Norwalk officials promise action on cafe owner's tree removal request

NORWALK The hotly debated fate of a tree blocking a sign at a downtown business could be decided as early as next week.
Annie Zelm
Jun 23, 2010

NORWALK

The hotly debated fate of a tree blocking a sign at a downtown business could be decided as early as next week.

Miguel Lugo, owner of Uptown Cafe on East Main Street, complained to council about the tree, and last week offered to pay for its removal. He asked council members if the large tree, which sits on the sidewalk directly in front of the entrance to his cafe, could at least be trimmed.

A specialist from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources studied the tree and offered his feedback to the city's administration, but the city's tree board has the final say. The board will discuss the tree at its next meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Safety services director Linda Hebert said she'll present the specialist's findings to the tree board, but won't weigh in on the matter herself. Lugo can also present his argument at that meeting.

Several council members expressed frustration over the issue during a work session Tuesday night.

Councilman Dwight Tkach said he was "mystified" that council couldn't do more to act quickly and help a local business owner.

Tkach, a local business owner himself, said he's beyond frustrated with the issue and has lost sleep over it.

"It just seems like everything we do is for big businesses, and when someone has a small request, we can't do it," he said.

Other council members asked questions about the matter, discussing it for nearly half of the hour-long meeting.

Norwalk resident Jennifer Landis said the tree's position makes it difficult for out-of-town residents to find the cafe.

Norwalk Mayor Sue Lesch said she understood their frustrations, but the wheels of government turn slowly by design. The issue first came before city officials June 3, Lesch said, and they had to research the problem to determine the proper procedure.

Lesch met with Lugo several days ago to discuss possible solutions, as well as ways he could attract business in the meantime.

Still, the tree board still has the final say -- not city officials, Lesch said.

"In the end, we, I guess, underestimated the passion to have the tree down," Lesch said. "We're moving along with the process, and hopefully he'll have an answer by next Wednesday."

In other business, council:

* Approved by emergency legislation appropriations that included moving $17,350 from the general police fund to the auxiliary fund to allow auxiliary officers to assist during peak times.

* Approved by emergency legislation appropriations to move a total of $39,570 from several funds to pay for the salaries and other expenses involved in hiring eight seasonal workers through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The city will be fully reimbursed for the cost of the employees and will also receive an additional $750 stipend for each.

* Authorized the mayor to enter into a purchase agreement for wetlands property the city hopes to preserve with grant money from the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund. The grant deadline is June 30, and Lesch said the city expects to learn whether it receives the grant by the end of July. If the city does not receive the grant, it will not continue with the purchase, according to the agreement.

* Authorized the mayor to submit an application to the Ohio Department of Development for a $77,000 Community Development Block Grant. If it receives the funding, the city plans to use $66,000 to pay for a waterline project benefiting primarily low-and moderate-income households on Seminary Street and Case Avenue. The remaining $11,000 will be used for administration and fair housing activities.