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Barr project receives its first approval

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A controversial land use issue packed the house at Village Council’s Sept. 19 meeting, with about 60 villagers attending as Council gave initial approval to the general concept of the Home, Inc./Buckeye Community Hope Foundation proposal to build affordable apartments for seniors on the Barr property downtown.

“This is an opportunity for the village to show its generosity to senior citizens,” said Council member Rick Walkey, voting in favor of the project. “I think it will be a vital place filled with interesting people and will revitalize downtown in new ways.”

The vote — which approved only the project’s density and general concept — was 4–1, with Karen Wintrow opposing. Council will vote on final approval for the project’s concept and density at its next meeting on Oct. 3.

If the project is approved at the concept level and receives federal funding, the project organizers will come back to Council at a later date for final approval of more specific design and engineering elements.

The two-stage approval process is necessary because the nonprofit developer Buckeye needs to have federal funding before it can move ahead with costly engineering studies for the site, and the Village’s support increases its chances of being funded, organizers have said.

The hour and a half discussion included many villagers weighing in on the project, with eight villagers speaking in favor and seven against. Those in favor emphasized the need for affordable senior housing in town, and the project’s favorable downtown location.

“If I need to move sometime, this is exactly where I want to move,” said Carmen Milano, who stated that because the downtown location will allow seniors to walk and be independent, “this will increase the wellness of the community.”

Several who spoke against the project live in the immediate Barr property neighborhood, and expressed concern about the effect of more noise and traffic.

“The tranquility of the neighborhood will be affected negatively,” said Anne Bohlen, who stated that “many other locations close to town could be used” instead of the Barr property location.

But there aren’t other available properties near downtown, according to former Home, Inc. director Marianne MacQueen, who stated that in her job she had spent “10 years looking for property. Finding a piece of property in Yellow Springs is no easy thing.”

Overall, said MacQueen, “We have a values conflict here, and some people won’t be happy.”

Those who oppose the project because they want the Barr property to stay the same are being unrealistic because Friends Care Community, which owns the Barr land, intends to sell it, and the board aims to “try to get top dollar,” according to FCC Board President Mary White.

“This is a remarkable opportunity,” White said of the project, because it both offers FCC a good price for the land and a project consistent with local values.

Several who attended Monday’s meeting expressed concern for the trees on the Barr property, many of which would be cut down. Yellow Springs Tree Committee Secretary Macy Reynolds urged Council to do its best to preserve an oak and walnut on the property that are about 100 years old.

At the beginning of the discussion, Buckeye Vice President Roy Lowenstein described recent changes in the project made in response to local concerns. While the original plan called for 37 units in a two-story building on the 1.6 acre property, the new plan has 33 units. This reduced size allows the developers to “solve several problems,” according to Lowenstein, including adding more parking and green space, and addressing the concern of a neighbor that balconies would overlook her property.

“This development will be a little less profitable but will still work,” Lowenstein said. “It’s a better balance given the size of the site.”

The new plan also features a different design for the brickwork of the building and the use of gabled roofs to give “more color and character” to the project.

In response to concerns regarding the building’s energy efficiency, Lowenstein stated the development will aim to meet or exceed the Enterprise Green Community Design standards “as much as we can. We are of like minds that this is an important local and national goal.”

Most of the units would be available to seniors whose income is at or below 60 percent of the area median income, which would be about $30,000 per couple. However, “for seniors, low income housing casts a wider net” than for other age groups due to eligibility requirements that allow seniors with “considerable assets” to also be eligible if their income is low, Home, Inc. head Emily Seibel said, stating that project organizers hope to include some market-rate apartments, although at this point those apartments can’t be promised.

The Buckeye foundation intends to fund the project with federal tax credits. If the project is approved, the tax credits are then sold to investors who “do well by doing good,” Lowenstein said. The Buckeye foundation has developed more than 50 projects funded by tax credits, according to Seibel. Seibel also said the Barr property project is expected to produce about $25,000 in property taxes for the Village, as well as stimulate more shopping ­downtown.

The location of the Barr property, at the edge of downtown, makes it a prime candidate for approval by the federal funding agency, which this year has emphasized walkability as a desirable feature, Lowenstein said.

In response to those who urged Council to reject the project due to its density, Council President Judith Hempfling said she understood their concerns, but disagreed.

“Density is at the center of smart growth planning and at the center of sustainability and protecting farmland. I believe it’s the direction we need to go,” she said. “We have a proposal that meets the need of elders who I’d love to see live in the center of town.”

The project would also promote local economic development because houses in town previously occupied by the seniors who move to the site will be available for those who want to move to the village, according to Lori Askeland.

“People want to move into town and this will free up houses for young families,” Askeland said. “This is a way of serving many needs.”

While many people at the meeting offered alternative proposals for the Barr property land, “None have come to the table, and this is on the table,” John Booth said, stating that, “I’m convinced there’s a need for senior housing.”

Stating that she came to the meeting intending to approve the project, Karen Wintrow ended up voting against it due to concerns about the process, she said. She had understood that Council was approving the project’s density only, but in his presentation Lowenstein stated that the federal approval for funding that he seeks in November also includes general design elements. While there is some flexibility for Council to make design changes at the final approval stage, the funding approval will be tied to some extent to the design presented in its initial application, he said.

“I have an obligation to the citizens of Yellow Springs to know what I’m voting for, and I don’t know what I’m voting for,” Wintrow said.

Lowenstein stated that the Buckeye foundation, rather than Council, is taking the risk of submitting an application that could later require changes due to engineering specifics or Council’s desire for design changes.

Askeland, who is Council’s representative to Planning Commission, and who attended the previous Buckeye presentations, said that she didn’t feel that there had been a “bait and switch” in the presentations, but rather that Council had asked more questions than the planners, and she was “getting more clarification” regarding the process.

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