Antioch College farm talks continue
- Published: January 23, 2014
When Antioch College asked Village Council last spring to allow a limited number of small and large farm animals on the part of its campus known as “the golf course,” many of the college’s neighbors were surprised and upset they had not been informed of the plans earlier. College leaders at the time said they would improve their communication efforts, especially with their immediate neighbors.
Then when underground drilling for the campus’s geothermal wells began on the 30-acre open field in the fall, some neighbors were again surprised and a little disgruntled. They had received notice that the noisy, dusty operation was to begin less than a day before the drilling started.
Antioch College leaders take responsibility for less than perfect communication about its plans and activities on the property that, while owned by the college, has been open to community use for nearly a century.
“Our communication has been less than perfect,” Antioch President Mark Roosevelt said this week.
But communication is only one of the concerns of a group of residents who organized in the fall and now call themselves the Yellow Springs Open-space Coalition, or YSOC. The 25 or so villagers, both campus neighbors and local residents at large, worry that the college’s plans to locate a sustainable farm and an array of photovoltaic solar panels on the former golf course threatens its community use as an open space sanctuary and a recreational resource within the village limits. According to YSOC spokesperson Staffan Erickson, the group is embarking on a partnership with the college in order to have input on future uses of the golf course. And members are very clear that their intention is to work with the college in a way that supports its success.
“Our mission is to support Antioch College in its growth and development while protecting the health, safety and quality of life in our neighborhood and the surrounding community,” Erickson said. “We want to make sure the college’s use of the golf course doesn’t affect the community in a negative way.”
To that end, YSOC members have collaborated with the college to form a Golf Course Advisory Committee, which meets regularly to discuss plans for the college property that could impact the surrounding community.
“We’re in the early stages of discussion about what the golf course will eventually hold, and we know for certain things we want, we’ll have to get permission,” Roosevelt said this week. “In the meantime we want to be generous about listening to people’s needs.”
Currently the college maintains that the most effective use of the property within its educational mission is as a sustainable agriculture laboratory and a host for solar and geothermal power production. The golf course, zoned educational, was granted a conditional use permit by the Village last year to continue crop production and the raising of a half a dozen sheep and about 50 chickens and ducks. Any addition of farm animals beyond that must meet the criteria of another conditional use approval from the Village. The college has indicated in the past that it intends to include large farm animals as part of its sustainable operation.
For the most part, YSOC members feel that the area should be left completely open. According to Erickson, having farm animals and barn structures would create disruptive noise and smells, as well as threaten the surrounding properties and Glen Helen with polluted runoff. And the college has not submitted enough data to satisfy the group regarding the runoff its potential operations could create.
“We have concerns about Antioch College moving forward with a sustainable farm and proposed livestock facility on the golf course within the village limits,” YSOC member and golf course neighbor Lauren Miller said this week.
The solar array, too, would be an eyesore and could threaten the old growth sycamore trees that line the field along Corry Street, Erickson said.
As alternatives, the group suggests relocating the farm to a property just outside the village, where the college has operated small farms in the past. They would also prefer to see the solar panels mounted onto rooftops, where they would be less visible and less obstructive to activity on the golf course.
The college has considered the alternatives, but both cost and mission dictate its current trajectory. According to Roosevelt, mounting solar panels on rooftops is vastly more expensive than the project’s investors and government funding will support. And moving the farm even a few miles from campus would suddenly make it tangential rather than integral to the college’s mission and commitment to environmental education and global sustainability.
“The farm is a very integral part of Antioch College culture, curriculum and pedagogy, so having a farm that is very central and easily reached by students and others is very important,” he said. “We are going to be very sensitive to neighbors’ concerns about runoff, noise and smells, and there is work to be done” to figure out what the impact will be.
The college also wouldn’t approve actions that could harm the Glen, Roosevelt said. The Antioch College Board of Trustees has spent significant energy and funding to establish the conservation easement that protects the 1,000-acre preserve. The investment makes the Glen the college’s most valuable economic resource, and a “gigantic contribution to open space in the area,” Roosevelt said.
Though both parties have independent needs, each voiced commitment to working together to come to reasonable solutions.
“As a neighbor of Antioch College and frequent user of the golf course, I prefer a collaborative process and believe we can work together to achieve all of our needs and wants,” Miller said. “There’s a very strong pro-Antioch College contingent among us and we certainly all celebrate Antioch College’s success…we want to work with the college to succeed.”
The YSOC invites members of the community to view their Facebook page at facebook.com/groups/YSOC/ or join them by emailing [email protected].