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Steubenville Officials Prepare To Settle Discrimination Complaints

Photo by Linda Harris Steubenville 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna, right, presents a resolution designating April as Fair Housing Month to John Barnes and Mattie Pearson. The two have served on the city’s Fair Housing Commission for more than four decades.

The city of Steubenville is preparing to settle complaints that its neighborhood conservation districts discriminate against minority residents.

At Tuesday’s meeting, 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna introduced emergency legislation directing City Manager Jim Mavromatis to execute a pair of conciliation agreements with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. If approved, the agreements would end more than two years of legal wrangling over the impact NCDs have had on minorities.

The conservation district ordinance, adopted in 2014, was intended to “preserve the attractiveness, desirability and character” of residential areas by barring property owners from turning any more single-family homes into rental units, and requiring existing rentals to register.

To be designated a neighborhood conservation district, at least two-thirds of the property owners in the target area had to sign off, and every property owner in the zone had to receive and initial a fact sheet detailing his or her rights and responsibilities. Rental properties existing before a district was established were grandfathered in, as long as the owners remembered to renew their rental registry.

In October 2019, however, OCRC decided non-whites had been largely relegated to poorer areas not designated as neighborhood conservation districts since the ordinance took effect, creating a “disproportionately adverse effect based on the race of its residents.”

Council members declined to discuss the proposed settlement, nor did Law Director Costa Mastros respond to a request for comment.

During the meeting, however, Mastros told council the proposed legislation would have to be referred to the planning commission for its recommendation.

Normally, Mastros said the planning commission would have a full 60 days to issue its findings, but he asked council to “shorten the time (they) have to consider this from 60 days to 30 days, just because we have to move on this. You all have to get an answer to OCRC.”

Mastros said council needs to be ready to act on the conciliation agreements in June.

In other business, council unanimously approved rezoning a 7.228-acre parcel on Stanton Boulevard for public and semi-public (P) uses, so Steubenville City Schools can turn into a baseball and softball complex. The property had previously been zoned community commercial (B-2).

Superintendent Melinda Young had told the planning commission earlier this week her board tentatively plans to build dugouts, a concession stand, restrooms and equipment storage at the Stanton Boulevard property, “so long as all the funding is in place.” She said they hope to have an announcement within the next month.

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