Our Towns

Room to Grow in Boardman Even without Empty Space

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BOARDMAN, Ohio – Boardman Township’s growth has been explosive. Before the completion of Southern Park Mall in 1970, the township was mostly farmland. U.S. Route 224 was a two-lane highway with light traffic, much like the rest of its path through Ohio.

“As soon as that mall went up, everything took off and the people in charge weren’t really sure of what to do,” says Trustee Brad Calhoun. “There weren’t enough side roads, for example. There wasn’t a lot of [governmental] planning.”

In the 45 years since, Boardman has become the economic hub of Mahoning County – Trustee Larry Moliterno notes most of the county’s sales tax revenues comes from the township – and has the second-highest population, behind only Youngstown.

“We’re a maturing community now. We were where all the growth was and now we have to prepare for the next generation,” Moliterno says.

Part of that preparation is making the township as appealing as possible to businesses and residents. Among the updates to the zoning codes are requirements for green space, including the number of trees in an area and better water drainage.

“We’re looking at our zoning codes to make them even stronger and allow businesses some more options to diversify that green space,” says the township administrator, Jason Loree. “It’s all about our ability to go the extra step for them.”

With the extensive changes over the years, businesses have been fully on board, the trustees report. And the businesses that abut residential zones are expected to go a step further by forming a delineated border for neighborhoods.

“Businesses embrace that. They like that it won’t be a concrete jungle,” Moliterno says. “We’re constantly talking to businesses that are abutting private neighborhoods to create a buffer and maintain the neighborhoods.”

With the commercial and residential boom, which peaked in 2005, Boardman Township is nearly out of unoccupied space. The result is many commercial buildings are being repurposed as new stores or offices. Another update to the zoning code, Trustee Tom Costello notes, is that if a building has been vacant six months, the new owner must adhere to the new codes.

“That way, we can make sure it’s up to standards,” Costello says. “It keeps us ahead of the curve.”

The reinvestment into older properties is evident all along Route 224. On the eastern end, near Interstate 680, Tiffany Square boasts a multi-million dollar facelift and will be home to a new Marshall’s department store. On the western end near the border with Canfield Township, the Boardman Plaza enjoys a new façade.

“We’re seeing a new look along 224 because people are reinvesting. That’s what we have to do as a maturing community,” Moliterno says. “There’s no room to grow so we’re trying to make the best of the space we do have.”

With the prevalence of chain stores throughout Boardman, Costello emphasizes that locally owned businesses still hold their own. They might not be along Route 224, he allows, but Boardman is their home.

“It might not be on 224 where rent is $12 or $14 a square foot. It may be on Market Street at $6 or $8. But they’re still in Boardman with that traffic flow,” he explains. “Small businesses can stay in Boardman and thrive. We’re doing everything we can to keep them here.”

The capacity for residential growth has also peaked, the trustees say. At present, construction is underway on just one housing development – on Western Reserve Road along the southern edge of the township – leaving the township to turn its attention to the houses already built.

The process began by taking an inventory of properties, Loree says.

“If they were built to be single-family homes, we want to make sure they stay single-family homes,” he says. “We’ve gone through a process to find houses that are multi-family or rental and convert them over [to the proper code]. That will only strengthen those neighborhoods.”

At the end of July, the township began a partial enforcement of its landlord registration program. There are 4,000 rental residences in the township, officials say.

“The good landlords understand what we’re doing and they’re supportive because they know this will maintain property values,” Moliterno says. “We’ve worked very closely with them through this.”

Decaying houses have been torn down to free space to build new ones or create green spaces in neighborhoods. Sixteen vacant houses were torn down last year, Loree says.

Over the past few years, the township has also worked to make itself more attractive to businesses and homebuyers. With the help of fire Chief Mark Pitzer, Boardman has lowered its Insurance Service Office rating to four from five, reducing the cost of insurance in the township.

“A ranking of one means you live between a fire station and a police station. A 10 means you can’t call them because they’re long-distance,” Costello explains. “For the average homeowner, it saves them $25 to $50 per year on their home insurance. For a business like the mall with millions of dollars in inventory, it comes out to thousands of dollars.”

Receiving a four rating puts the township in the top 18% of participating municipalities. Moliterno adds that the township is looking at what is needed to drop the rating to a three – putting the township in the top 12%.

Programs such as gas and electricity aggregation have also helped lower bills for businesses in the township, he adds.

Even with most space filled, opportunities remain for businesses in Boardman. Loree points to McClurg Road as one of the few remaining spots with land available.

“It’s an industrial area. The services and infrastructure – which is something everyone talks about, being centrally located – are available and ready,” he says. “Business opportunities are here. There are places ready for people to locate.”

Pictured: Boardman Township is home to nearly 41,000 residents. The heavy commercial traffic along the U.S. Route 224 strip results in occupancy as high as 100,000 on most days.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.