Ravenna plans to remove a bus shelter from the city's downtown in response to complaints about loitering.
Mayor Joseph Bica told members of City Council's community and economic development committee that the problem is not people waiting for the bus in front of 220 W. Main St., but people who use the shelter as a place to loiter.
"People sit in that bus stop all day long," he said. "There would still be a bus stop, just not a place to sit."
Community Development Director Kerry Macomber said the city received a petition with about 65 signatures, complaining that the shelter on the north side of West Main Street had become a gathering place for "undesirables." Ted Manfrass, who owns the building directly behind the shelter, said people presented with the petition were quick to respond by asking, "Where do I sign?"
A second shelter, located across the street directly in front of the Portage County courthouse, was not a focus of the complaints.
The city had suggested moving the shelter further west, in front of the Ravenna Township Park in front of the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army, Macomber said, was in favor of the move, saying many of its clients take advantage of the bus service.
Manfrass said the shelter, which was made to resemble a trolley car, was installed during Streetscape. Because there are only about 9 feet of sidewalk between the shelter and the window of his building, loitering has been a problem for his tenants. Previously, the martial arts studio had received complaints about the foul language parents heard while picking up their children. Now, he said, the side panels of the shelter have been removed. The Kidz Shop owner said people frequently loiter in her doorway because the shelter doesn't protect them from the elements.
"It's a problem," Manfress said. He said he agreed that most people causing problems are not waiting for the bus.
Bryan Smith, director of planning for the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority, sent a memo that "strongly recommends against the removal of the bus stop at West Main and Sycamore." However, he acknowledged, he had no authority to force the city to keep its shelter.
"PARTA does not own the shelters in downtown Ravenna," Smith said. "It is our understanding that they are the property of the city of Ravenna. As such, we can only recommend, as we have no property interest in the shelters themselves."
However, he pointed out that eliminating the shelter would leave no stops for passengers headed west on the InterUrban route. He noted that another Ohio community jeopardized access to federal highway funds over eliminating bus stops, and CDBG funds granted to Coleman Professional Services for its apartment project were granted because its residents are low income and "transit dependent."
"The 'transients' and 'undesirables' mentioned in the petition that 'loiter' in the area aren't necessarily there to ride the bus, but perhaps, live in and around downtown," Smith said.
Council President Fran Ricciardi suggested that relocating the shelter would simply move the problem further west.
Service Director Kelly Engelhart said the city has considered relocating its downtown benches, and wondered if a good place for the shelter might be on Park Way, in front of the city's police station.
"That's something we'd have to ask PARTA about," she said.
Bica said the police department has established foot patrols hourly as case load permits, but the problem persists.
"We'll see what happens," he said of removing the shelter.
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