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Village affordable housing project elicits community support, concerns

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In a discussion of a proposed affordable housing development at Village Council’s Feb. 22 meeting, some villagers spoke in support of the potential public/private partnership to build four permanently-affordable homes on Cemetery Street and others raised concerns about the use of Village government funds for the project.

The affordable housing issue was discussion only. Council will vote on a resolution to move the project forward at its March 7 meeting.

“The broad community support…for affordable housing doesn’t necessarily mean that the community wants to see public assets or funds directly used to finance a venture that ultimately only directly benefits a handful of homeowners,” said Gary Zaremsky.

Others with concerns suggested that affordable housing can be developed without Village subsidies, that the ongoing mortgage crisis threatens homeownership and that housing development is a poor tool to promote the economic development that will increase Village tax rolls.

Meanwhile, supporters emphasized that the declining school-age population requires government intervention, that land trust housing has a low rate of foreclosure and that affordable housing is a good tool to attract residents who may start businesses in the community.

Andrew Kline, a 30-year-old contractor who recently returned to his home town of Yellow Springs and started a building company, said that he supports the project because it is in line with the community’s priorities and may have positive economic impacts.

“I’m potentially part of the demographic that Home, Inc. and affordable housing is trying to attract … who starts a business and creates jobs and creates work for other people,” he said.

Council President Judith Hempfling urged villagers “not to bow to the confusion regarding affordable housing—a confusion which has been destructive to the core fabric of the community.”

“To say that economic development is our top priority but saying that this economic development should come at a later date or not at all makes no sense,” Hempling added.

While Council member Karen Wintrow said the project’s economic development impact is “limited,” she expressed hope that the same sort of public/private partnership could be made for business and job creation, which, she said, deserve similar attention from Council.

In a draft memorandum of understanding with potential developer Home, Inc., the Village agreed to offer the 0.7 acres of Village property on Cemetery Street for half of its appraised value. Hempfling estimated the total appraised value as $160,000. In addition, the Village will pay for the appraisal, waive up to $500 of zoning and tap fees per unit and cover the installation of an upgraded water main and fire hydrant in the area, which Fire Chief Colin Altman suggested. That work, Village engineering consultant John Eastman estimated, would cost between $60,000 and $80,000.

A draft development agreement further specifies that the developer would pay the Village for each lot when the house is sold, that the wooded area of the lots be conserved and that an area between the homes and the Northern Gateway development to the east be protected from development. The homes are specified as between 1,200–1,500 square feet with at least three bedrooms.

Wintrow was worried about an outlay of Village money and suggested that the sale of the land happen as a lump sum.

“I get concerned about the Village making this large investment when we don’t know when we’re going to recoup the money of the infrastructure,” Wintrow said. “I don’t want more resources to go into it, in terms of the cost of the infrastructure, than we get out of the land.”

But Hempfling contended that Village staff time has so far cost less than $5,000 and that the Village should use its resources to meet a community need.

“To think that we’re not ever going to look at publicly-owned land for the public good doesn’t make a lot of sense,” she said. “If the village has some needs we want to be able to think about using our resources in a way that meets those needs.”

Council members unanimously agreed to finalize the memorandum of understanding as a resolution at their March 7 Council meeting.

In other Council business:

• Council voted 4–1 in the second and final reading of legislation to discontinue fluoridation of the Village’s water supply, effective May 1. Wintrow voted against the ordinance to reflect the split opinion in the community over the Council decision. The decision comes after an extensive community debate over fluoride’s dental benefits and potential health problems over the last year, stemming from a recommendation last spring from the Environmental Commission that the Village cease fluoridation.

At the meeting Council members discussed ways to notify residents, especially parents of young children, of the change. Letters may be sent in utility bills and the Environmental Commission plans to send letters to the schools.

• Council unanimously passed the second reading of an ordinance which amends the section of the Village zoning code that deals with variance criteria. The Village’s former guidelines for granting variances from the its zoning code required an applicant to demonstrate a hardship imposed by the code, which is not in compliance with Ohio law, according to a 2009 memo from solicitor John Chambers. The denial of a variance request for a housing development on Marshall Street last year brought the issue to the Planning Commission’s attention.

• Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse, or YSKP, sent a letter requesting that the Village amend requirements for application to the Economic Development Revolving Loan Fund to allow a 501(c)3 non-profit organization to apply. YSKP, with an annual budget of $165,000, is requesting a so far unspecified amount from the fund to pay for its Summer Arts Immersion and the salary of its executive director. The loan committee will convene to consider the request.

• A 2010 investment summary prepared by Village Treasurer Rachel McKinley showed that net earnings credits on Village interest-bearing accounts have begun to rise while net service charges have begun to decline. In 2010 the Village earned $2,722.73 on its investments, which had an ending balance of $6,890,687.55. The Village’s total cash balance at the end of 2010 was $6,962,268.00, according to Finance Director Sharon Potter in an interview.

• In a continuing discussion of changes to the Village’s sidewalk maintenance policy, Cundiff responded to questions he received from villagers at the Nov. 15 Council meeting. Council has already passed the first reading of legislation that would make the cost of sidewalk repair the responsibility of the Village. Language in the proposed ordinance specifies that abutting property owners are no longer required to keep public sidewalks in good condition, though they still must keep them clear of ice, snow and overhead obstructions such as low-hanging tree limbs, Cundiff clarified at the meeting. Council will vote on the ordinance’s second and final reading at its March 7 meeting.

• In its annual report to Council, the Library Commission noted that despite reduced hours, visits to the Yellow Springs branch of the Greene County Public Library have increased, to 111,000 visits in 2010, according to Connie Collett of the library. This year the commission will audit its building, which is owned by the Village, with hopes of increasing the building’s energy-efficiency and re-arranging the interior space to better suit the library’s needs.

• Council will hold a joint meeting with the Miami Township Trustees on March 31 to discuss a re-write of the zoning code.


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