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CBE project delayed for now

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In an unexpected development, Village Council on Monday night withdrew an ordinance to fund the CBE infrastructure due to procedural errors. Council, which was poised to pass the ordinance, needed to withdraw it because the project’s engineering design was never formally reviewed by Planning Commission, according to Village Solicitor Chris Conard at the meeting.
“The ordinance needs to be withdrawn due to process concerns,” Conard said at the meeting.

The vote appeared to be a temporary setback for CBE supporters, who have urged Council to move quickly on the long-delayed project in order to bid the project and complete the construction this year. Following Monday’s meeting, Interim Village Manager Kent Bristol said that it’s not clear how long the CBE project will be delayed, but it could be back on Council’s agenda in March. The Planning Commission, which meets monthly and is scheduled to meet Feb. 10, could review the plans in one meeting before sending a recommendation back to Council, or take longer.

“It’s a delay, but not a fatal one,” Bristol said in an interview Wednesday, stating that if Council passes the ordinance in late spring, construction could still move ahead this year.

Council voted 2–1 to take Conard’s advice, with Lori Askeland and Marianne MacQueen voting for withdrawing the ordinance and Brian Housh voting against. Council member Gerry Simms was absent due to illness and Council President Karen Wintrow had recused herself from the vote due to a question around a possible conflict of interest.

In a written statement Wednesday, Housh said he voted against Conard’s advice because, “Given the lack of time to process and fully explore this new issue [Planning Commission approval of the CBE], I am interested in further investigation of the legal requirements with regards to Planning Commission involvement, especially between a private development vs. a Village development project.”

Monday night was to be the second of three votes on the CBE funding issue, which has been a topic of considerable controversy in recent months. Advocates view the CBE as the Village’s best bet for economic development, while opponents say that the project is too risky and unlikely to repay the public investment. A group of opponents of the public funding have announced plans to hold a referendum should Council approve the CBE funding, and the delay has not altered that plan, according to referendum organizer Crissy Cruz on Wednesday.

According to Conard Monday night, the procedural error was discovered only earlier that day. Questions about the right to referendum led to a review of the CBE process, along with the discovery that Planning Commission had never formally reviewed the project’s design, which is required by the Ohio Revised Code.

According to Bristol, the planning review should have taken place around May 2013, after the CBE project’s final engineering review, by Mike Heintz, was complete. It’s not clear why the step in the process was missed, according to Bristol, who was not working for the Village at that time. Soon after that, in August, representatives of Community Resources, the owner of the CBE land, approached Council to make up a funding loss caused when the Ohio Department of Transportation rescinded a grant due to many delays in the project. Earlier this month, Council voted 3–1 on the first reading of an ordinance to approve a bond issuance for almost $1 million for the project.
At Monday’s meeting, Conard also addressed concerns raised by several citizens who questioned whether the ordinance was worded in a way that would block a referendum.

“The answer is an unequivocal no,” Conard said.

According to Conard, the question was based on an inaccurate reading of the ordinance and the Village Charter, which explains the right of referendum, along with exceptions to that right. While the Charter states that a referendum may not go forward if the referendum “is subsequent to” an ordinance determining that the Village will proceed with an action, the ordinance in question stated the intention to proceed, and was therefore not subsequent to it.

“This is the first ordinance that says the Village will proceed, and therefore there is the right of referendum,” Conard said in an interview Monday.

Last week, Bristol also emphasized that he had no indication that Council wanted to block a referendum, nor did he personally. Bond counsel Margaret Comey, who wrote the ordinance, had asked Bristol if she should write a document that would block a referendum effort, and he said no. While the majority of Council and Bristol may favor the CBE, they respect the democratic process, and the right of referendum is a part of that process, he said.

Should a referendum be mounted in the spring, it would bring the CBE project to a temporary halt, according to Bristol, who said it’s likely that the referendum vote would take place in November, since it would be too late to meet necessary deadlines for the May primary election.

At Monday’s meeting Conard also spoke on the questions regarding Wintrow’s possible conflict of interest on the CBE funding, which were raised in a Columbus Free Press article published online last week. The article cited a 2006 CBE covenant, filed by Community Resources, which identified Wintrow’s husband, architect Ted Donnell, as the head of the project’s Architectural Review Committee. However, Donnell was identified as such because CR had contracted with his firm, K4 Architecture, to oversee the project design, and since that time CR dropped the contract with K4 Architecture, and Donnell no longer works for the firm.

But while his research indicates that there is currently no conflict of interest for Wintrow, Conard said that several questions remain about Donnell’s past role in the project. Due to the lack of clear guidelines, Wintrow had requested that the question be referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission, a process that should take about 30 days, according to Conard.
Other items of Council’s Jan. 21 business will be covered in next week’s News.


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