Editor’s note: This story is the first in an ongoing series of stories by Nicole Hennessy and West Life looking at the issue of updating Fairview Park’s master plan.
By Nicole Hennessy
Brian Bowles’ house paint peeled every few years. It always did. No matter what.
And when he got a letter from the city in reference to repairing this problem, he wasn’t sure how he would be able to afford it.
In Fairview, if you get a violation on your home because of a dilapidated garage or similar safety hazard or esthetic problem, you used to go to court. For about 10 years that’s not been the case.
“Now,” Mayor Eileen Patton explained, “we have a prosecutor hearing program,” at which the city prosecutor, John Castele, and building commissioner, Sel Kulcsar, meet with residents so they can apply what would be spent in court to the improvement of their property.
“I kind of just painted it as I could just to keep them off my back, but finally I had to go to a hearing,” Bowles said of his experience. “They didn’t help me at all. I mean, they didn’t give me any options.”
They were nice about it though, he said, and he appreciated the opportunity to be able to present his situation in a noncourt format.
“I don’t really have the money,” Bowles told them. “I’m doing the best I can.”
Hearing him out, the city ended up giving him a year to fix the problem, and luckily, during that time frame Bowles received an inheritance, which allowed him to make the necessary repairs.
If that wasn’t the case, then “I think I would have had to go to court, fight it some more or try to get extensions.” It wasn’t an easy fix that a new coat of paint would solve. It had to be completely redone. The city understood that.
“I got lucky as far as getting the money to do it,” Bowles reiterated.
Since then he’s noticed other homes in his community that are likely getting similar violation notices, such as an old house recently repainted and a neighbor’s home with suddenly well-maintained landscaping.
But “it’s a good thing,” he said. Residents want property values to stay high and neighborhoods to look nice.
Kulcsar said that most of the time when they schedule hearing, only about one out of four people show up. For those who don’t show up, they are sent to court.
Those who do show up reap the benefit of having their story heard with no imminent risk of legal action.
“If they display a hardship or show some reason where we need to get ′em some more time, we’ll do that,” Kulcsar said.
However, not all extensions are based on lack of money. For example, outdoor repairs are not expected of residents during colder months. And also, sometimes it’s a matter of contractors not having the correct permits.
Last year there were almost 50 cases to consider.
“I think most communities have that opportunity to try and remedy the situation prior to playing hard ball, so to speak,” Kulcsar continued.
Currently, there are no meetings scheduled, but that doesn’t mean the city’s residences are free of violations.
“I usually try to avoid it until we get into the season where construction work can begin again,” Kulcsar said, even in the wake of the springlike winter weather confusing Northeast Ohioans used to constant gray.
He acknowledges the aversion people have to getting this type of notice in the mail. However, he said, “they don’t realize that we’re here to stay and we will be back.”
Broken windows, peeling paint and uncut grass are the usual suspects, and come spring, once the city’s new master plan plans are sorted out, they will be pointed out and likely attended to.