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Village Council moves ahead on CBE land

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At its Aug. 15 meeting, Viillage Council voted unanimously to accept the 35-acre parcel on the west edge of town known as the Center for Business and Education, or CBE, which was formerly owned by Community Resources. The majority of Council also voted to extend Village utilities to the entrance of the CBE, working with the Army Corps of Engineers to fund the project. The vote on extending utilities was 4-0-1, with Judith Hempfling abstaining.

Council members emphasized that other than extending utilities, they do not at this point have a specific plan for the land.

“We don’t have any special vision of what will happen at the CBE,” said Council President Karen Wintrow. “But we’re committed to something that will help the village. That’s the only decision we’re making now.”

The votes brought to an end several months of negotiations between Village staff and the local economic development group Community Resources, which through its subsidiary Education Village Inc., previously owned the land. The group had purchased the land in 2004 with a $100,000 grant from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation and a $300,000 no-interest loan from the Village Economic Development Revolving Loan Fund. With the land transfer Monday night, which included the termination of a development agreement between the Village and Education Village, the Village forgave the loan.

Community Resources originally purchased the farmland with the vision of creating a commerce park, the Center for Business and Education, with the intention of providing more space in town for local businesses to expand or new businesses to locate. In the 12 years since the land was purchased, Community Resources also secured almost $1 million in funding from state and federal grants, including the Army Corps of Engineers, to fund infrastructure for the project. However, project delays led to the loss of half of that funding, leading the group to request that Village funds be used to make up the funding gap. The CBE project became increasingly controversial, and it was soundly voted down in a referendum in November, 2014. Since that time, Community Resources has been considering how best to use the land, and ultimately decided that it should go to the Village.

“We can’t go any further with it,” Community Resources member Dean Pallotta said at the meeting. “We believe you all are better situated” to use the land.

While Council members unanimously agreed on accepting the land and expressed support for the project, they disagreed on how quickly to move forward with the infrastructure extension. Hempfling urged Council to wait at least until the next meeting before moving ahead with the infrastructure, which will be completely funded by the ACOE loan, in order to hear more input from the community.

“It’s hard to have an open discussion on the topic when there’s a motion on the table to vote on, because it feels like a decision has already been made,” Hempfling said. “We need input from the community on how we should move ahead.”

Marianne MacQueen agreed. Describing the 2014 CBE referendum as a “contentious issue,” she said, “I want us to take the time to have community input so we feel a critical portion of the village supports this.”

However, Wintrow, Brian Housh and Gerry Simms did not support Hempfling’s motion to table the vote, so the motion failed 3-2.

According to Wintrow, Council and community members were already having a “robust” discussion on the topic at the Monday night meeting. And while she emphasized that plans for the CBE land hadn’t been made, she believes any potential plan will benefit from having the infrastructure extension.

“I don’t see any re-imagining of the project that wouldn’t involve utilities,” she said.

Housh also emphasized that extending utilities didn’t mean moving ahead with a particular vision for the land.

“I’m concerned that we’re conflating using the grant with a bigger discussion of use of the land,” he said. “We’re not rushing into anything. We’re allowing opportunities” by building the infrastructure.

About five villagers spoke on the CBE issue, with all urging Council to hold off on the infrastructure until a vision for the land has been created.

“The risk with this timing is that the grant could get out in front of the project and tell the project what it should be,” said Dan Reyes, who urged Council to “take a few months” for community input first.

Kate Hamilton expressed concern about a perceived lack of transparency on the project, stating, “I want to be able to trust Council.” In response, Wintrow and Housh said the process has been completely transparent.

Dawn Johnson urged Council: “Let your town decide its new vision.”

However, the majority of Council decided to move ahead with the project, which has a reduced scope of extending Village water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure from the intersection of Enon Road and Dayton-Yellow Springs Road to the CBE entrance, as compared to the original plan for utilities extended throughout the whole property. According to a timeline prepared by Assistant Village Manager Melissa Vanzant, the Village will next draft a Request for Proposal, or RFP, for the project and at Council’s Sept. 6 meeting will approve the RFP and resolution to move forward. In October Council would award the contract and construction is expected to begin in mid-October, with a duration of a month to six weeks.

Next week’s News will cover other topics on Council’s Aug. 15 agenda, including ongoing problems with utilities billing.

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