St. Paris considers future of vacant properties


ST. PARIS – The St. Paris Village Council covered a range of town topics on October 4 during its biweekly meeting, led by Mayor Brenda Cook.

The council welcomed guest speaker Dusty Hurst, Zoning Officer of Mechanicsburg and Zoning Consultant at Urbana City, to discuss vacant building maintenance.

Hurst presented the possibility of instating an ordinance that would reclaim and re-utilize vacant space within the village of St. Paris, as has been done in surrounding communities of Champaign County.

Having been a part of similar projects in Mechanicsburg, which approved this ordinance in 2017 and began work in 2019, Hurst noted various pros and cons of the efforts. Though the pandemic has slowed progress, reclaiming vacant buildings helps to prevent animal damage as well as breaking and entering. Vacant building maintenance can also stimulate the local economy, as it could encourage business owners to open up shop; conversely, a large presence of foreclosed and abandoned spaces can deter businesses from settling in.

Rehabilitating these properties can alleviate housing issues brought about by the pandemic. Hurst reports the success of this program in Mechanicsburg, as all properties that have been repurchased and rehabbed are now fully occupied and thriving.

“It’s helped us immensely,” Hurst said.

Hurst then explained the funding and fee schedule to complete these projects, as well as the guidelines for identifying a vacant property. A good indicator of vacancy is inactive utilities, such as water or electricity, for a minimum of 90 days.

Hurst views this ordinance as a tool to breathe new life and pride into communities.

“I don’t see Champaign County as a cluster of communities. Within the last few years, I think we’re coming together and the community is Champaign County,” Hurst said. “It’s a level playing field.”

As Hurst completed his segment, St. Paris village administrator Spencer Mitchell addressed his colleagues, summarizing Hurst’s points and expressing his desires to follow through with the project in the future only if the council felt it would be in St. Paris’s best interest. Mitchell believes this project can bring buildings long empty back into productive use while simultaneously promoting downtown vibrancy.

“We want to celebrate the use of the property and how it’s going to add a positive impact on the community,” Mitchell said. “I think we need to find a way to attract more. The stats speak for themselves, and the money that is being collected through those fees is going right back into the community.”

The council then tabled the issue with plans to discuss it further in future meetings.

Other business

Cook then moved into the mayor’s notes. She noted that the 2020 census tallied St. Paris at 1,882 citizens, down from 1,998 at the last count. Based on these numbers, St. Paris will continue to be labeled a village, as it remains under 5,000 occupants.

Cook also reported an upcoming meeting regarding the bike and multi-use path on October 20 at 7 p.m. at the municipal building. This proposed path, running through St. Paris from the county line to the Depot Coffeehouse in Urbana, is a state-funded project that would be divided into segments. County officials are currently conducting a trail feasibility study involving affected landowners to jump-start the planning process.

Next, Cook addressed the success of the homecoming parade that took place on September 30. She read a letter from Graham Local Schools’ Director of Operations, Don Burley, in which Burley stated his gratitude for the village’s involvement.

“We value the positive and collaborative relationship between Graham Local Schools and the Village of St. Paris,” Burley wrote. “Working in tandem with the village, sharing resources, and supporting each other makes for a strong and healthy community.”

Burley also mentioned that the school would be holding a meeting to debrief about the recent parade and evaluate positive observations as well as improvements for coming years.

After announcing her plans to attend the Ohio Municipal League’s virtual conference from October 20-22, Cook introduced new police officer Ashton Morgan.

Morgan shared his background with the council. Born and raised on the west side of Dayton, Morgan graduated from the Police Academy in 2015. With experience in the Tremont City Department, as well as several colleges, Morgan aims to settle down by working at the St. Paris department, where, due to his second occupation as a truck driver, he will serve part-time.

Upon the council’s approval, Cook swore in Morgan as an official member of the St. Paris PD.

During the discussion portion of the meeting, council member and Johnson-St. Paris (JSP) Fire Board member Terry Ervin reported that JSP Fire Chief Scott Massie resigned at the last fire board meeting on September 14. After receiving a promotion at his current full-time position, Massie struggled with an overloaded schedule. His resignation will be effective as of October 31.

Cook, along with the rest of the council members, expressed St. Paris’s appreciation for Chief Massie’s nearly 10 years of service as chief (receiving that title on July 1, 2012), as well as over 30 total years of service at the department in other capacities since August 1, 1990.

“We want to thank Mr. Massie for his work with the JSP Fire Department on our village’s behalf,” Cook said. “We are very blessed with a strong department.”

Council member Lynn Miller, of the Park, Building, and Trees committee, reported that he and fellow committee member Chad Hackley met with State Arborist Lisa Bowers about tree placement. Additionally, various foliage has been trimmed throughout the village to allow better visibility at intersections. Cook also chimed in to note that new playground equipment and sound toys will hopefully be delivered on October 19.

The council then progressed into old business, and Mitchell gave an update on the demolition project at the old junior high. He met with an EPA representative, as well as the president of Advanced Demolition (the winner of the project bid). Pending the approval of all paperwork and the smooth success of final inspections and an asbestos test, all parties hope to begin work in early November. Mitchell hopes to have a more exact date by the next council meeting, but emphasizes that due to pandemic slowdowns, delays may be unpredictable. Regardless, Mitchell stressed that the village’s goal is to be cost-effective and time-efficient.

Because of the significance that the building has held for the community, the demolition team will save 3-4 pallets of bricks from the site. Though the council has not reached a definitive decision, these bricks will be available to the public, perhaps for the price of $1 each.

For new business, Mitchell also announced the news that St. Paris has been awarded a $500,000 Community Development Critical Infrastructure Grant from the State of Ohio to go towards water line improvements on West Lynn Street.

“This will open up a lot of financial opportunities for us to make improvements to the northwest side of town,” Mitchell said.

As the village considers how to incorporate these new monies into its Five-Year Improvement Plan, more details will follow.

The meeting closed with public comments, in which council member Randy Smith spoke up to honor a well-known and well-respected community member and village resident, Tom Roush, who passed away on October 3.
JSP fire chief leaving post Oct. 31

By Katie Milligan

Contributing writer

Reach Katie at [email protected]

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