City officials refused to back down from a decision last month that barred a support center from Kennedy Square.





New Castle City Council late last month rejected the request of the Lawrence County Drug and Alcohol Commission to establish a support center at the former House of Brews at 20 E. Washington St.





A sign appeared in the building's window recently notifying the public that the structure remains empty "due to the forward thinking of esteemed Mayor Wayne Alexander and City Council members Christine Sands, John Russo, Karen DeCarlo, Rob Ratkovich and William Quimby.





"Has the city of New Castle dressed up the downtown to showcase empty buildings?" the sign asks.





Council members were generally amused.





"After 16 years on city council, I finally got my name on a building," Russo said Dec. 19.





"When I heard about the sign last Tuesday, I had to run over to read it," Ratkovich said. "I had to see if they spelled my name right. You can't get publicity like that."





Despite claims, also on the sign, that the proposed use -- a support center -- is permitted in the C-2 Central Business District, council members and Alexander agreed: "This is not the type of business we want on Kennedy Square."





"It just doesn't fit in with our comprehensive plan for the downtown," Alexander said. "There has got to be a better use for a building right on the main street, on the public square in the central business district."





Alexander added he has heard that the rent requested for the 2,400-square-foot building "is too high.





"That is why it is empty," he said, "not because of anything city council has done."





Sands said she "would be the last person to impede economic development downtown.





"But the fact remains, what we turned down was a proposal for a rehab center. That could be located anywhere through the city."





"I don't oppose these centers," DeCarlo said. "But does it have to be located in a prime location in the downtown?"





"This is childish," Quimby said of the sign. "We need to start seeing a better attitude among people if we're going to attract any business."





Each member of council added that even now, after having time to consider his or her decision and in light of the sign campaign, each would still vote to deny the support center on the city's main street.





The building is owned by Sally Mauk and Terri Fulkerson.





Mauk's husband, J. Richard Mauk, said city officials claimed it was "not a conforming use.





"I don't see much use at all being made of the downtown."





Mauk's attorney, Charles Sapienza, said Dec. 19 he does not believe people understood what was being proposed.





"We're talking about professional services," he said. "That fits within the zoning ordinance that was in place at the time we applied."





The drug and alcohol commission, he said, would have operated the center.





"This was not going to be a halfway house or a drug and alcohol rehab center," Sapienza said.





The support center, run by licensed professionals, would have helped people whose lives were affected by drugs and alcohol to hone life skills, including developing a resume, using a computer and finding jobs, according to Sapienza.





Since council voted down the conditional use request, Sapienza said, he does not know if anyone has shown interest in the building.





However, he said, he is "looking into legal options" that might include a lawsuit.



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