2013 Yellow springs year in Review: Village council
- Published: January 2, 2014
• Zoning code update
• Curliss leaves
• CBE funding new topic
New zoning code more flexible
Revising the Village zoning code to allow more flexibility in housing and home business options emerged as a top goal in the community-wide visioning effort several years ago, and in 2013 that code update required considerable time and attention from both Council and Planning Commission.
Council had first engaged with the code update in fall 2012, after the Technical Review Committee, composed of several villagers and elected officials, met for more than a year with consultant Paul LeBlanc to fashion a new code friendly to Yellow Springs values. Council then sent the revision on to Planning Commission, which over the winter and spring of 2013 tackled each updated section, then sent the code back to Council. However, the majority of Council members envisioned a more flexible code than the one the planners approved, and Council made several substantial changes in the final revision. Among these changes was allowing smaller home and lot sizes in order to increase diversity, affordability and sustainability, along with eliminating some restrictions on home businesses.
Council approved the final code update in September.
Pay hike for Council
In January Village Council members approved a pay raise for Council members that went into effect after the November 2013 election. The pay increase set a member’s yearly wage at $7,200, up from $4,000, for a total cost to the Village of about $20,000 a year. The move was a step toward democratizing Council, according to Council President Judith Hempfling, who proposed the change (though did not benefit from it herself, as she retired in November). Hempfling stated that she hoped greater compensation for the Council job would lead to more young people and working-class villagers seeking a Council seat.
To spray or not to spray?
In February Green Environmental Coalition, or GEC, requested that the Village change its practice of contracting with Greene County Combined Health District to spray pesticides in neighborhoods in which West Nile virus-infected mosquitos are found, as took place in the summer of 2012. At that point, some villagers in affected neighborhoods opted out of the spraying due to concerns about the health effects of the pesticides. In March Council agreed to the change and to GEC’s suggestion that an educational campaign replace the spraying, so that the Village contracted with GCCHD to spray larvicide only during the summer months. The GEC and an Antioch College biology professor (and students) worked to educate villagers to keep yards free of mosquito-breeding habitats. The summer passed without a West Nile virus incident.
In February Council began a discussion on how best to source Village drinking water, in light of the substantial needs of the 50-year-old water plant. Options include sourcing water from Springfield, building a new plant or rehabbing the current plant. Council approved the funding of several studies to determine the costs involved in each option, and many villagers weighed in on their preferences, with some favoring the possible cost reduction of sourcing Springfield water and others preferring maintaining local control. However, by year’s end Council had not yet received the final study, on the cost of upgrading the current plant. That report, from LJB engineer John Eastman, was scheduled to be presented to Council in January 2014.
Should wells be capped?
Concerns about the environmental impact of the Vernay Laboratory brownfield were raised in February, when the GCCHD requested that the Village cap all existing wells in the village due to the possibility of spreading contamination. Council later tabled the issue for futher study. According to the EPA, Vernay and that agency have yet to agree on the company’s final corrective measures, a discussion that began in 2009.
Police dispatch stays
In March Village Manager Laura Curliss presented Council with a proposal that the Village end its local police dispatch service, and contract instead for county-wide shared dispatch services. The shift would save money and also allow the department to take advantage of more advanced technology, Curliss told Council. However, many villagers opposed the idea of losing local dispatch and the outpouring of support for the service was a contributing factor in Council’s decision to maintain its police dispatch.
On June 12 some villagers noticed a strong odor of chemicals at the Gaunt Park pool, and over the next several days several complained of a chemical smell in the water and grass. On June 14 the pool was closed after Manager Curliss discovered that the herbicide Escalade 2 had been applied directly to the grass rather than diluted. Water and soil samples were sent for testing, and the next week, after the water sample revealed a level of contamination not harmful to humans, the pool was re-opened for swimming, although the grass remained cordoned off. Later, the grass samples also revealed no appreciable contaminaton, and the fencing was removed from the grass.
Many villagers expressed fears of potential contamination from the herbicide overuse, although Curliss stated that the Village received no reports of illness. The incident also raised concerns about communication, specifically regarding Curliss’ communication with the public around the incident.
In November Council received a report from Village Solicitor Chris Conard on the herbicide use. According to the report, two Village employees who applied the herbicide had not read the directions on the product as to proper use. The report also stated that although many thought the Village did not use herbicides on public land, it had done so regularly in the past, and there was no Village ordinance banning herbicide use. Council did approve a temporary ban on all herbicide use on public land.
New police officers
Over the summer, two new police officers — Jon Matheny and Lucianna Lieff — were hired, joining Joshua Knapp, who had joined the force the previous November.
Antioch College golf course neighbors mobilized after a college farm employee reported to Council, during a July discussion on the zoning code update, that the college hopes to include large animals, such as pigs and cows, in its farm operation. However, neighbors, concerned about farm smells and noise, organized and expressed their concerns at several Council meetings.
Council later approved the college farm operation as a conditional use in the new zoning code, which means that any changes to the current operation, including the introduction of large animals, must first be approved by Planning Commission. The conditional use gives neighbors a chance to weigh in on all changes.
Request for CBE funds
In August Jerry Sutton of Community Resources asked Council to contribute $656,000 to the infrastructure construction at the Center for Business and Education, or CBE, the business park on the western edge of town. The park, which is backed by CR, has been in process for a decade and had lost a grant due to the construction delay. Sutton asked Council to act quickly so that a second federal grant isn’t lost.
CBE supporters have said the business park will provide a space for new businesses to locate and for current businesses to expand, thus bringing more jobs to the village.
While Council initially supported the CR request, Council in October tabled moving forward, after Council President Judith Hempfling expressed concerns about the feasibility of the CBE. However, after Hempfling retired, the newly seated Council untabled the motion and in December Council voted 3–2 to move ahead with funding. Council will vote on the funding legislation, which now requests almost $1 million from the Village, at its first meeting in January.
At the end of the year, the issue of whether the Village should fund the CBE remained controversial, and a group of villagers were circulating a petition opposed to public funding of the venture.
Finance head leaves
Sharon Potter, who worked as Village finance director for nine years, announced that, beginning in September, she would take early retirement from her job. Potter cited differences with Village Manager Laura Curliss as a contributing factor to her leaving.
In November, Council announced that Melissa Vanzant is the new Village finance director.
In August, Council announced it had reached a settlement with Manager Curliss and that Curliss would be leaving the job at the end of September. First hired as an interim manager in January 2012 after Mark Cundiff left the job, Curliss had been hired as permanent manager in June of that year, although the hiring took place without a public process.
While Curliss was universally seen as smart and competent, she also sparked dissension among some villagers with a management style that some saw as authoritarian rather than collaborative.
Former Village Manager Kent Bristol, who had previously been manager for 15 years, came back to serve as interim manager. At the end of the year, Council was poised to hire a consultant to help with hiring a new Village manager.
Mixed first year
Police Chief Anthony Pettiford has had a mixed first year, according to a group of Village employees in a November article on the chief’s first anniversary. Some employees and community members cited a lack of communication as a significant problem, although another group of Village employees responded that there were no problems in the department.
Interim manager Bristol stated that Chief Pettiford had asked for help regarding divison in the department.