Village Council

Council votes on streetscape Aug. 20

At its Aug. 6 meeting, fewer people showed up for Village Council’s discussion on the proposed streetscape changes than at Council’s last meeting, and fewer people spoke against the changes. The topic was discussion only, although Council will vote on the proposal on Aug. 20. At the end of the discussion Monday night, two Council members signaled their support of the controversial project, while one favored a middle way. Two Council members, Rick Walkey and Gerry Simms, were absent.

“I think there’s a logic to doing things systemically,” Council member Lori Askeland said, stating that she had previously been undecided on the issue. “If we do this all at once, we can do it better.”

However, Council President Judith Hempfling preferred taking things more slowly, given the amount of community feeling against the plan.

“We’ve been hearing from a lot of citizens,” Hempfling said. “At this point it seems we need a middle way. The people I’ve found most compelling are those who want to repair the sidewalks but don’t want to change the downtown landscape overnight.”

At issue is the proposed streetscape redesign of the eastern side of Xenia Avenue. Originally a project to repair subpar sidewalks, the project expanded when new Village Manager Laura Curliss came on the job, and “I started looking at the project and saw other problems that needed fixing,” she said Monday night.

Specifically, the Bradford pear trees, almost 40 years old, were buckling some parts of the sidewalk and needed to be removed, electric lines needed to be buried, the streetlamps were ineffective and more bicycle parking was needed, Curliss said.

“I’m suggesting, now’s the time” to make the changes, she said.

The project has stirred controversy in the past month, with most passionate opposition aimed at the plan to remove the Bradford pear trees and replace them with another, or several other, tree species. About 40 people attended the last Council meeting and a majority spoke against the plan. At a Saturday meeting at the Emporium attended by almost 30 people, opposition and support was fairly even. But fewer of the 20 people who attended Monday’s streetscape discussion spoke out against the plan.

“I call these champion trees,” Sylvia Carter Denny said of the Bradford pears, which have lived far beyond their life expectancy. Denny urged Council to make the sidewalk safe but “don’t cut these trees down until you find others equally strong.”

But repairing the sidewalks could end up killing trees anyway because their roots would be damaged, said Anna Bellisari of the Yellow Springs Tree Committee. “It makes more sense to do it at once. The new trees will be beautiful. We’ll have a beautiful village again within a short period of time.”

The needs of the business community have been overlooked in the discussion, according to Karen Wintrow, director of the Chamber of Commerce. Sporadic “setting up and tearing down, not knowing when this will happen would be hard on business,” she said. According to Susan Miller of the C of C, that group had submitted a letter to Council in favor of the streetscape renovations.

In a memo to Council, Curliss presented a budget for the renovation. The bulk of the funding, about $87,000, would go toward the electrical changes, and come from the Village Electric Fund, which “is healthy,” according to Curliss, with a $2 million balance. About $46,000 would come from the Street Fund for excavation work, and the cost of new trees could possibly be shared with citizens who wish to buy tribute trees.

In response to citizens who complained about Council deciding on the project without community input, Council members emphasized that a decision has not yet been made. However, they will vote at their next meeting on Aug. 20.

Other items of Council’s Aug. 6 business will be in next week’s paper.

 

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