City Council: April 3, 2017

Rules & Ordinances Committee Report

Committee chair Councilman Litten, Councilmembers Marx, Nolan, and Bullock, Director Beno of Public Works, legislative liason Maureen Bach, Bill Hanna from Walter Haverfield, Kevin Lynch from AT&T, and several members of the public attended the last Rules & Ordinances Committee Meeting on Monday, March 27. First, the committee discussed Ordinance 59-16, regarding use of public ways by service providers. The committee discussed minor substitutions to curb ramps and how they should be left after work is completed, so as to conform to existing specifications within the city. While Lynch expressed concern for the ordinance, the committee recommended adoption of the ordinance.

In addition, the meeting discussed the ongoing Overlook Signage Project.The committee decided communication should be tabled until cost estimates for the design and maintenance plans are revised. “With new specifics,” Litten stated, “the project could be brought back to the committee,” as well as City Council.

Ordinance 59-16: Use of Public Ways by Service Providers

Kevin Lynch, the Director of External Affairs from AT&T, spoke to council about how the ordinance was “overbearing” and “unnecessary.”  Lynch explained that AT&T is concerned provisions will negatively impact the construction process for AT&T and other network providers. Lynch commented that AT&T would “simply be unable to comply” with proposed requirements, stating the process required for construction permits, under the new ordinance, will stall investment to the city and potentially prohibit 5G and future technologies to Lakewood residents. He threatened that AT&T is considering shifting its investment to another city over Lakewood with less burdensome restrictions, arguing that the Lakewood right of way ordinance is one of the most restrictive in the state. Lynch requested pulling the ordinance from the docket in order for AT&T to work further with council to revise it.

In response, Law Director Butler stated that the City is committed to working with all utilities working within the public right of way as the new regulations go into effect. Councilmember Anderson asked Bill Hanna from Walter Haverfield to comment on AT&T’s characterization of this ordinance as one of the most restrictive in the state. Butler responded he is aware of more detailed and demanding local legislation, remarking the characterization of Lakewood’s ordinance as the most restrictive in the state as an unfair assessment. Next, Hanna remarked most communities do not exercise authority to regulate occupancy and use of right of way, leaving it instead to the state statute. He continued that Cleveland Heights and Painesville have more burdensome ordinances, contending Lakewood’s ordinance is a conscious effort to address concerns in a way that is workable for both the city and occupants of the right of way.

Mayor Summers stated Lakewood is a unique community and comparisons to other cities were not relevant. He continued saying that Director Beno, Mr. Lynch, and engineers from AT&T planned to meet to work things out. Council President O’Leary disagreed that Lakewood’s proposed ordinance was the most restrictive or burdensome in the state. He criticized AT&T for lobbying the state legislature for an “atrocious” piece of legislation providing overreach to AT&T, characterizing it as a violation of local home rule authority. He expressed his dismay at AT&T’s assertion that they would take their business elsewhere than Lakewood, commenting that AT&T has an interest in providing service to its cellular customers, so arguing AT&T’s asserted lack of interest in network strength “doesn’t follow very good logic.”  The Council voted, and the ordinance was adopted unanimously.

New City Memberships

Council adopted Ordinance 45-16A, an ordinance adding three memberships to the list of associations to which the city belongs and pays dues. The organizations include a purchasing co-operative, an HR professional association, and a water infrastructure association. With the budget “not to exceed $60,000,” the dues total $25, $50, and $1,000, respectively.

Ordinance 18-17: Easements for AT&T

Ordinance 18-17 is proposed legislation to enter into agreement with the Ohio Bell Telephone Company (AT&T Ohio) to grant three easements for the placement of and access to equipment used in the transmission of signals for communication, video, and information services. The three proposed locations are located at 14740 Lakewood Heights Boulevard, 13029 Madison Avenue, and 14601 Detroit Avenue. The council deferred the ordinance to the Public Works Committee, which planned to visit the sites and view the landscape plans.

Animal Safety Welfare Advisory Board

President O’Leary and Councilmember Marx jointly proposed Ordinance 19-17, an ordinance amending chapter 146.04 of the code to its original text.  This revision provides the Board the authority to advise the Council on issues relating to animal safety and welfare. Councilmember Marx explained the previous amendment to the code restricted the parameters of the Board to issues specifically referred to it by Council. She remarked that the recent instances of coyotes in the city are one example of how dynamic animal issues facing the community can be. She thanked the Board for its hard work on education campaigns, encouraging the involvement of the Board and Council.  Councilman Anderson thanked Marx for the communication, stating the amendment would empower the Board to be a larger voice in Lakewood. He recognized the Board’s past “outstanding” work with the feral cat population.  The Council referred the amendment to the Public Safety Committee.

Mayoral Resolution to Oppose Ohio Senate House Bill 49

Mayor Summers presented Resolution 89-2617, a resolution strongly opposing the Ohio governor’s 2017-2018 Budget House Bill 49. The Mayor stated that the institution of a state operated program of a centralized collection of Ohio municipal net profit income tax was “yet another attempt at the state government to increase its size, expand its control, and appease its special interests at the expense of municipalities and their citizenry.” He warned that the state seeks to charge municipalities a 1% “fee” for the “mandated privilege of assuming collection of this tax.” Summers explained that the proponents of the strategy claim that the filing of net profit returns (business taxes) with municipalities is difficult, while ignoring that only 13% of Ohio businesses file in three or more cities. The State suggests the solution to this, in Summers’ words, “phantom problem,” by mandating use of the Ohio Business Gateway, through which business can already file their net profit returns on a permission basis. However, due to frustration when using Gateway, only 3% of Ohio businesses choose to use this option. 97% prefer to file their taxes locally.  Summers continued sayig that the State promises a fully functional, user-friendly upgrade by October 1, 2017 but argued that the deadline was unrealistic. The Mayor contended that forcing its “customers” to file through a mandate they have avoided thus far eliminates the competition of smaller tax businesses. 

Councilman Anderson voiced support for the resolution. He said that he assumed the 1% fee was an introductory rate and was concerned that the rate will increase a percent every several years, up to 8 or 9%. Councilman O’Leary strongly supported the resolution, stating the bill has the potential to hurt Lakewood “systemically every year from here on out.”  In addition, Councilman O’Malley thanked Summers for his leadership on the issue, as the Mayor testified in Columbus against the bill. The council unanimously passed Resolution 8926-17.

Cornucopia, Inc. Concessions at Lakewood Park

Law Director Butler presented Ordinance 20-17, a lease agreement between the City and Cornucopia Inc. for concessions at Lakewood Park. If adopted, Cornucopia Inc. would sell healthy concessions, starting in Summer 2017. The Council deferred the ordinance to the Public Works Committee for further discussion.

Corrections Officers Collective Bargaining Agreement

Law Director Butler proposed Resolution 8927-17, a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the Ohio Patrolman’s Benevolent Association of Corrections Officers, the union representing corrections officers. The 2017-2019 contract follows the collective bargaining contracts already approved by the Council in regards to wage increases and health packages.  The council adopted the resolution.

Planning & Development Department Request for Authority in Acquiring Real Property

Planning & Development Director Sylvester introduced Resolution 8928-17, legislation requesting the authority for the department to purchase real property without advertising, competitive bidding, or specific council approval, for a period of three years. The amount would not exceed $70,000, and the resolution would replace Resolution 8726-14, adopted on April 7, 2014.  Sylvester commented that the City of Lakewood works to eliminate conditions that threaten the quality and character of residential neighborhoods and commercial corridors. He remarked that the ability to acquire low value real property, without meeting the requirements of the Lakewood codified ordinances, allows the city of Lakewood to positively impact these areas when circumstances such as deferred maintenance, abandonment, obsolescence, tax delinquency, or foreclosure renders a property unfit for occupancy (or non-productive, under section 5722 of the Ohio revised code). Sylvester insisted, “acquisition is the last resort,” advocating the use of cases with site control for sustainability of individual properties.

Councilman Anderson asked the administration to provide context in the number of opportunities that the administration has used this authority since April 7, 2014, explaining context would be helpful to consider this request for extension of authority. O’Leary agreed, stating it was an “extraordinary” request – “not to say it won’t be good conversation,” he followed. O’Leary marked his concern for the $70,000 cap, as well as the three year duration of the resolution – a timeframe that would bind a future council to this decision.  Councilman Bullock questioned the source of funds when this authority was used in the past, and Sylvester explained the department received Community Development Block Grant Funding, passed by Council in 2008 during the housing crisis. Sylvester contended that the City has been very effective in turning the worst properties to the best. He remarked that since 2008, the Planning & Development Department has used this authority twenty-one times (approximately twice per year). The Council referred the resolution to the Housing Committee.

Public Comment

Kayleigh Sullins came out to speak for the trees. Concerned about trees being cut down on Clifton Boulevard, Sullins explained the necessity of trees in removing excess carbon dioxide from the environment. She described how carbon dioxide acts as a blanket around the earth, absorbing heat and warming the atmosphere. Expressing concern that the president of United States is actively undoing environmental protection policies, Sullins charged Lakewood to act as a positive example of a City combating climate damage. She asked if the trees cut down would be replaced by new ones, as well as questioned the City’s policies to protect living trees.

In response, Councilman O’Leary stressed that the Council takes the concern very seriously. He commented on the importance of maintaining the tree canopy in Lakewood. “It’s gorgeous, it sets us apart, and it aids in property and environmental values,” he said. The City is removing 22-25 large trees from Clifton Boulevard over the course of a year, removing 150-170 trees total from Lakewood in a year. O’Leary promised the trees were removed for health and safety reasons or the trees were diseased. He also explained there is a volunteer Tree Task Force to address tree related issues in Lakewood.

“The city employs four full time urban foresters committed to maintaining the urban canopy,” Mayor Summers clarified. He explained the expectation of the City to plant 300 trees every year, as it has done for the past two years.  Summers explained the City’s ultimate goal to expand Lakewood’s canopy overall from 28% to 36%. He acknowledged that it was a challenge because of trees growing slowly, illuminating the foresters’ commitment to selecting trees unaffected by disease. In addition, Councilman Anderson thanked Sullins for her comment. He shared that Chris Perry, an arborist hired by the City, will not authorize the removal of a healthy tree. Councilmember Marx also expressed her gratitude for Sullins’ concern for the loss of trees. She shared that the volunteer Tree Task Force meets at the Lakewood library and has a website, acknowledging the group’s hard work to repopulate city with trees.

Councilman Bullock remarked that it might be time for councilmembers to take the next step towards tree policies. He suggested approaching the private side of the property line. “If we are going to make true headway towards reaching our ambitious goals of canopy coverage,” he said, “the vast majority of trees are in the private property line.”  Bullock questioned how the City could springboard an educational campaign for private property owners to manage mature trees. In addition, Councilman Nowlin, the Chair of the Public Works Committee, pledged to meet with the Tree Task Force.

Law Director Butler offered that he feared that the Tree Task Force had officially disbanded. He said that the group still meets unofficially and voluntarily as individuals. Councilmember Marx said that she believed it is a sub-group of the Keep Lakewood Beautiful organization and encouraged Sullins to engage with the beautification group.

Council Comment

Councilman O’Malley questioned why a number of places on the road were blocked off on Edgewater Drive between West 117th Street and Cove Avenue.  Director Beno explained that contractors repaired ducts in two underground AT&T duct banks.

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Volume 13, Issue 9, Posted 4:19 PM, 05.02.2017