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Bench talk gets new legs

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A recent mediated dialogue between local young people and downtown business owners has increased understanding between the two groups and will likely result in a new public bench downtown, Village Council members were told at their Oct. 5 meeting.

“The message to the youth is that they’re important to the community and that we want them downtown,” said Council President Judith Hempfling. “There’s also respect for the business owners. It’s respect all the way around.”

The mediation, sponsored by the Human Relations Commission, was requested by Council after John Hempfling presented Council with a petition signed by young people requesting a new bench on Xenia Avenue. A previous bench adjacent to the Tom’s Market parking lot, which was a popular gathering place for young people, was removed earlier in the year by owner Tom Gray due to concerns that his customers were being adversely affected.

The mediated discussion was facilitated by Tucker Malishenko of Village Mediation. While he usually prefers bringing all parties together to talk, some business owners were not available at this time, so he conducted a “shuttle” mediation, using a combination of meetings and individual contacts with the parties involved.

A meeting between Gray and members of the Youth Council Bench Committee took place at the Senior Center in September, during which both parties discussed their concerns. The young people emphasized the importance of the bench to their ability to gather downtown, according to Malishenko, as well as their desire to design and build a new bench. Gray emphasized his concerns that the previous bench blocked the sidewalk and access to his business, as well as presenting safety concerns.

An important aspect of the mediation was initiating a new, positive relationship between the young people and the business owners, according to Malishenko.

“The reason for the youth to talk to Tom and other business owners is to develop a relationship based on constructive communication,” he said.

Others involved in the mediation were Kings Yard owner Cathy Christian, Eddie Eckenrode of Sam and Eddie’s Open Books, Molly Lunde and Lee Kibblewhite of Asanda Imports and Karen Wintrow of Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce. Young people involved were John Hempfling, Jade Turner, Kristen Foster, Rose Pelzl, Johnny No and August Millman.

An agreement was reached that all parties felt comfortable with, according to Malishenko. The business owners have no objections to the construction and placement of a bench that uses space between Tom’s Market and Kings Yard. However, the location of the new bench will be further from the Tom’s Market parking lot than was the previous one. The new bench will occupy public property that fronts about 6 to 8 feet of the sidewalk at the south end of the Kings Yard property.

The young people are considering coloring different parts of the sidewalk around the bench area to more clearly identify an area for walking, Pelzl said at the meeting.

“The youth have an awareness of not wanting to create problems,” Malishenko said.

According to Council member Karen Wintrow, the youth have also agreed to take responsibility for cleanup of the bench area.

The young people will next present a plan and design for the bench to business owners and will at some point return to Council with a plan, according to Village Manager Mark Cundiff on Tuesday. The youth also agreed to contact members of the Village Accessibility Committee to ensure that there are no difficulties with accessibility issues.

Other items from the Oct. 5 Council meeting will be covered in next week’s News.

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