What better time of the year than Labor Day to pause and examine the behavior of a couple of Lakewood’s largest corporate employers: AT&T and GrafTech.
In an era where corporations frequently threaten to relocate and pit one city against another to shamelessly extract incentives, AT&T must be commended for its decision to invest in its Detroit Avenue building, where approximately 150 people work.
The five-story structure houses telephone switching equipment on the bottom three floors and administrative personnel on the top two floors.
At first glance, the building seems fairly unremarkable, but a close inspection of its brick exterior shows a mismatched brick and color pattern. It was originally built as a two-story facility. Three additional floors were later added at two separate points in time.
AT&T decided earlier this year to make a significant investment in the building and install a second elevator. The existing unit was unreliable and not ADA accessible.
The AT&T design team presented the city’s Architecture Board of Review (ABR) with a plan to build the elevator shaft on the highly visible Detroit Avenue-facing side of the building.
Placement on the east side of the building was deemed unsuitable due to the presence of underground service cables. The west side of the building was too close to the property line, and the south side of the structure was ruled out because of parking concerns.
AT&T’s initial rendering called for a pronounced elevator lobby and a wide elevator shaft enclosure with a white accent. The ABR felt it didn’t balance well with the rest of the building and asked the design team to make some adjustments.
The team agreed to lose the elevator lobby, thin the width of the shaft, and use material more closely matching the color of the rest of the building.
It may not be an in-your-face act of good corporate citizenship, but it’s worthy of applause. AT&T invested in the building, and then agreed to work with the city on the design so it did not detract from the neighborhood.
As an unrelated aside, the traffic signals to the east of the building at Detroit Avenue and Manor Park/Blossom Park will soon be removed as part of the Detroit Avenue Resignalization Project. The state studied the intersection and found the signals to be unwarranted. It would have cost the city about $125,000 to keep the lights up.
Hopefully, the folks at The Westerly – who compose the single oldest-aged precinct of voters in the entire city – won’t have many dangerous encounters on their jaunts to Giant Eagle.
GrafTech: A toxic polluter without a conscience
GrafTech International has a long history with the city of Lakewood. More than 100 years ago, back when it was known as National Carbon Co., it played a key role in the development of Birdtown.
The Parma-based corporation still occupies a large swath of industrially-zoned land in the city’s southeast corner and does a generally nice job of maintaining appearances in a not-so-great neighborhood.
It will soon employ a total of 170 people at its Madison Avenue graphite production facility, according to spokesperson Betsy Keck, including 20 to 25 new workers it will hire for good-paying jobs in the coming months.
All of this is good news, although it doesn’t obscure one very important: GrafTech is the city’s single largest corporate air polluter.
It has pumped thousands of tons of toxic chemicals in the air over the last couple of decades. Worse yet, it received EPA permission earlier this year to emit 43 percent more carbon monoxide.
With a track record like this, one would think GrafTech would be looking for opportunities to exercise excellence in corporate citizenship. I can tell you without reservation that GrafTech’s concern for the well-being of the community is sadly lacking and superficial.
First, let’s touch on some of the good deeds GrafTech touts when it is pressed to provide concrete recent examples of its concern for the good people of Lakewood.
- It sponsors and maintains the Lakewood Mini-park near the bus stop at the corner of W. 117th Street and Madison Avenue.
- It is a long-standing member of the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce.
- It is involved with the youth organization H2O, which provides summer jobs and projects for local high school kids.
- It participated in the clean-up of Madison Park for the “Keep Lakewood Beautiful” event on Earth Day and contributed 125 pairs of gloves for all volunteers.
- It donated several boxes of extra office supplies to Harrison Elementary School.
These acts of generosity are woefully inadequate coming from a corporation that reported a 2011 second quarter profit of $29 million on sales of $320 million.
Worse yet, GrafTech has officially declined to donate a single dollar to replenish the city’s reforestation fund, which was exhausted on the effort to remove a crop of dying century old trees on Clifton and West Clifton Boulevards.
Normally, the city spends around $50,000 a year to plant trees. It will not do any new plantings this fall due to a lack of funds.
If ever there was a picture perfect opportunity for a chronic toxic air polluter to demonstrate responsible corporate citizenship, this is it. It’s pretty clear what drives the leaders at GrafTech, and it isn’t love of the community.
St. Ed’s and Lakewood Hospital want to raze houses
Two non-profit institutions have asked the city for permission to demolish houses they own.
Lakewood Hospital received permission from the ABR last month to knock down its house at 1457 St. Charles Avenue contingent upon submission of a detailed post-demolition site plan.
In cases where a house will be removed, the ABR wants to be sure the new landscape will not result in the “missing tooth” look. The hospital also owns the houses on either side of the property.
A hospital representative indicated there were no immediate plans for the lot, but construction of a Habitat for Humanity house might be considered down the road. “The hospital wants to do the right thing for the community,” he said.
He said the house has to be leveled because of extensive termite damage. Although the house looks fine from the outside, the interior support beams crumble when touched, he claimed.
Jeff Fillar, the city’s assistant building commissioner for residential housing, said the house hasn’t been rented in five or six years.
A nearby resident was miffed that Lakewood Hospital had failed to inform the neighbors about the termite problem and wondered if the problem could spread. “This is a serious problem,” she said. “The landlord has not been a very good neighbor.”
St. Edward High School would rather demolish the vacant house it owns at 1350 Nicholson Avenue than spend $50,000 to repair it.
A St. Ed’s representative asked the ABR in July to approve the project. He said the property, which is currently vacant, was in disrepair and the empty parcel would be reserved for future development.
The ABR deferred a ruling on the request until St. Ed’s submits a more acceptable post-demolition site plan. They did not like the rending of an empty grass lot the representative provided.
“This picture kind of breaks our hearts,” one board member commented.
Annual ‘do-not-knock’ address registry off to a slow start
So far, only six residents have signed the city’s annual do-not-knock address registry. It was created by the City Council in late June in response to complaints received last year from residents due to the inappropriate behavior of some door-to-door salesmen.
Law Director Kevin Butler said the city expects to add a function on its website that will enable residents to sign-up for the registry online. One note of warning: The registry expires every year at the end of December, so residents must remember to re-up.
Residents not interested in fooling around with the registry can post a “no soliciting” sign on their doors. The signs have the same effect as the registry and never expire.
More background checks and limits for solicitors
Because it is a form of constitutionally protected free speech, the city cannot completely prohibit all salespeople from traveling house-to-house, but it can create a system to encourage civil behavior.
The changes made in June do several things, including:
- Create an annual “Do-not-knock” address registry
- Narrow the time solicitors can be out to between 9:00 a.m. and whatever time is sooner, sunset or 8:00 p.m. – previously, the end time was 9:00 p.m. and that caused some situations where residents received door knocks after dark.
- Expand the variety of prior criminal convictions committed within the last five years that would disqualify someone from receiving a license to solicit.
- Expand background checks to include national databases beyond just the city and county
- Increase the cost of a solicitor’s license to $35 from $25 to cover the added cost of background checks
- Decrease the period of time a solicitor’s license is valid to six months from 12 months
- Require companies to disclose if they have had a permit denied or revoked
- Clarify the difference between a solicitor and a peddler (permit required), and a canvasser (no permit or registration required)
Some groups exempt from permit requirement
Just about anyone going door-to-door, with the exception of canvassers and local newspaper carriers soliciting new business, must stop at city hall and either register or purchase a permit.
A person working for a for-profit business, such as a commercial roofer, must acquire permit.
Individuals soliciting or peddling for “recognized” non-profit, educational, civic, religious, political, or charitable organizations – girl scouts selling cookies, for instance – must register with the city, but are not subject to background checks.
Candidates for political office, as long as they are not asking for money, are considered canvassers and don’t need to register or get a permit
And last but not least, no one may solicit or peddle on Sundays or legal holidays.