton City Council meeting.

Hager first pitched his plan for an apartment complex in the former school building in 2012, and originally wanted to get the property rezoned from a Residential-2 (R-2) to a Residential-3 (R-3). The zoning issue came up again last year, in which the rezoning received unfavorable recommendation from the planning commission, backlash from neighbors and the ordinance eventually died at council.

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Without the rezoning, Hager was still able to go ahead with his plan and split the building up in order to be in compliance with the R-2 zoning.

Two buildings will contain four apartment units and one with two apartment units, making a total of 10 to start. The separate buildings will have one roof over them, although Toole said they are considered to be separate in the eyes of the building code.

The gymnasium is set to remain standing for the time being, but there is a potential add another four-apartment unit in that space.

Two apartments can also be added to the two-unit building, for a potential of 16 total apartment units in the complex.

Cliff Back, one of the neighbors of the Whitwell School and a strong opponent of the apartment complex, questioned Toole and council about the apartment plan being in compliance with the zoning of the property, and if apartments can be put into the building.

“We don’t handle any city zoning, only the building department specifically. I’m authorized for building specifics only, not if it can be apartments or not,” Toole said. “But Mr. Hager is compliant with everything, and the city can request the drawings and get the paperwork from the county. I did review Hager’s papers and gave him approval.”

Ironton Mayor Katrina Keith said that the city has Hager’s drawings and plans, which are in compliance with the R-2 zoning, and that city code enforcement and zoning officer Susan Dooley has been to the property several times.

Toole said that once plans are submitted to the county building department, they can either receive approval, phased approval, which means things are missing, but the project can be started in phases, non conformal approval, which means there are non life-threatening problems with the plan, which can be re-submitted in 30 days, or denial.

Currently, Hager received phased approval of the property, and has a demolition permit and permits for stairwell and interior framework constriction.

Hager’s plans are still missing building fire-protection codes and indicating compliance for installation of mechanical and electrical equipment systems.

“I just don’t feel like we’ve been treated fairly,” Back said.

Also at council:

• Resolution 16-37, to authorize the mayor to prepare and submit an application to participate in the Ohio Public Works Commission State Capital Improvement and/or Local Transportation Improvement programs for the South Ironton storm/sanitary sewers separation project phase IV (4), passed after a favorable recommendation from finance committee.

• Resolution 16-38, fixing the number and compensation of certain employees of the city of Ironton, and declaring an emergency, was passed after a favorable recommendation from finance committee.