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Program helping Akron address blight

5/22/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Also, Council allows food trucks, with fees; Henry’s Acme closing May 30

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Akron City Council unanimously approved May 19 an ordinance authorizing the city to apply for funding offered by Summit County for the acquisition of property for reutilization purposes.

The city will apply for funding from the Summit County Land Reutilization Corp. to purchase property for its Land Banking Project, the purpose of which is to eliminate blight and prevent its recurrence.

Mayor Don Plusquellic said the city would use the grants for purposes similar to the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and Moving Ohio Forward funding Akron has received to repair or demolish and reclaim vacant and abandoned properties.

In other legislative action, Council also granted unanimous approval to an ordinance permitting food trucks to operate on public property in the city.

“We were looking for balance,” said Councilman Jeff Fusco (D-at large), chairman of the Planning Committee, as well as a part of the committee tasked to study and research the food truck issue when operators came before the city requesting the right to conduct business in Akron. “I believe we’ve accomplished our mission.”

Operators would need to pay a $225 application fee for a permit, plus an additional $1,750 to operate in the Biomedical Corridor downtown. That fee would be divided among the Akron Public Schools, the city, Summit County, Summit Metro Parks and the Akron-Summit County Public Library.

“It’s the taxpayers’ downtown,” Fusco said. “I believe there’s value in that and we shouldn’t just give it away.”

Fusco said he is open to revisiting the new food truck law and possibly tweaking it down the road. He called allowing food trucks to set up their business and serve the public in the city a “social experiment” and said it is an issue that many Ohio cities have struggled with.

Also at the Council meeting, Council members Russel Neal (D-Ward 4) and Michael Williams (D-at large) reacted to news that Henry’s Acme grocery store in West Akron will close by the end of the month.

Neal expressed disappointment and regret that the store didn’t have the customer support it needed to stay in business.

“I feel that as a community, we let him down,” Neal said of owner Henry Johnson.

Of the loss of the store in West Akron, Neal said, “We’re going to feel it. … This affects families.”

Williams and Neal said the community will need to consider what it needs in terms of grocery services and examine its ability to support a local grocery store.

“The grocery business is one of the most cutthroat and tough businesses to function in,” Williams said. “My prayers are with the Johnson family, and we’ll go from there.”

According to the Henry’s Acme Facebook page, new store hours are 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The store will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 25 and 26, and close May 30. Henry’s Acme is located at 1525 S. Hawkins Ave.

In afternoon committee meetings, the Public Safety Committee discussed a recent newspaper column and the city’s law regarding possession of marijuana paraphernalia. In Akron, possession of paraphernalia with intent to use marijuana is a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which can result in a $250 fine and jail time. According to state law, the offense is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a fine but no jail time.

The committee discussed the issue with Chief Prosecutor Gertrude Wilms and Akron Police Department officers Mike Yohe and Terry Pasko, who work with the Street Narcotics Uniform Detail (SNUD).

SNUD Commander Pasko said he is not in favor of changing Akron’s law to mirror the more lenient state law.

“I would hate to see a useful tool taken away from us,” he said.

Council members said they would like to continue discussing the issue, with some noting the inconsistency in public policy and others troubled that a person could possibly have a criminal record for possessing paraphernalia.

Wilms noted Akron Municipal Court has a diversion program for first-time offenders.

Pasko and Yohe added that evidence of intent to use marijuana is key to making an arrest, not simply possessing paraphernalia.

Due to the Memorial Day holiday, Akron City Council will not meet next week. The next City Council meeting will take place June 2 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 scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers.

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