Ravenna’s downtown district plan gathers steam with city council endorsement

Image of a rendering of the Downtown Ravenna courthouse parking lot
A rendering of Main Street Ravenna's proposed downtown courthouse parking lot. Image by Implement Studios

Young people have told Bill Barber, chairman of Main Street Ravenna’s design committee, that the city is uninviting. Its hodgepodge of boutiques, restaurants, professional offices, service-oriented organizations and empty storefronts doesn’t appeal to the younger crowd.

Barber is hoping to sell his vision for revitalizing downtown Ravenna to city, township and county leaders to change that perception.

Main Street Ravenna’s Downtown District Plan uses signage, art and landscaping to connect parts of the city so people feel welcome to stay and visit various locales and businesses, Barber told city council members on Monday.

He has already presented Main Street Ravenna’s ideas to various organizations, including the Portage County commissioners. While the commissioners did like the concept of softening the county parking lot with trees and landscaping, sacrificing parking spaces was a non-starter. Most of Ravenna Township’s trustees’ feedback has been positive, Barber said.

Main Street Ravenna is also considering updates for the courthouse lawn, perhaps moving the veterans memorial to open up the space and make the memorial more accessible.

“This is not a final design,” Barber said. “It really is something to have a conversation about.”

View the downtown district plan here

Main Street Ravenna’s vision includes a public art program that could include new murals and restoring faded ones, Executive Director Julie McLain said. The theme would be “what and who built Ravenna.”

Having secured the approval of several building owners who like the idea of murals on their buildings, McLain said she envisions a self-guided mural tour that would lead people through the city.

Finances are still an open question. Main Street Ravenna’s job is to create the plan and to encourage local leaders and businesses to get on board. When business owners, township trustees, city council or the commissioners wish to make changes to their properties, they would bear the financial responsibility, but they would all be working under the same cohesive plan, Barber said.

The next step, he said, is to encourage Ravenna’s property owners to implement the plan’s easiest components. To be decided is what that timeline might be.

Meanwhile, council members Amy Michael and Christina West and Police Chief Jeff Wallis are working on a survey to present to downtown Ravenna business owners, merchants and residents. Once the answers are in, city leaders will have even greater insight about Ravenna’s perceived positives and negatives.

The survey may dovetail with Main Street Ravenna plan, but may go beyond it, Michael said.

New fence rules approved

Also on Monday, Ravenna City Council approved restrictions on fences, hedges and walls within city limits.

Under the new regulations, fences, walls and hedges must still be two feet from the property line and three feet high — unless the fence is chain link or wrought iron, or vinyl with vertical openings of at least three inches. Then the fences can be four feet high, and no privacy slats are allowed.

Council decided to make the change after learning that fence manufacturers consider a three-foot fence to be a special order request, with the extra costs that entails, City Engineer Bob Finney said.

Fences from the front corner of residents’ homes to the rear yard may be up to six feet high, and corner lots will be treated as having two front yards, according to the new rules.

Shrubs, trees and hedges must be maintained and may be higher than six feet providing they don’t block or overhang the sidewalk. There must be eight feet of clearance from the sidewalk to each tree’s lowest branch.

Barbed wire fences will not be permitted in residentially zoned districts or in the city’s Central Business District. Where it is permitted, barbed wire must be at least six feet from the ground and must be slanted inward toward the interior of the property. No more than three strands of barbed wire may be installed on any fence.

If a property is zoned C-1, C-2 or I-1 and abuts a residentially zoned district, barbed wire is not permitted and the prohibition is not appealable to the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals.

Council decided to tighten the barbed wire restrictions after a local company received BZA clearance to install a security fence.

“Residents don’t want to look out their windows and see barbed wire fences,” council member Robert Kairis said.

Residents who violate any part of the regulations may face a minor misdemeanor charge and be fined up to $100 per day, per offense, as long as it is not corrected.

In other business:

  • A public hearing aimed at uncooperative property owners is set for 6:45 p.m. June 7. Council is considering legislation that would require property owners to agree to required inspections to ensure that building and housing codes are in order. If they won’t, the city would be able to get court authorization to enter the property. Contact Council Clerk Chelsea Gregor to participate.
  • Council earmarked its share of proceeds from the Portage County Drug Task Force’s forfeitures and seizures fund for police department use, giving Ravenna Police Department an $8,000 payment.
  • Some 270 youths and their families participated in the city’s Easter event, and over 100 children are participating in spring soccer, council member Tim Calfee said. He welcomed Bruce Pyles as the city’s new sports coordinator and noted that all the plots in the Chestnut Hills community garden are taken, including the raised beds. Melissa Morris has been hired as the city’s summer camp supervisor, council member Amy Michael said.
  • The city will apply for a $100,000 Kubota Hometown Proud grant. If the grant, which Kairis said is more like a nationwide contest or lottery, is awarded, it would be used to improve drainage on two baseball fields and to create a story walk at Havre’s Woods.
  • In a second bid to improve Havre’s Woods, the city will apply for a NatureWorks Ohio Department of Natural Resources grant to install a restroom facility. Because of the overall price of the project, council will have to put the project out for bid even with the grant, should it be awarded.
  • Council also earmarked up to $50,000 for playground improvements at the Community Action Council Youth and Family Center.
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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.