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Housing needs study considered

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Whether or not to hire a consultant to develop a housing needs assessment for Yellow Springs was a topic at Village Council’s Dec. 6 meeting.

The need for an assessment of overall Village housing options and needs has come up repeatedly at Council meetings in recent months, especially in the light of a proposed affordable housing project on Village-owned land. While the majority of Council members have supported the viewpoint that more entry-level housing is needed in town, Karen Wintrow has urged Council to complete an assessment of all housing needs before moving ahead with affordable housing.

Wintrow repeated her concern at the Dec. 6 meeting.

“I believe people are making assumptions about why people aren’t moving here, why we’re losing diversity,” she said. “I don’t know if those assumptions have been tested and that’s part of what I’m looking for. I’m looking for a broad-based assessment of housing, not just affordable.”

However, hiring a consultant to conduct an assessment can be a considerable expense, according to Village Manager Mark Cundiff, who reported on four other Ohio municipalities that recently performed housing assessments. In 2009, the City of Blue Ash conducted a study that cost $40,000, and in their search for a consultant, city leaders received 12 responses with costs ranging from $27,000 to $46,000. A study for the City of Dublin by consultants cost $30,000, and a Mt. Healthy study that focused on the need for affordable housing was covered by a United Way grant with no cost to the city. Xenia conducted a study on subsidized housing in 2006 performed by city staff, according to Cundiff.

But spending thousands on a consultant makes little sense, according to villager Steve Conn.

“We know what needs to get done here,” Conn said, referring to the need for Council to revise the zoning code in order to allow more infill development in the village.

A recent Board of Zoning Appeals, or BZA, denial of a request by a Marshall Street homeowner who wanted to build several entry-level homes on his property, has emphasized that the Village zoning code seems to work against Village Council’s interest in using infill development.

“Council or whoever needs to sit down with the zoning code and redo it,” Conn said. “We’ve talked about infill for years, and what holds us back from infill is zoning that constantly gets in the way.”

Council President Judith Hempfling stated that while she did not oppose a housing assessment, “I don’t want to spend $30,000 to do it.”

Council could pursue a lower-cost housing assessment by using a consultant for part of the project, volunteers for another part, and Village staff to gather information that’s already available, according to Marianne MacQueen, executive director of Home, Inc. MacQueen said she supports having an assessment done to identify, “what do we have, what do we want and how do we get there.”

Council can play a significant role in addressing housing needs, MacQueen said, by having a role in determining what sort of housing gets developed, by using Village-owned undeveloped land for housing development, and by revising the zoning code to allow “more creative housing solutions,” she said.

Council requested that Cundiff inquire as to what information is already available through the Greene County Auditor’s office, along with other sources of free information. Council will revisit the topic in January.

In other Council business:

• Cundiff reported on snow and ice removal practices in the village. As a general rule, road salt is applied if snow accumulates, and the snowplows will plow the roads when two inches of snow has accumulated. Primary roads such as Xenia Avenue and Fairfield Pike are plowed first, followed by secondary roads and tertiary streets.

Because snow plows are angled to the right, they may push snow into driveways. To lessen the chance of that happening, homeowners should pile their snow to the right side of their driveway (as they look down the driveway to the street.)

The Village Street Crew has 70 years of combined experience in snow and ice removal, Cundiff wrote in a memo to Council, and this experience “allows them to make the best possible decisions in order to provide safe, passable streets.”

• Andy Holyoke read a statement about his and his wife, Beth’s, concern over the recent removal of the steps that lead from the bikepath down into the skatepark.

For many months, Council has heard requests from the owners of Millworks that the steps be removed in order to lessen the chances that Millworks buildings will be painted with graffiti, as has repeatedly happened in the past. While the Millworks owners do not hold the skatepark users responsible for the graffiti, owner Sam Young stated at a previous Council meeting that some of the young people who gathered near the skatepark may be responsible.

At a recent meeting, Young repeated his request, and Council charged Village staff to go ahead and remove the steps. The steps have now been removed and skatepark users now enter the park from the rear, away from the bike path.

Even though the Holyokes, who live across the bikepath from the skatepark, had requested that they be included in any conversation about skatepark changes, the changes went ahead without that conversation, Holyoke said.

“Taking out heavily used infrastructure on the recommendation of one person is a violation of democratic principles,” Holyoke said, stating that there “is no evidence that skatepark users are graffiti makers.”

Council members agreed that the process involved was flawed, partly because skatepark users had not been involved in the conversation.

“We need to be more careful when we’re making decisions like this, especially when there’s indictment that skatepark users were grafitti makers,” said John Booth. “There’s no evidence. We jumped the gun.”

But the lack of input from skatepark users or their parents made it appear that they didn’t have strong opinions about the issue, Wintrow said, stating that it’s important that the young people who use the park become engaged with Council and Village staff on skatepark issues.

• Home, Inc. board president Len Kramer and resident Margaret Morgan spoke about concerns that have recently been expressed regarding problems with Home, Inc. construction.

“We built 14 houses, many of which had zero issues,” Kramer said, stating that a few homes in the Thistle Creek development had problems that “took too long to get resolved.” However, those problems have been remedied, and the organization is committed to quality construction, he said.

Morgan, who lives in a Thistle Creek Home, Inc. home, stated that she and her family are very happy with the Home, Inc. home, and that “we could not live in Yellow Springs” without Home, Inc.

• Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the Council Clerk to sign a contract with American Legal Publishing for online publication and ongoing updates of the Village codified ordinances. The initial cost is $1,600.

• Council unanimously approved entering into an agreement with BusinessFirst, a regional economic development program. Wintrow stated that the program, which the Village has participated in for several years, is a helpful one.

• Hempfling recommended that Steve Conn be appointed to the empty seat on the Board of Zoning Appeals, and that Chris Peifer be an alternate for that position. Former BZA member Becky Campbell has stated that she is resigning.

• Council’s next meeting is Monday, Dec. 20, at 7 p.m. in Council chambers.

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