Commissions make a difference
- Published: August 12, 2010
This is the second in a two-part report on Village commissions.
Village commissions, staffed by appointed citizens and elected officials, are fundamental to the functioning of Village government. While the Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, Community Access Panel, and Economic Sustainability Commission are not currently seeking volunteers, they offer opportunity for direct citizen involvement in governmental affairs.
“People in Yellow Springs like to think that their community reflects who they are,” said Clerk of Council Judy Kintner in a recent interview. “The reason that’s the case is that you have people who represent those values and interests at a governmental level.”
As a way to have more impact in the community, Kintner recommends serving on one of the eight commissions. Seats are currently open on the Environmental, Human Relations and Library Commissions and on the Energy Board.
That the commissions continue to attract new members is important, Kintner said.
“Information and know-how are a good thing, but you want turnover for fresh ideas,” she said. “It’s the checks and balances on the government.”
The Planning Commission works closely with Council on the Village’s land use policies and infrastructure maintenance. The commission recommends zoning and building code changes, produces a comprehensive plan, and annually submits a list of recommended capital improvements.
“It’s the question of how we use land and how are we going to use land in the future,” said Planning Commission member and Council liaison, Lori Askeland.
Currently the five-member commission is revising the Planned Unit Development Ordinance to incentivize inclusion of usable green space, energy-efficient construction, and higher density and is establishing a clear process for demolishing historic buildings.
The Planning Commission reviews proposals for building and remodeling projects, recently accepting plans for the Village Station commercial development on Railroad Street and the remodeling at Friends Care Community, where the building, but not the number of rooms, will be expanded. The commission also hears citizen concerns on the impact of potential development on their properties and quality of life.
The Planning Commission meets on the second Monday of the month at 7 p.m. in Council chambers.
The Board of Zoning Appeals has five members serving five-year terms like the Planning Commission but meets only as needed. Those property owners whose zoning applications are denied by the Planning, Zoning and Building Department can appeal to the board for a variance. Many times proposed projects simply violate easements, but the board also looks at sewage flow, fire safety, density, setbacks, building height and other determining factors.
Recently the Board of Zoning Appeals, along with the Planning Commission, have been discussing whether property owners have a right to solar access, which affects what can be built upon neighboring properties.
Though not dealing with the village’s physical landscape, the Community Access Panel, formerly known as the Cable Advisory Panel, documents and cablecasts public meetings and community activities that inform and entertain the village.
The panel’s five members work with other volunteers to operate the local access cable channel, Channel 5, currently carried by Time Warner cable. Per the panel’s recent name change, the group is looking towards delivering community content online, beginning with public meetings.
The recent move is to expand their viewership, as only one-third of Yellow Springs households have cable. It also ensures the station can continue to operate in the face of changing state laws regulating cable providers, who may no longer be required to fulfill current franchise agreements. While Time Warner cable continues to provide the channel free-of-charge, the company no longer furnishes the $20,000 it once did to the community to run the station, and may soon no longer be required to carry the station for free.
Presenting programs which “promote a sense of community and celebrate individual expression, local achievements, learning, cultural exchange, and civic engagement,” the station shows concerts, plays and content submitted by community members, according to its Web site. In addition, the station cablecasts all sessions of council and its commissions, which can be purchased for $2.50 per DVD.
“It’s important to have transparency on that so people can see it and it also provides a video record of all of these things,” said Millard Meir, a member of the Community Access Panel.
Meetings of the panel are held on the second Wednesdays of the month at 7 p.m. in Council chambers. While there are no openings on the panel, the group is always seeking volunteers to help run the station.
The Economic Sustainability Commission, which was created in February, will work closely with the newly-hired economic sustainability coordinator to recommend strategies, incubate ideas and create a plan for economic development. The citizen body will work with the business community and village government to promote development aligned with the community’s values.
“The Commission will link the well-being of the private and nonprofit business community with the well-being of the community as a whole,” wrote Council President Judith Hempfling in a founding document.
As implied by the commission’s name, sustainability is central to its mission.
“We cannot expect to thrive economically unless we are using resources on which we depend in a sustainable way,” Hempfling wrote. “These resources include not only the financial aspects of our community but healthy soil, clean air, clean water among others as well as a healthy, diverse social community.”
With the first meeting of the nine-member body this week, much about their role in Village Government has yet to be determined.
Village commissions operate as public bodies, with all meetings publicized and open to the public, minutes made available to the community and to Council, and members abiding by Ohio’s Sunshine Laws, which govern how they conduct business in open meetings.
Anyone interested in applying to a commission should contact Clerk of Council Judy Kintner at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 767-9126.