Government

Visioning plan moving from talk to walk

The Yellow Springs visioning process is entering its final phase, according to organizers at a special meeting Monday, Feb. 22, between Village Council, the Miami Township Trustees, and leaders of the process that began almost a year ago.

“We’re at a pivotal point,” said Jamie Greene, of ACP Visioning+Planning of Columbus, the consultant firm hired by the Village to lead the process. “We’ve collected a lot of information, and now we’re trying to figure out how to take the aspirations and put them into something action oriented.”

The upcoming phase, that of identifying action steps to further the process, is critical, according to visioning steering committee co-chair Fred Bartenstein at the meeting.

“It’s where the rubber hits the road,” he said.

Several small groups, comprised mainly of steering committee members, will meet over the next few weeks to identify action steps. The entire visioning plan will be presented to the public in late April or early May, according to Bartenstein.

Several challenges to the Yellow Springs community have become apparent over the year, according to Greene. First, Yellow Springs is a community in transition, moving toward an older, more affluent population, and also shifting toward less racial diversity. Also, the community is not only dealing with the current economic recession but it “exists within a region in decline,” he said, because its closest metropolitan neighbor, Dayton, has suffered a significant drop in population and vitality in recent years.

The community also has as a challenge a “land stewardship conflict,” in that there is a division in residents’ aspirations around land use. While a significant portion of residents favors green space preservation, another segment is open to some growth and development, if it’s appropriate to the village.

Yellow Springs also has an abundance of obvious strengths, Greene said, including a population in which 66 percent of adult residents hold a graduate degree, and a legacy of innovation and entrepreneurship. The rebirth of Antioch College and the proximity of Wright Patterson Air Force Base also present possible opportunities for economic vitality, he said.

The community’s most obvious strength is its “authenticity,” Greene said, stating, “The history and the story of Yellow Springs and Miami Township is phenomenal.” During his visioning work throughout the country, he sees communities trying to find a way to be unique, while Yellow Springs already has it. This uniqueness attracts people, and should not be taken lightly, he said.

“This authenticity is critical,” Greene said.

Last spring, the Village hired ACP to lead the process, after a task force had met over a year to select a consultant. Over the summer, a steering committee — which currently has 31 members — was formed, and in October the public was invited to a series of workshops. At the events, villagers and township residents were asked to identify goals for the community, as well as to identify places they saw as attractive and unattractive. At a second public session in December, participants were asked to identify “themes” from the many goals submitted at the October event. Now, the ACP has from those submissions identified several organizing themes for each of 10 topics, which cover various aspects of village life.

As well as the themes and goals, the visioning process identified nine land stewardship principles. The principles, which are “statements of intent” rather than action items, “represent community values related to the character of the physical environment of the community,” according to a PowerPoint presentation. The principles address “how” and “where” the community should develop — “if and when” — development occurs in the future.

For a complete list of topics, themes and principles, go online to www.yso.com, then click onto Vision Yellow Springs/Miami Township.

The next step is the creation of five small groups, each of which will identify action steps for the themes around two topics. The groups will mainly be composed of steering committee members, although some community members with specific expertise may be invited to join the groups, according to Bartenstein. The small group times and locations will be posted soon on the Village Web site under Vision Yellow Springs/ Miami Township. Interested persons are invited to observe, and those who seek more information or who wish to take part may call the office of Village Manager Mark Cundiff, 767-1279.

In April or early May, the entire visioning plan will be presented to the community during a three-day event, according to Bartenstein. That event will be “a full opportunity for public participation,” he said.

After that point, the visioning plan will be presented to Council and the Township Trustees, Greene said.

Council and the trustees will then decide how to make use of the visioning results, according to Greene, who said there is no expectation that the visioning information will become public policy, although Council could do that if it chooses.

Overall, said Council member Karen Wintrow, “this is a document we’ll refer to, going forward.”

Regarding the document so far, Council President Judith Hempfling expressed concern that it did not clearly identify the village’s legacy of being home to a robust African-American presence, and also seemed to omit concerns around the decline in that population.

“This seems like a glaring piece missing about our identity,” she said.

Council Vice-President Lori Askeland, who described herself as having been initially skeptical of the process, said that she was pleased with the results so far, and especially with the language used to describe community goals, themes and principles.

“I see some language here that is very valuable, that gets at things we have tried to articulate,” she said. “This rings true with what we’re hearing.”

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