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Barr house to disappear in a controlled burn

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The historic house on the Barr property downtown will be burned in a training exercise this month, according to Miami Township Fire Chief Colin Altman at Village Council’s April 1 meeting. Weather conditions permitting, the controlled burn will take place on Sunday, April 21, with training exercises beginning at 9 a.m. and the burn at 1 p.m. The backup date for the burn is Sunday, May 5.

“The most important thing is the fantastic training this provides,” Altman said, stating that many currently in the local fire department have no actual experience in a fire. The department has done only about 10 controlled burns in the last 15 years, according to Altman, who said the Barr property owner, Jim Hammond, had asked the fire department to burn the house so the property would be usable.

The home, purchased from the Friends Care Community last year by Hammond of Miami Township, is located on Xenia Avenue downtown. According to the history blog ysheritage.org by Wright State historian Robin Heise, records show the home was built by William Mills in 1844, then sold to Dr. William Grimes, who used it for many years as a physician’s office and pharmacy. The building was owned by Rebecca Thompson and her descendants from 1894–1987.

For the past several years, the Barr property was the site of various attempts to provide senior housing in Yellow Springs, first by the Friends Care Association, and then a Home, Inc./Buckeye Community Hope Foundation joint project of 36 affordable apartments. However, both attempts fell through due to funding difficulties. During that time, Village Planning Commission made a significant effort to investigate the possibility of renovating or moving the historic Barr home, but found no resources to support such an effort.

In a recent interview, Hammond said he was not able to discuss his plans for the property but will do so soon. The house is too rotted to be renovated, he said, and the presence of large amounts of lead paint rendered renovation prohibitively costly.

According to Chief Altman on Monday night, all dangerous materials, such as lead paint and asbestos, will have been removed by the date of the burn, and only wood and plaster will be left on the house. Neighbors within two to three blocks will be notified, Altman said, in case those with respiratory problems want to take precautions. However, in most cases, a controlled burn will not cause any additional respiratory problems, with the exception of a high humidity day that could keep smoke near the ground for a longer time.

“If it’s a nice spring day with no humidity, it all goes smoothly,” he said.

Traffic control will be provided, according to a memo to Council from Village Manager Laura Curliss.

In response to a concern from villager Chrissie Cruz regarding the safety of doing the burn on a weekend day when downtown is crowded with tourists, Altman said that deadlines are driving the schedule. However, he said a viewing area will be created so that those who want to observe the controlled burn may do so safely.

In other Council business:

• Council did not address the issue of whether to consolidate dispatch services with Xenia because it plans to do so at its April 15 meeting, when Police Chief Anthony Pettiford, who is on medical leave, will attend. However, four villagers spoke to the issue during Citizens Concerns, with all urging Council to keep dispatch local.

The issue is maintaining autonomy in the village, according to Michael Jones, who said that with local dispatch, “We have much more direct control and in some cases better service,” even if the cost is more expensive.

Joan Edwards, speaking as a former member of the Miami Township squad when that group still used local dispatch, stated that the knowledge local dispatchers possessed proved helpful on many occasions.

“I think we will lose the personal touch that I found very important as a squad member,” she said.

The dispatch and water-sourcing issues that Council is now considering have brought up concerns among some villagers that the village is “outsourcing a number of things,” Marianne MacQueen said, stating her concern that these discussions could become divisive. MacQueen described both issues as complex, and she encouraged Council to find a way to provide opportunities beyond Council meetings for villagers to educate themselves on the issues.

Council President Judith Hempfling emphasized that while Council is considering the dispatch consolidation, no decision has been made.

Other items of Council’s April 1 business will be in next week’s paper.

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