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Sutton Farm land— Village moves closer to sale

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At their March 21 meeting Village Council moved a step closer to selling 76 acres of Village-owned land to Glen Helen.

Council unanimously approved tasking Village Manager Patti Bates with getting an appraisal for the worth of the land in question, the eastern section of the Village-owned Sutton Farm on State Road 343. The appraisal would be used to determine a selling price, should Council sell the land.

“We believe that the transfer of the property is in the best interest of the people of Yellow Springs, would further the Village’s goals of preserving the land and would be an important step for the health of Glen Helen,” Glen Director Nick Boutis stated in a written proposal to Council.

If the Glen is able to buy the land, it will remove invasive plants, reforest the agricultural areas with native trees and “maximize the ability of the land to serve as a filter for Birch Creek, Glen Helen and the aquifer that provides our municipal water supply,” according to the proposal.

Boutis initially approached Council with the proposal that the Glen buy the Sutton Farm parcel at its March 7 meeting. Specifically, the Glen Helen Association seeks to buy the eastern parcel as part of the GHA effort to protect land surrounding the Glen. The western 15-acre section of the Sutton Farm is agricultural land and the center 15-acre tract is the area Village government uses for maintenance equipment and storage.

The eastern section of the Sutton farm includes valuable ecological features, especially in regards to providing protection for Glen Helen, Boutis said.

“One of the great challenges of managing the Glen is that it is long and narrow,” Boutis wrote in the proposal. Consequently, much of the watershed of Birch and Yellow Springs creeks and the Little Miami River are outside the Glen, which makes keeping waterways pristine and protecting wildlife habitat more difficult. So the GHA has in recent years focused on purchasing available land surrounding the Glen, including the Camp Greene Girl Scout Camp and Case Woods. The eastern portion of the Sutton Farm is now composed of a hayfield, three fields of crops and a woods, and the Village rents the fields to a local farmer, netting about $1,100 yearly after taxes, according to Village Manager Patti Bates.

The GHA proposes purchasing the land with grant money from Clean Ohio, which would require that the Village donate about a quarter of the proceeds as a show of local support. Boutis estimated that, conservatively, the value of three quarters of the parcel might be about $150,360, although the official appraised value has not been received.

The GHA hopes for timely Council action because the Clean Ohio grant application is due July 1, according to Boutis.

The majority of Council expressed support for the sale of the land, as a way to bolster Glen protection. However, Gerry Simms restated his opposition to selling the land without an overall Council plan for Village-owned land, which currently does not exist. Simms stated concern for recent Council actions that have tied up portions of Village-owned land, such as the proposed solar project on the Glass Farm, so that there’s less land available for other potential uses.

“We are entrusted as Council to manage the land of the Village, so we need a plan,” Simms said.

However, other Council members argued that it’s not realistic to have such a plan because real estate opportunities often can’t be foreseen.

“This is not commercially viable land. It’s under an easement and can’t be developed,” Council President Karen Wintrow said. “For this piece of property, this offer is as good a deal as we’ll get.”

In other March 21 Council business:

• Council had an initial discussion about the proposed Village Justice System Task Force, which is part of a new 2016 Council goal to “review and update the Village justice system,” including the police department and Mayor’s Court, proposed by Judith Hempfling and Marianne MacQueen. The task force will consist of nine to 11 people, including a liaison from Council, the Human Relations Commission, or HRC, and the Village Mediation program. Organizers seek as members villagers who have an interest in the goal, and especially young people and activists in social justice groups such as Black Lives Matter.

The group would meet monthly and its tasks would include clarifying what cases go to Mayor’s Court; researching options for more restorative justice practices and pre-prosecution mediation that could strengthen Mayor’s Court; and examining trends in municipal policing that “address institutional racism and alternative municipal policing approaches to drug control,” according to a written proposal from Hempfling and MacQueen.

Council asked that Hempfling and MacQueen return to its April 4 meeting with a timeline for forming the group.

• Council unanimously approved a resolution that would allow the annexation of about 422 acres of Glen Helen north of Grinnell Road into the Village.

The annexation was in response to a request by Glen Director Boutis in October, according to Bates. Glen leaders sought the annexation due to current confusion over which law enforcement agency has jurisdiction over the Glen; officially, the land has been the responsibility of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, but those officers have a longer response time than local police. And while the local police usually respond to calls from the Glen, they do not currently have jurisdiction.

Bates and Police Chief Dave Hale recommended annexing the land. According to Hale, the annexation does not put an additional burden on the police department because local police already respond to Glen calls.

• John Gudgel gave the 2015 annual report for the Village Mediation Program, or VMP. Last year, the group received 30 referrals for mediation, although only 10 actual mediations took place. Sometimes conflicts are resolved before they get to mediation, Gudgel said, and sometimes the parties involved don’t agree to mediate.

In 2016, the group aims to get word out about its services. Examples of issues appropriate to mediation include neighbor disputes, landlord/tenant conflicts, problems with noise and referrals from the local police department.

The group is also looking for new mediators, Gudgel said.

• In her annual Village investment summary, Village Treasurer Rachel McKinley reported that because the Village has chosen to place its assets in a no-risk venue, interest income remains very low. In 2015 the Village assets of $6.7 million in the US Bank StarPlus savings account netted interest of $3,216.

Council members encouraged McKinley to alert them if she becomes aware of investment opportunities that, while still low risk, could offer a greater rate of return.

• Council approved a resolution that authorizes Manager Bates to sign a letter of intent with Atlas Energy and Power to negotiate a contract to build a solar array. The company was recommended by the Village Energy Board for the project.

Council’s next regular meeting is Monday, April 4, at 7 p.m.

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