Jobs, land use are forum topics
- Published: October 22, 2009
The need for collaboration between the Village and various entities, including Miami Township and Antioch College, emerged as a theme during last Sunday’s candidate forum held at the First Presbyterian Church. And while Village Council candidates agreed on the need for job growth, they differed as to how to best pursue that goal.
About 60 community members attended the event, which took place on a brilliant autumn afternoon. The forum, which featured candidates for Village Council and Miami Township Trustees, was sponsored by the Nonstop Institute. A forum for school board candidates will take place Sunday, Oct. 25, also at 2 p.m. at the Presbyterian Church.
Several candidates emphasized the need for Village Council and the Township Trustees to work together on common interests, especially regarding land use planning.
“We need to find a way to sit down together and cooperate,” said Trustee candidate John Struewing, citing “mutual interests” between the village and township that include farmland preservation, environmental protection and growth and development.
Collaboration between the Village and the recently revived Antioch College was also cited as a priority, and the need for job development was emphasized by all Council candidates.
The Village should focus development efforts on the revitalized Antioch College, Council hopeful Gerry Bello said, because in the next several years, “$100 million will come into this village and township for Antioch College. No other place in the region will have that kind of investment.”
The Village should also bring fiber optic cable to the village, Bello said, stating that doing so would not only create jobs but allow the Village to save “a half million dollars” by becoming its own cable and phone company. Doing so would also take advantage of the village’s greatest strength, he said, which he sees as villagers’ creativity and knowledge.
“What we have here is people with ideas,” said Bello, an Antioch College alumnus who moved to town two years ago. “That’s how we’ll move forward.”
The greatest challenge currently facing Yellow Springs is keeping the village affordable for those of modest income, according to Council incumbent Judith Hempfling, who said, “We must face squarely the issue of affordability if we wish to be a community of diverse people.”
Due to the lack of modestly priced rentals and homes, many who provide care to villagers, such as Friends Care Community employees, can’t afford to live here, Hempfling said, describing the situation as an “unhealthy imbalance” in the community.
Hempfling, the current Council president, also suggested that Council should explore “partnering with the African-American community” to try to reverse the local trend of a shrinking African-American population in the village.
Local civil liberties issues remain a concern, Hempfling said, and she called for public discussions on issues such as the use of surveillance cameras and Tasers.
But affordability goes beyond housing to local tax rates, according to incumbent Karen Wintrow, the current Council vice-president, who said that unless the local tax base is broadened, all villagers face an excessive tax burden. The key to lowering taxes is business growth, both from within and outside the village, Wintrow said. She identified several steps the Village needs to take to promote business attraction and retention, including maintaining Village infrastructure, keeping the cost of doing business low and being a town with many amenities for business employees.
“Economic sustainability is at the heart of the issues we face,” she said.
The Village should reach beyond its own borders to regional opportunities for development, Wintrow said, stating that, “We have to look everywhere for opportunities.”
Fiscal responsibility is the “first job of Council,” Council incumbent Kathryn Van der Heiden said. “We have to be good stewards of the community.”
Villagers should not limit themselves by thinking in either/or solutions regarding economic development, Van der Heiden said. She cited potential partnerships between the Village, Antioch College and Antioch University, and between Community Resources and an economic sustainability board, as examples of possible collaboration between different segments of town.
“I’m concerned with how much we tend to polarize” in the community, Van der Heiden said. “We have bright and resourceful people here. We can have it all.”
However, the village needs to improve its sense of inclusiveness, as some seem to have more input into decision-making than others, she said.
“Somehow we’ve created a notion that only some understand and the rest of us only live here,” said Van der Heiden. “We need to listen to everyone.”
Keeping Yellow Springs small and keeping it economically viable are his priorities for the village, said Rick Walkey, who is running for the first time for a Council seat.
Maintaining a healthy green space and revising the zoning code to allow for higher density will help to keep the village small, Walkey said. He noted several small businesses in his neighborhood as examples of the infill development that he supports.
Partnering with Antioch College is one avenue to economic viability, Walkey said, describing a town/gown collaborative effort to use Curl gym as a village fitness center as an example of possible cooperative efforts, along with creating a business incubator on campus.
Yellow Springs could become a model of sustainable building, Walkey said, noting that several local builders have focused on innovative building techniques. Promoting this local resource could be one way to attract new business activity from a larger region, according to Walkey.
“We have the opportunity to become a resource for sustainable building,” he said.
The first priority of Miami Township should be constructing a new fire station, according to incumbent Mark Crockett, who cited a host of inadequacies in the current fire station.
“I’d love to upgrade facilities so we can function in a safe and efficient manner,” he said.
The Miami Township Fire-Rescue squad has grown to several paid staff and more than 40 volunteers, and the group serves the village and the township well, Crockett said.
“It’s an incredible deal we get,” he said.
Acknowledging that the difficult economy makes fundraising a challenge, Crockett suggested that the Village, college and township work together to fund necessary projects, including the fire station.
“It’s obvious that the village, the township, and Clifton are inseparable,” he said.
Incumbent Lamar Spracklen cited maintaining quality fire/emergency services and making effective appointments to the Township Zoning Commission as his priorities as a trustee. Specifically, he said, the zoning commission members should be those who “believe in sustainability,” which he defined as “providing for today’s needs while not jeopardizing the ability of future generations to provide for themselves.”
Noting that the current board of trustees — himself, Crockett and Chris Mucher — have worked together for eight years, Spracklen urged voters to stick with the current group, which he said functions together well.
“Don’t fix something that isn’t broke,” he said.
The only candidate for the trustees who is not an incumbent, Struewing is currently president of Village Planning Commission. He’s running because after the upcoming visioning process, “I want to be there to help implement a joint comprehensive plan between the Village and the Township,” he said.
The almost completed township comprehensive plan aims to re-direct the current township development trend of constructing homes on three-acre plots throughout the area. Because of their desire to preserve farmland, the trustees want to see denser development closer to the existing infrastructure of the village.
However, the village has resisted annexation, Struewing noted, stating that the two entities need to work together to “find a solution” to these different visions.
“The Village wants to preserve open space,” he said. “We can help you with that.”
Villagers raise concerns
After initial presentations, villagers asked questions of the candidates. Chris Roberts stated that she is very concerned that Hempfling’s support for alternative energy and lack of support for an AMP-Ohio coal plant last year will result in higher utility bills. Pushing for both affordability and alternative energy use seems “intellectually dishonest,” Roberts said. She also stated that Council members who supported the coal plant, including Van der Heiden, took the more courageous stance, while others opted for the “warm and fuzzy” alternative energy approach.
In response, Hempfling said her vision for village energy use includes reducing both bills and local energy use through a conservation program. And, she said, opposing coal plants “seems to me the only responsible thing to do if you believe in global warming. It’s not just warm and fuzzy.”
In response to a question by Rose Pelzl, all Council candidates said they support working closely with the newly revived Antioch College. Pelzl noted that some Council members had not supported the college during the two-year struggle for independence from Antioch University.
Both Wintrow and Van der Heiden identified themselves as ones who had felt it was not appropriate for Council to take sides during that effort.
“It didn’t seem the Village’s place to get between the college and the university,” Van der Heiden said, stating that the situation is different now that the college has been revived.
“I’m delighted that the college is coming back,” she said.
However, Hempfling, who early on urged Council to support the college in that struggle, said she did so because she believed it was best for Yellow Springs.
“It’s important for Council to think about what’s in the best interest of the village,” rather than what’s best for the businesses involved, she said.
It’s critical for villagers and township residents to take part in the upcoming visioning effort given the need for collaborative efforts, villager Joan Edwards said.
“It’s apparent to me that we have to be talking to one another,” she said. “It’s vital that we listen to people.”