Village Council— Streetscape plan is curbed
- Published: August 30, 2012
At their Aug. 20 meeting, Village Council members said no to a controversial and ambitious plan to change the downtown streetscape.
The vote was 3–2 against a resolution that would have moved the streetscape changes forward quickly, with Judith Hempfling, Lori Askeland and Rick Walkey opposing the resolution and Karen Wintrow and Gerry Simms voting in favor.
Instead of the more controversial holistic approach to downtown changes, including the removal of all trees, Council will move ahead more slowly with changes, Council President Judith Hempfling said on Tuesday. At Council’s next meeting Village Manager Laura Curliss will present a proposal for a two-step process to renovate the streetscape rather than making the changes in a single swoop.
The streetscape redesign began last spring as a modest program to repair downtown sidewalks on the east side of Xenia Avenue, which would have involved removing five street trees that were damaging sidewalks. However, new Village Manager Curliss sought what she described as a more holistic approach to downtown changes, including removing all the existing Bradford pear trees at once and replacing them with new trees, replacing streetlights with lights of a new design, burying the overhead electric wire, adding bicycle parking, adding a bump-out for more community gathering space (later dropped from the plan) and repairing sidewalks. Curliss and Council originally planned to move ahead with these changes in July.
However, many villagers became concerned about the scope of the changes, especially the cutting down of trees, and the lack of community input in the process. Some who opposed the changes felt the trees should not be destroyed and those in support, including members of the Yellow Springs Tree Committee, stated that since the pear trees are considered an invasive species, they need to be removed.
About 50 villagers attended Monday’s meeting, but some attended to address other issues. About 10 spoke to the downtown redesign project, with most opposed. Local landscape designer Nadia Malarkey urged Council to halt the plans to move forward in order to consider alternatives, including having no street trees at all. She also suggested that Council give itself a deadline to come up with a new plan.
“I don’t believe you have enough up-to-date information to make a decision wisely,” Malarkey said, stating her concern that Council planned to replace the existing trees with new trees that would also have to be removed in time.
“Within 13 to 15 years the saws will come out again,” she said. “That’s not sustainable. That’s madness.”
Malarkey questioned whether downtown sidewalks, which in places are only eight feet wide, are appropriate places to plant trees at all.
“I’m looking at what a tree needs to grow to its maximum,” she said.
Kurt Miyazaki, owner of the Emporium, stated that “all business owners are not in lockstep” support of the redesign, and that he does not support it. Rather, he urged Council to “find a middle way,” so that the changes could be made more gradually. While some have argued that a gradual approach would be less efficient, “efficiency is not always the most important thing,” he said.
Architect Richard Cook stated that he opposes the redesign due to its flawed process.
“Design is a process that depends on communication between those involved,” he said. “You are missing the communication with the people here.”
Speaking in favor of the plan, Wright State University biologist Don Cipollini encouraged Council to remove the pear trees because of their invasive qualities, and threat to Glen Helen.
“It’s our chance to be proactive about invasive plants,” he said.
Dino Pallotta, owner of Dino’s Cappucino’s, who had previously spoken in favor of the plan so that people don’t harm themselves on damaged sidewalks, urged Council to “make the prudent financial decision.”
At the beginning of the discussion, landscape architect Roger Beal, who had designed the streetscape plan, presented changes to the plan in response, he said, to concerns raised at earlier meetings. The original plan to shorten parking places north of the Emporium had been dropped and current space sizes would be maintained, he said.
In explaining her vote for the redesign, Karen Wintrow cited the 20 downtown business owners who have communicated their support.
However, according to Walkey, “I think of downtown as a community public space, not just the front yard of businesses. We want to maintain an ambiance that we enjoy.” He encouraged Council to “consider selectively taking the trees out, but not doing it wholesale.”
After voting down the redesign, there was some initial confusion about how a more modest plan could move forward. On Tuesday Hempfling said that Curliss will return to Council with a two-step plan that initially removes the trees causing the most damage, repairs sidewalks and buries the electrical wires that are currently overhead.
See next week’s News for other items on Council’s Aug. 20 agenda.