EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) — The business community of East Palestine has started a petition, expressing frustrations with a recently passed ordinance to the village council.

The petition, which has 25 signatures as of Tuesday, is mainly focusing on the new vacancy ordinance. The ordinance is requiring owners to pay a fee to have their vacant properties registered.

Don Elzer owns several buildings in downtown East Palestine, some of which are vacant. Now, Elzer must register his vacant buildings with the village administration and pay a $400 fee per building.

“That, they claim, will help eliminate vacant properties. It has nothing to do with that. What they’re doing is driving businesses and development out of town,” Elzer said.

East Palestine Councilman Brandon Runnion voted for the vacancy ordinance, which passed by a 4-3 vote.

“Most of these buildings have been vacant since I was in middle school, elementary school. We’re talking 10-plus years,” Runnion said.

The ordinance requires all vacant properties to be registered for the following fees, all of which will double up to five years:

  • $200 for residential buildings
  • $400 for commercial buildings
  • $600 for industrial buildings

A vacant building plan, as well as an inspection, is also required.

“If they’re actively trying to sell it, lease it, rent it, there are exemptions where they don’t have to necessarily pay any additional fees,” Runnion said.

Karen Christian owns an assisted living center in a former school adjacent to downtown. She, along with six other business owners, talked about her frustrations with the village government.

“It’s not the right business environment at this time. There’s too much stress on small business owners as it is to do this, is my personal opinion,” Christian said.

“I would really be upset if I decided not to rent it for a while and they charged me for it,” said Bill Strohecker, former business owner.

The consensus of the group was that East Palestine council was anti-business.

“They don’t come to the businesses, they don’t show their face and say, ‘Hey, what can we help you with? What could we do to help you?'” said Nathan Foster, former business owner.

“I don’t agree with that, no. We all support locally as much as possible, as much as humanly possible,” said Runnion.

The group would like East Palestine to become more like Columbiana.

Diana Elzer referenced a businessman who moved there.

“He said that the difference between doing business in East Palestine and doing businesses in Columbiana was night and day,” she said.

The business group said there are “slum lords” in East Palestine who need to be dealt with, but that the vacancy ordinance is hurting the good people of the community, too.

Runnion said he’s willing to talk with the business owners to address their issues, or they can speak at a council meeting.