The proposed conversion of Front Street into a one way street for the creation of a multi-use path made waves in Portsmouth City Council once again on Monday evening.
With two ordinances on the agenda for first readings authorizing the acceptance of grant funds from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in the amount of $187, 738.00 and $622,725.00, the time for a final decision on whether the city will move forward on the project, or choose to pass up the grant is quickly approaching.
At least two residents were present in opposition of the project, reiterating the same list of complaints that have been given since the project was first proposed. Residents stated the path and conversion would interrupt local businesses that utilize the street for loading and unloading merchandise, would negatively affect vehicle traffic of those wishing to view the murals, would prohibit those coming to take photographs with the murals from doing so, and would increase traffic flow on the already congested 4th Street.
While 1st Ward Councilman Sean Dunne has been a strong proponent of the project since its inception, listing the county’s low standing on health indicators as motivation for establishing the multi-use path to encourage fitness and activity as just one reason it should move forward. Other members of council noted they still have concerns with stipulations of the project. Councilman Tom Lowe asked City Manager Sam Sutherland what would happen to the grant money should the project not move forward. Sutherland indicated the project funds would be appropriated, and as money is spent it would be reimbursed.
“Basically nothing ventured, nothing lost,” asked Lowe, to which Sutherland agreed. “I would like to say, the reason this is getting a full reading is there are people concerned out there in the audience and I care about what they have to say. They’re a resident of this town just like anyone else and they have rights, and actually I feel this is kind of infringing on their rights. That’s just my personal opinion,” said Lowe.
“To add with what Councilmen Lowe has to say, when Connex came to us a couple years ago I didn’t support this. I went down and I talked to folks that live down there. Talked to business owners, I didn’t support it then and I’m not crazy about it now. If we don’t accept it though, we don’t get the grant, so what do you do?” said Acting Mayor Kevin Johnson.
“That’s why I’m wondering, once we accept this money can’t there be changes made to this proposed route or whatever? The key here is the people who live there, it’s the residents. You might not want this coming down your street. They deserve every opportunity, they’ve vested into a community for years. That doesn’t mean anything? I believe in standing up for ones rights like anyone else. I’m not against the bike path, I’m against what it’s doing to the community down there and to the residents,” said Lowe. “That’s what worries me. I’ve talked to a lot of people about it, there’s pros and cons on both sides, but it comes down to this, I’ve heard more opposition than I have anything.”
Dunne stated that he sees some parts of the project being an inconvenience, such as it effecting his personal commute to work, but said the project moving forward is the right move in getting Portsmouth in the right direction.
Councilwoman Jo Ann Aeh stated that she sees both pros and cons to the project, but said the similarities to the proposed conversion and the previous vacation of Third Street leave her weary to make hasty decisions again. “I objected to the vacation of 3rd Street, because what it was going to do to the people where I live. We have been pushed to 4th Street where the traffic is horrendous. The children are out there playing. You go to Gallia and its school time, you can’t get through. You go to 9th Street you can’t get through because you’re going to get hit by a softball. We are almost forced to go to 12th Street to get back here on 2nd Street. So I understand that part too. Hindsight is 20/20, we could do this and then sit here in a few years and think ‘It didn’t work out how we thought it would’, and 3rd street definitely has not. All that has been has made safe passage for young adults so they can text and walk across the street. So it’s kind of a dilemma for me,” said Aeh.
Councilman Gene Meadows agreed with Aeh on the vacation of 3rd Street being a decision he has learned from and said moving forward in deals with Shawnee State University he feels a time frame for projects should be in place. In regards to the front street conversion and multi-use path, Meadows stated that while he sees the goal of improving health standards as admirable he does not feel that those who fall into the unhealthy standard will make the effort to utilize the path for walking or bike riding.
Johnson asked Sutherland if issues such as that with the Vastine family (Valley Foods) and their warehouse, had been addressed in regards to the project. While Sutherland stated accommodations would be made, council was still unclear on what issues were yet to be addressed. Council voted to pass both ordinances for a first reading, but the fate of the project still appears to be up in the air.
In other matters of business, council elected to suspend the three reading rule for an ordinance approving the 2019 Capital Improvement Program budget and appropriating funds for same from Capital Improvements Fund No. 301 for listed items only, an ordinance approving the 2019 Enterprise Funds Capital Budget, designating and appropriating $850,000 in Waterworks Revenue C Fund No. 606; designating and appropriating $117,000 in Sewer System Revenue B Fund No. 622; and designating and appropriating $77,000 in Sewer System Revenue C Fund No. 623 for listed items only, an ordinance authorizing the acceptance into General Fund No. 101.4690 and appropriation to Fire Department Communication Equipment Maintenance Line Item No. 101.223.5267 of a check in the amount of $20,000.00 the Portsmouth Fire Department received from the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of State Fire.
Meadows was the only member of council to vote no on suspending the rule on all three items, once again stating he feels the three reading rule is necessary and that council is abusing the suspension of the rule.
Those three ordinances were passed by council, and all items were passed for their respective readings, while a resolution authorizing the Sutherland to enter into a partnership agreement with Scioto County for the 2019 CHIP program was adopted.
Reach: Ivy Potter (740) 353-3101 Extension 1932