Zoning Panel OKs Variances for $25M Library Project

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown’s Board of Zoning Appeals and City Planning Commission approved eight variances sought by the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County for its $25 million renovation of Main Library.   

Items approved during Tuesday’s meeting also included a zone change requested by Common Wealth Inc. for two Park Avenue properties it acquired earlier this year. The board approved changing the zoning from multifamily residential to mixed-use neighborhood.  

The variances for the library involved parking, landscaping and lighting components of the project. Because of the additions being made – including a 6,000-square-foot addition, an outdoor event space, flexible lawn area and outdoor terrace – the library sought increasing the number of permitted parking spaces to 131 from the current 118. 

“With plans for an event center and the fact that we work with St. John Episcopal Church next door to use our space for Sunday services and big celebrations, we wanted to make sure we have plenty of parking,” said Aimee Fifarek, the library’s executive director. 

 “We’re doing quite a bit of site transformation here, to transform the site into more of a community asset that compliments the library as it is today and as it will be in the future with the renovations and the building addition,” added Nancy Lonnett-Roman, principal at landscape architecture firm Pashek+MTR, Pittsburgh.     

Variances were approved to permit lights in the parking lot to illuminate Grove Street – along the back side of the building, allowing access from Walnut Street – and to permit uplighting to showcase the library building’s historic architecture, Lonnett-Roman said.  

Other variances reduced the number of trees required on the site, including along East Rayen Avenue, because the widening of the road a few years ago reduced available space. Drainage and runoff design requirements were eased because an underground retention tank will be installed. 

With each variance, the library attempted to “honor and respect the purpose” behind the ordinance, “even if we didn’t comply to the letter,” Fifarek said. 

“We’re always grateful that the city officials have looked on this project with approval and we’re glad that we are on target for producing a good product that will honor the city,” she said. 

The projected completion date for the renovation project is early 2022.  

AMHigley Co. of Cleveland and Dawn Inc. of Warren, the construction managers for the project, have received bids for the first phase of the project, which will involve the parking lot and demolition of a maintenance garage on the site. Those bids will be reviewed during a meeting Monday, Fifarek said. 

“The stated goal was to have the work start in August. After the meeting on Monday and the actual awarding of the contract, we’ll be able to start talking about specific dates,” she said.   

Common Wealth sought the rezoning for 197 and 11 Park Ave., which it acquired in January, to match other properties in the neighborhood it uses for development purposes, said Bill D’Avignon, speaking for the organization.  

Other houses Common Wealth owns in the neighborhood have businesses on the first floor and apartments on the upper levels, according to Jim Converse, the organization’s community economic development director. 

“Common Wealth is involved with different activities to reinvigorate the neighborhood,” he said. 

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.