Zoning Appeals Approves New Digital Signs for WRTA

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Work is expected to get underway in spring on the three-sided tower sign at the Western Reserve Transit Authority’s Federal Station downtown, now that a requested variance has been approved. 

The variance for WRTA was among several items that the Youngstown Board of Zoning Appeals and City Planning Commission took up at a special meeting Wednesday. 

That request and others – including a variance requested by the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County – had been on the agenda of the panel’s Nov. 19 regular meeting. No action could be taken at that meeting because the board lacked a quorum. The measures still require approval from City Council.

The variance for WRTA will permit the agency to install three digital signs on the tower at the corner of Fifth Avenue and West Federal Street, replacing the existing static signs. The current city ordinance says a digital sign can only have one face, said Joseph Steines, architect with GPD Group. 

“The sign itself is getting old so we wanted to fix it up and refresh it,” said Dean Harris, WRTA’s executive director, following the meeting. The upgrade will cost $140,000. 

The upgrade will permit WRTA to post route and schedule updates, promotions like its Fare Free Fridays and even welcome messages for the first day of school for students at Youngstown State University. “It’s a better way for us to make public service announcements,” Harris said. 

“It’s a great addition,” said Chuck Shasho, deputy director of public works and chairman of the zoning board and planning commission.

The refreshed sign will offer “a little bit of an accent” to the upcoming $26 million upgrade to Fifth Avenue and adjacent streets being funded through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or Build, program. 

WRTA is working with Steines to assemble bid documents for the work. “We’re hoping to get it out to bid next month so it’s ready for spring construction,” Harris said. 

The board also recommended approval of the Public Library’s request for a variance reducing the rear yard setback from 25 feet to 11 feet for a three-bay expansion to the garage at its Newport Branch. 

The expansion will permit the library to relocate equipment and vehicles now at the garage at Main Library to the Newport garage, where the maintenance and grounds department is located. 

The garage at Main will be demolished as part of its upcoming renovation, said Ron Faniro of Faniro Architects. 

Fourth Ward Councilman Mike Ray spoke in support of the variance. Alhough the project isn’t in his district, the library recently made a “substantial investment” on the West Side at the Michael Kusalaba Branch, which opened last year. 

“They’re good partners. They continue to spend millions of dollars on these library structures,” Ray said.        

“We’re quite pleased the commission agreed to do the special meeting and granted our variance so that we can build to the size that we were hoping for,” said Aimee Fifarek, executive director of the library.  

The library board of trustees’ building and sites committee will consider bids for the garage expansion at a brief meeting before library trustees’ regular meeting Thursday. The committee members could not vote at their Dec. 2 meeting because the city had not acted on the variance request. 

Six base bids for the work were submitted, including the low bid of $305,582 by Murphy Contracting, Fifarek said. Construction hopefully will begin in the next couple of weeks, she said.

Under planning commission action, the panel recommended rezoning two city lots on East Woodland Avenue from mixed use-community to single-family residential. First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver and his wife, Jasmine, plan to build a house on the two lots plus adjacent property they own. Oliver owns Kingly Hand Wash and Wax.   

“It usually goes the other way,” Shasho said, with city property owners wanting to rezone property from residential to commercial or mixed use.  

The planning commission voted against rezoning two properties owned by Michael and Pamela Sabol on Milton Avenue and Winona Drive from single-family residential to one- and two-family residential to provide sober housing for individuals recovering from addiction. 

Law director Jeff Limbian abstained on both votes in the event of legal action.  

Several individuals in the neighborhoods of the two houses objected to the rezoning at the Nov. 19 meeting. The Sabols did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, where objections were also raised. 

Among those raising objections were Jack Daugherty, neighborhood stabilization director for Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. Testifying against the Winona Avenue change, he characterized it as “a classic example of spot zoning” with no legitimate public purpose. The property is also out of compliance with the city’s property maintenance code, he said. 

The committee also denied a request by Arco Club to rezone a lot now zoned as single-family residential to mixed use-community for a proposed self-storage center. 

“I have not received one call in favor of this,” Seventh Ward Councilwoman Basia Adamczak said. 

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.