Norwalk City Council members got some good news and also discussed potential changes in new zoning regulations to force Spin to Win to change locations in Tuesday night's work session.
The good news is the city has been awarded a grant of almost $1.2 million from the Ohio Department Of Transportation to relieve congestion on U.S. 250 by building a new road on the unused railroad tracks on the east side of the highway from Williams to Gallup.
The road, designed to allow local traffic to avoid 250, would include a 10-foot wide lane for bicycles and walkers. Mayor Sue Lesch said after the meeting this would allow the roadway to connect with a Rails to Trails system that begins north of the proposed roadway.
Norwalk would have to put up matching funds of 10 percent for the project. Lesch told council initial estimates for the project are around $1.6 million.
An initial environmental study can be completed this year with grant money. The city would have from a year from July 2008 to complete actual construction of the new road.
Lesch said the city originally purchased the abandoned railway for the possible addition of utilities for the city. She said it could still be used to add a secondary water source even after a new roadway is built.
Council also discussed potential legislation to force Spin to Win to move to a designated manufacturing district. Council will consider both a resolution and an ordinance at next week's regular meeting.
Law Director Stuart O'Hara said Norwalk Police have been issuing daily citations to Spin to Win owner David J. Pugh and business operators Ed and Bonnie Cordle.
O'Hara said each citation is punishable by a $100 fine and he has the authority to charge the three with a fourth degree misdemeanor, punishable by up the 30 days in jail, if they continue to ignore the citations.
"Our purpose is not to put people in jail," O'Hara said after the meeting, "but to get them in compliance with zoning ordinances."
He said council needs to pass a resolution authorizing a change of zoning and then pass an ordinance amending sections 1159.01 and 1189.01,3a of city ordinances to clarify zoning regulations affecting the business.
"We already have an adult arcade zone," O'Hara said. "This just defines this." He said Spin to Win would not be grandfathered into the system, allowing it to bypass new legislation, because the business has never applied for the required permits to operate.
The proposed legislation adds a section saying any business that has a "primary" purpose of machines that pay out awards of cash or prizes redeemable for cash can only be located in designated manufacturing areas of the city. Spin to Win is located in a B-4 zone, or general business district.
The proposed legislation would restrict businesses such as Spin to Win to manufacturing zones designated as M-1 or M-2, generally located on the northern or eastern sides of the city.
O'Hara said he has been told that Spin to Win has already dropped the number of Tic Tac Fruit machines from eight to five to circumvent city ordinances, but the business still does not have the proper zoning to offer use of the machines to the public.
Another issue in the debate is the hands of the state court system. Proponents of the machine claim it is a game of skill, but authorities consider it a game of chance, which makes it illegal in Ohio.
Attorney General Marc Dann ordered 50,000 of the machines be shut down and sought to overturn a judge's order stopping the state from enforcing a ban on Tic Tac Fruit machines last month. Dann has argued that if the machines continue to operate, they would lead to neighborhood degradation, gambling addiction, prostitution and other social problems associated with gambling.
The 10th Ohio District Court of Appeals, however, has ruled that a temporary restraining order must be resolved by a lower court.
"They've been fighting the fight for several years," said O'Hara. "The legislature didn't define 'games of skill' very well. The question is whether this is a game of skill or a game of chance."
He told council this wouldn't affect civic or fraternal organizations that have one or two similar games available because those machines are not the primary purpose for their organization.
Reese Wineman, attorney for Spin to Win, has charged authorities with singling out Spin to Win while ignoring other businesses which have pool tables and other forms of entertainment that are coin-operated.
Authorities said the phrase "games of skill" separate pool tables from the Tic Tac Fruit machines.
O'Hara said a pre-trial hearing has been set for Sept. 25 for the first citations issued for Pugh and the Cordles.
Council will meet again at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday for a tour of the fire station with the consultants who recently completed a study of the city's need for a new fire station.
Mayor Sue Lesch said the consultants will present a formal report at the regular council meeting at 7:30 p.m.
She told council that the report is based on national standards for firefighters and looks at the logistical issues Norwalk firefighters face when answering emergency calls rather than architectural problems with the current fire station.