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Highland Square issues remain tabled by Akron Council

6/13/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Plus, food truck operators, EACH staff speak out during public comments

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Akron City Council members June 10 continued to take time on legislation pertaining to two development projects planned for Highland Square.

Council continued to take time on an ordinance authorizing a conditional-use permit for a retail/apartment development at 795 W. Market St., but several meetings with concerned neighbors appear to have been fruitful. During the Planning Committee meeting, resident Stephen Brooks submitted a letter with 19 signatures supporting a modified plan for the development that includes added conditions related to parking spaces, security lighting, the location of outdoor trash receptacles and sidewalk work.

Planning Committee Chairman Jeff Fusco (D-at large) said he anticipates Council voting on the project next week.

Fusco also asked Council members to keep a close watch on their inboxes as he expects additional information pertaining to a joint development agreement for the Mustard Seed grocery store project to be forthcoming. Legislation to approve the agreement — the language for which is not yet complete — also remained on time.

In legislative action, Council unanimously approved applying for and accepting an annual Justice Assistance Grant in the amount of $178,529 for law enforcement purposes. The city would receive 82 percent of the funding and the Summit County Division of Public Safety would receive the remainder. There is no local match required.

Council also removed from the consent agenda an ordinance directing financial support to a proposed zipline project in the Cascade Locks area. [For more on that, see the June 3, 2013, Akron City Council report in the West Side Leader or visit the archives at www.akron.com.] The item will go back on the regular agenda for further discussion. Fusco said after the meeting that a different entity has proposed operating the attraction, and Council and city administrators will fully investigate the issue before moving to pledge city funds for the project.

In other business, nearly 20 people spoke during an unusually lengthy public comment period.

A handful of people spoke to ask Council to consider a new law that would allow the operation of food trucks within the city.

Food truck operator Steve Sabo, of Norton, noted that Akron code prohibits selling anything from a vehicle, with the exception of ice cream trucks. He asked that an exception be made for food trucks as well.

Copley resident Jeff Winer, of the Greater Akron Food Truck Association, said, “Food trucks actually boost local businesses, including restaurants.” He added they create new jobs and contribute to the economy.

“We can provide good quality food,” said Jim Kuhn, who described a food truck as a complete kitchen on wheels. “We have a lot to offer.”

Sabo said food truck operators often are highly trained, adding he has five years of culinary training himself.

The majority of those who spoke during the public comment period were employees and supporters of East Akron Community House (EACH). Employees there recently staged a walkout to draw attention to what they say is financial difficulty at the agency.

James Shultz II, the director of finance for EACH since April, said the organization is in dire straits, with $80,000 in past-due bills, vendors calling to demand payment and an accounting system he is unable to extract needed data from.

“Something needs to be changed immediately,” he said.

Staff members said they have been unable to arrange a meeting with EACH’s board and executive director to discuss their concerns. Ward 5 Councilman Ken Jones, in whose ward EACH is located, said, “There’s a meeting that needs to happen.” He said he stands with the employees in solidarity and hopes Council members, the employees, the board and the executive director can meet.

“It’s not for us to question,” he said. “It’s for us to get answers.”

Employee Wanda Culp-Lias said, “The staff is not trying to create anything negative.” She said it would have been easier to keep quiet about their concerns, but “we cannot do that, because we are there for the people of East Akron. We believe in East Akron Community House.

“We’re asking for help,” she said to Council members. “We don’t know what to do next, but we know that you folks do.”

“We’re willing to do whatever it takes to keep this organization running and serving the community we love so much,” added employee Anna Davis.

The next Akron City Council meeting will take place June 17 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. in Downtown Akron. Committee meetings are set to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers.

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