Davis, who operates Brian’s Barbershop on West Lincoln Way, told the Journal he received a letter Wednesday from the village zoning inspector advising him his building was in violation of the building maintenance code. First passed in 2018, it requires property owners in the downtown business district to maintain their building facades and, if the storefront is vacant, make some attempt to find a tenant or sell the building.
One half of Davis’ building is vacant, which once was home to a tanning salon and then a business that made customized T shirts and other apparel. To comply with the building code, he needs to place a sign in the window listing it as either for rent or for sale.
Davis is refusing as a matter of principle.
“It’s none of their business what I do with my building,” he said. “I’m not putting a sign up in the window so everyone can drive me nuts just to please them.”
The vacant space is currently used for storage, and Davis said he is keeping it open for his daughter, who may open a business of her own in the storefront once she completes her education.
“I think it’s un-American that I would have to put a sign up to please the mayor and council just because they say so,” said Davis, who plans to ignore the letter and risk being cited into court. “If they’re ready for a fight, I’m ready to fight.”
This is not Davis’ first tussle with the village over one of its laws. In 2009, he was cited for having an internally lit business sign in the downtown historic district. The judge in the case ruled in his favor because the law allowing internally lighted signs had never been repealed by council.
As mentioned above, the building maintenance ordinance was amended in August to make it easier to enforce by eliminating the self-reporting requirement, with the village given the authority to monitor businesses for violations. It also includes a $250 annual “monitoring fee,” with the fee increasing to $500 the second year if the owner remains in violation, and $1,000 every year after that.
Davis said he understands the law is directed at the property owners who let their building sit vacant year after year while the structures deteriorate. But in enforcing the law, he said the village has cited property owners who ot only take care of their buildings, but have made significant improvements in recent years, such as the Subway and Sandy & Beaver Insurance buildings.
“Don’t hold us all accountable because of few bad apples. We’re not slumlords. We put money into our buildings,” he said. “I think they’re trying to do good (with the ordinance) but they’re going about it the wrong way.”
The letter also noted that Davis was in violation because he was delinquent on his property taxes, which also angered him because he knew it was not true but checked with the Columbiana County Treasurer’s Office just to make sure.
“I think it’s all un-American. I’ve paid my taxes, even though they say I’m delinquent on my taxes,” Davis said, adding that should have nothing to do with the building maintenance code.
Davis is not the first downtown property owner to refuse to comply after receiving a similar letter. Adam Newbold told council this fall he would tear down two buildings he owns rather than comply with an order he do some paint trim work on the structures. His case remains pending in county municipal court.
“Why do they come after people like me and Adam Newbold when we’re trying to keep our buildings up?” Davis said. “If I want to rent, I will, and if I don’t, I won’t.”