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First Council vote OKs CBE funding

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Click here to read about the Jan. 9 public forum on CBE funding.

More than 50 villagers crowded into Village Council’s Jan. 13 meeting, with most who spoke opposed to Council funding the CBE infrastructure. But Council moved ahead with the project by voting 3–1 in favor of the first reading of an ordinance that appoves an almost $1 million bond issuance for the CBE. Council will ultimately take three votes on the project, with the second on Jan. 21 and the third at its Feb. 3 meeting.

Brian Housh, Gerry Simms and Marianne MacQueen voted in favor of the funding, stating they believe the CBE is the best bet to enhance local economic development. Lori Askeland voted against, stating that she sees the CBE public funding as an unwise business decision on a project that is not likely to be viable. Council President Karen Wintrow, in what she described as “an abundance of caution,” recused herself from the vote due to the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Potential conflicts of interest with the CBE project emerged as a theme of the meeting, sparked by an article in the Columbus Free Press by former Yellow Springs resident Gerry Bello that appeared online earlier in the day. According to the article, CBE covenant papers, filed in 2006, identified architect Ted Donnell, who is married to Wintrow, as the lead architect for the project. However, according to Interim Village Manager Kent Bristol, Wintrow was being “very cautious” by recusing herself from the vote because the CBE no longer has any connection with Donnell. In 2006, Community Resources had a contract with Donnell’s firm, K4 Architecture, to oversee the covenant, but since that time CR has dropped the contract and Donnell no longer works for the firm.

But the appearance that some CBE advocates could benefit financially from the project is muddying the public discourse, according to villager Lauren Miller.

“There are what appear to be improprieties, what appear to be conflicts of interest,” Miller said. She also asked Council members to identify their own connections with Community Resources, which owns the CBE land and has been its main backer.

In response, Simms said he was a CR board member briefly before running for Council several years ago, at which time he resigned. Housh stated that he has no connection with CR and MacQueen said she was a founding member of CR, but has not been involved for some time.

However, MacQueen and Askeland both made strong statements regarding their distress at villagers making accusations that CBE advocates stand to gain financially.

“Community Resources was started by volunteers and none have made any money on this. I’ve never met anyone who is doing this for financial gain,” MacQueen said, stating that she hopes villagers can “set this issue aside” in the CBE dialogue. “When we start vilifying those with whom we disagree, we’re going down the tubes.”

The ordinance on which Council voted Monday night allows the bond counsel firm Squire Sanders to issue up to almost $1 million in bonds for funding the CBE infrastructure. Community Resources asked the Village for the funding in August, after the Ohio Department of Transportation rescinded a grant for the project, citing too many delays. While CR originally requested that the Village provide about $656,000 to complete the infrastructure, the amount increased on the advice of Squire Sanders in order to cover contingencies.

The amount requested is very conservative and may turn out to be more than needed, according to bond counsel Margaret Comey, who said that her firm uses “maximum amounts” to be cautious. The actual amount of the infrastructure funding won’t be clear until bids for the project come in, which should be the beginning of March, she said. Comey also stated that while Council’s vote signals its readiness to move ahead with the CBE, the Village is not actually committed until it signs a contract in March.

About 12 villagers spoke against the Village funding the project, or asked Council to gather more information before moving ahead.

“This is too risky,” Kathryn Hitchcock said, stating that she and her husband, Michael, are opposed to the public CBE funding.

Dimi Reber urged Council to watch the video of a Jan. 9 meeting in which several professionals involved in commercial realty expressed their concern that the CBE is not a viable project (see accompanying article).

“This forum presented important new information,” she said.

Allison Moody, a villager who works as a vice president for Dayton Commercial Realty, urged Council not to fund the project.

“Demand drives development, and there is no reliable demand for the CBE,” she said, stating that Community Resources had not done the due diligence necessary for the project.

Bill Firestone identified himself to Council as “one of the many Yellow Springs Internet enterpreneurs re-inventing ourselves who are being asked to support your brick and mortar fantasies.”

Jim Rose encouraged Council to back a referendum on the project.

“I hope Council makes sure citizens have an opportunity to vote this up or down,” he said.

Speaking for the CBE were former CR president Lisa Abel and current board member Jerry Sutton.

Abel said she is looking at “the big economic picture,” including the loss of jobs in the village and the need for a stronger tax base.

“The businesses that go in the CBE will provide property tax to move this village forward,” she said.

And Sutton repeated his previous argument that the Village stands to lose $412,000 in federal funding if it delays too long. While last week an Army Corps of Engineers representative stated that the money is currently stable but could be vulnerable in an emergency, Sutton said, “All it takes is the stroke of a pen and it’s gone.”

Regarding his vote for the CBE funding, Housh stated that in the current economic climate, more and more municipalities are backing projects like the CBE because they’re able to get funding that is being denied to developers. He also said he is “not opposed” to a referendum, although concerned that a referendum would “send out a signal that Yellow Springs is not supportive of economic development.”

Simms encouraged villagers to contact him to talk about the CBE, and MacQueen, while acknowledging that most at the meeting appeared opposed to the project, stated that she continues to believe that public funding of the CBE makes sense so that the Village has a place where local businesses can grow.

Other items of Council’s Jan. 13 business, including a presentation by Police Chief Anthony Pettiford on 2014 community initiatives, will be in next week’s paper.

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