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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 26, 2007

Foltin vs. the gay bar

Lorain mayor bans parking in front of night spot, even though city law allows it

Lorain, Ohio--A gay bar is at the center of a parking controversy that pits Lorain�s mayor and city council against each other in a separation of powers dispute.

The bar�s owner says the mayor is illegally targeting his business and making it difficult for his patrons to park. He is considering legal action against the city.

The rift is over eight blocks of Broadway Avenue, the main north-south street in Lorain. Mayor Craig Foltin has banned on-street parking in this stretch of road, contradicting a city ordinance he earlier signed into law.

There are three establishments affected by the ban: a union hall, a restaurant and Tim�s Place, the city�s only gay and lesbian bar.

Arguably, the bar is hurt the most. It is dependent on the generosity of neighboring businesses who allow patrons to park in their lots.

Tim Draves, who has owned the club for 22 years, says this causes problems for people who cannot walk far, and also makes it difficult for the bar to receive deliveries.

The bar has no parking of its own. The restaurant has a few spaces and is on a corner close to street parking. The union hall tore down a house next door to expand its parking lot.

Draves says that the street used to accomodate up to 25 of his patrons� cars.

The rest of the area is mostly empty storefronts and businesses that are not as dependent on walk-in traffic, or which have off-street parking lots.

According to Draves, parking was allowed with time restrictions until 2005 when the city resurfaced and re-striped the four-lane roadway.

Because of that project, Draves and several other business owners asked city council to remove the time restrictions and mark the street accordingly.

Council subsequently passed an ordinance designating the lane in front of Tim�s Place for parking around the clock, and Foltin signed it on December 12, 2005. That ordinance made parking on that stretch of Broadway much the same as it is on the rest of the street.

But for some reason, last summer Foltin ordered permanent signs posted on the stretch, prohibiting all parking. During that time, Foltin, a Republican, was running against Democrat Betty Sutton for the congressional seat vacated by now-Senator Sherrod Brown. Sutton handily won the race.

Two of the No Parking signs are prominently placed on either side of Draves� bar.

Although the signs contradict the 2005 ordinance, a state law generally prohibits parking anywhere a sign is posted prohibiting it.

Foltin did not return calls for this report.

However, according to Lorain law director Mark Provenza, city council has the sole authority, according to state law, to control parking on the city�s streets.

Provenza said he found no evidence, searching city council�s records, where council ever gave that authority to the mayor or his safety service director.

So, at the request of Draves and other business owners, city council passed another ordinance last month, this time allowing for parking on that stretch of Broadway from 6� pm to 3� am. This time, Foltin vetoed the measure.

In a letter to council explaining the veto, Foltin singled out the bar, saying that parking in front of it �will create serious hazard to public safety.�

�In addition,� wrote Foltin, �there have been many improper accusations and twists trying to tie this important safety issue of not parking in front of the bar in dispute into a matter of not supporting local business.�

Draves hung a sign on the side of the bar after Foltin posted the no-parking signs which says, �Mayor Foltin does not care about Lorain�s small businesses.�

Foltin continued in his letter, �It is important to note, that the Treasurer of the City of Lorain has no record of any taxes being paid or filed under the names of Tim�s Place, Mr. Draves� name, the address of 2223 Broadway, or Villa Capri, under which the business is incorporated. I urge the Auditor, Treasurer, and City Council to investigate under what name this business is filing taxes under.�

The bar has also been known as the Serpent, the Nite Club and Delirious over the past two decades.

Foltin did not explain the connection between taxes and traffic safety.

�I can tell you he�s not delinquent,� city treasurer Thomas Urbanek said when asked if Draves or the business was delinquent on city taxes.

In his letter, Foltin also cited statements from his police chief that �we already have a high number of accidents on this roadway, due to various contributing factors� as evidence against parking in front of the bar.

However, in the next paragraph, Chief Cel Rivera wrote that, between 2002 and 2004, there were 30 accidents on the stretch of Broadway that covers the front of the bar.

�I am unable to determine of these 30 accidents, the time in which they had occurred, nor can I determine the cause of the accidents.�

The City of Lorain Engineering Department attached a memo that said in order to follow Ohio Department of Transportation guidelines and keep the street safe, two lanes of traffic would be enough. This would allow for parking in the curb lane.

A 2005 study of the area in front of the bar done by ODOT is inconclusive about the bar because most of the crashes occurred during peak traffic times when it was closed.

Provenza said the city would not expose itself to liability by allowing parking because, even if one lane of traffic was blocked, it does not create a �nuisance condition� as long as one lane was open.

Provenza said that initially, he thought there may be some liability to the city if parking was allowed, but after additional research, he changed his opinion in favor of the parking.

City Council tried to override Foltin�s veto on January 3, but fell one vote short with one member missing.

But the 2005 ordinance allowing parking is still in effect.

Provenza said anyone getting a ticket in front of Tim�s Place could use that as a defense, but he added that the law is not settled as to whether that would trump the posted signs, even though the signs were posted after the ordinance was passed and are probably in violation of it.

Draves says he�s not giving up the fight. He feels Foltin is targeting him, perhaps because he owns the only gay bar in town. He is looking for a lawyer willing to sue the city to compel the mayor to follow the 2005 ordinance.




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