Two years after buying the historic Santa Fe Railroad Depot, the City of Cleveland is still working on plans to move the structure from a Manthey Street property to a lot adjacent to the Cleveland Civic Center and across from Stancil Park. The stalled depot project was discussed at the Cleveland City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 21, by the owner of the Manthey Street project and the former depot owner, Robert Howell.
Since the City purchased the depot for $40,000 in 2020, Howell has been forced to continue paying property taxes for the structure and it has prevented him from making improvements to other structures.
“I can’t get the City to move the depot out of the way. I am stuck over there with a lot of buildings that aren’t making any money,” Howell said.
While Howell could not provide Council with a specific dollar amount for the additional tax burden placed on him by the depot, he said, “It’s more than I want to pay.” Howell told Council he plans to erect a building on the site and has been forced to keep it in storage until the depot is moved.
Howell asked Council to pay $1,500 a month going forward for as long as it takes for the depot to be moved. He also asked for the rental payments to be retroactive to January 2022. While Councilmembers appeared to be sympathetic to his situation, City Attorney David Olsen said the City cannot agree to retroactive payments.
“It’s not appropriate for the City to pay for past months,” Olsen said.
Olsen told Council that he will “huddle up” with city staff and Howell to work on an agreement.
BASEBALL FIELD NAMING REQUEST
During public comments at the start of the meeting, Council heard an impassioned plea from Millie Huerta, the mother of the late beloved youth sports coach Albert “Chop” Gonzalez, who died in August 2021 at the age of 31 from COVID-19 complications. Huerta asked the Council to consider naming one of the four ball fields at the Cleveland Municipal Park on SH 321 in honor of her son.
“Albert wasn’t born in Cleveland but he was raised in Cleveland. He went to school here. He went to the service. This is my Albert,” she said, holding up a photo of her son to Council. “After the service, he came home. He was big about being involved in this community. He never had any biological children of his own but he was blessed to be involved with a woman who had children.”
During the latter years of his life, Gonzalez volunteered as a youth baseball coach for Cleveland Youth Baseball Association. This past season, a team was formed in his honor and named “Chop’s Squad.”
“I am coming today to ask if you are willing to name one of the baseball fields after him. I know it’s a huge request,” Huerta told Council. “Cleveland has been so good to us. When you go to the baseball fields, there are four fields. Number 2 is where Chop Squad played. If it’s at all possible, Albert’s birthday is coming up and this would be something I would love to be able to give my kids to celebrate Albert’s birthday.”
As the request was not on the agenda, Council could not take action; however Mayor Richard Boyett told Huerta that be believes her request would likely be supported by Council at a future vote.
“Your son touched a lot of people,” added Councilman Danny Lee. “I am one of the people who truly admired him. I don’t think there is any person in Cleveland who wouldn’t feel the same way.”
As Gonzalez’s birthday is July 17, the Council will have to move quickly on the request. They meet again next Tuesday, June 28, to canvass the June 18 election results and to swear in incoming councilmembers Fred Terrell and Desiree David. The June 21 meeting was the last for Lee, as he was unable to seek reelection due to term limits. Terrell won his seat. David won the seat of incumbent Councilwoman Delores Terry, who was absent from Tuesday night’s meeting.
CITY TRYING TO FIGHT BLIGHT
One issue that will be pushed off for the new Council to decide is how to address nuisance properties. Code Enforcement Officer Ida Rodriguez complained to Council during the meeting that she has exhausted all efforts to remedy some blighted properties in the city.
Rodriguez has sent letters and tried contacting property owners by phone to discuss what must be done to comply with City ordinances, but her efforts have gone ignored. Other property owners who made an effort to clean up end up piling up junk and debris again.
“One [property owner] cleaned up and was back in the same situation four months later. It’s the homeowner’s responsibility to keep it in a safe and sanitary situation, and none of these are in a safe and sanitary situation,” she said, showing Council photos of some of the nuisance properties.
Rodriguez told Council she has tried to explain that the property owners are creating a risk for themselves and their neighbors from rodents and snakes.
“One property owner who was taken to court said he would come pay the fine and is continuing to add to his property,” she said.
City Attorney David Olsen said Council could consider taking civil action against the property owners, but it could be costly in some scenarios where ownership of the property is murky.
“We have to exhaust all ways of notifying owners or heirs,” he said. Olsen suggested that the City pick the worst violators and take legal action against them, which might then curb problems with other property owners.
Whatever the City decides to do, it must be consistent for all property owners, Lee said.
“Don’t cherry-pick different people. That’s when people lose respect for our credibility,” he said.
The City plans to work with Olsen and Mary Ann Powell, another attorney for Olsen and Olsen, on a game plan for addressing the nuisance properties. No action was taken on Tuesday.
WATER PARK OPEN
Interim City Manager Angela Smith advised Council that the City’s new splash pad in Campbell Park is open four days a week. The days of operation are being temporarily being restricted as the City is still in the process of rehabbing two water tanks.
“Once we get our two tanks back online, then we will be able to run the splash pad more days. Right now we are trying to walk a fine line to make sure everyone is taken care of,” Smith said.
A party in Smith’s honor will be held on Friday, June 24. She has worked for the City of Cleveland for the last 13 years, most recently as city secretary prior to her appointment as interim city manager.
“I think I have made a difference. I have enjoyed my time here. I am leaving it in good hands. Jennifer Jeude will be the deputy city secretary,” Smith said.
In other business:
- Council approved the purchase of a zero-turn lawnmower for $9,700 from LoneStar Outdoor Power Equipment to replace one that was stolen during a recent break-in at the East Plant;
- Council approved an amendment to a utilities services agreement between Cleveland MUD District 1 and the City to allow the developer to build 210 homes as opposed to the 200 that were previously approved;
- Council approved a Request for Qualifications for the purpose of selecting an engineering firm to provide general engineering/plan review services for the City of Cleveland.
- Council tabled action on a requested agreement between South Cleveland Water Supply and the City for emergency water supply;
- Council approved spending $7,000 in Hotel Occupancy Taxes for roadway signs that alert motorists to businesses that offer food and fuel;
- Council approved a new fee schedule related to the cost of boring, street cuts, and water and sewer tap fees. With rising costs from inflation, the City has to pass on these costs, Smith explained. The new fees are as follows: $300 for road bore, $600 for street cut, $800 for water tap, $1,110 for long line water tap, $700 for sewer tap, and $750 for long line sewer tap.
Council met briefly in executive session but took no action on appointing an interim city manager.