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Village Council — Citizens plan CBE moratorium

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At Village Council’s Sept. 6 meeting, Council was informed that a group of citizens is aiming to place a temporary moratorium on the proposed expansion of Village infrastructure to the entrance of the Center for Business and Education, or CBE.

“It will be a moratorium on the development of infrastructure,” said Dawn Johnson, who is organizing the effort with Chrissy Cruz and Kate Hamilton. Johnson read a resolution that would halt Council’s plan to install infrastructure to the CBE entrance until there are extensive opportunities for citizen participation and a referendum on any plans for the land.

Council plans to vote on a Request for Proposals, or RFP, on the infrastructure project at its Sept. 19 meeting. At that point, the project would be put out for bid and would likely be finished by the end of the year. Village Manager Patti Bates has said.

But things are moving too quickly and citizens need to weigh in, according to Dale Hotaling.

“Before utilities go out there, before bulldozers go out there, there should be a vision for what happens” on the land, he said to Council.

A moratorium is necessary because villagers are losing trust in Council, according to Chrissy Cruz.

“People feel they’re not being included in this decision,” she said, adding, “It seems like Council is figuring out how to get around the referendum.”

Cruz was referring to the 2014 referendum, also mounted by a citizens group, in which villagers voted two to one against Council’s decision to spend $1 million to develop infrastructure throughout the CBE, which at that time was controlled by the economic development group Community Resources, whose members intended to use the land as a commerce park. Since the issue was voted down, the future of the 35-acre CBE land on the western edge of town has remained unclear. However, Council announced this summer that Community Resources was offering to transfer the land, which had been purchased largely with a loan from the Village, to the Village in exchange for forgiveness of the loan. In August Council voted to accept the land transfer and also to move ahead with extending Village utilities to the CBE entrance, which is a reduced version of the original infrastructure project. The utility extension would be funded by a federal grant.

In response to Cruz’s assertion that Council was trying to undermine the 2014 referendum results, Council member Marianne MacQueen said that referendum didn’t make clear that villagers oppose any development on the CBE property. Rather, she said, villagers voted against the Village’s extending infrastructure throughout the whole property, which is not what Council is currently proposing.

“To me, people seem very divided on this, which is why it’s important to have a conversation where we can talk to each other,” MacQueen said.

And to have that conversation, people need to assume trust in each other, she said.

“We have to get past this place, where there’s an assumption of a lack of trust,” she said.

In response to Kate Anderson, who read emails between Council members and Village staff that she believed showed Council members working secretively on the CBE project, MacQueen said that there is nothing unusual in that communication, which Anderson obtained via a public records request.

“Not everything happens in the public eye,” MacQueen said, stating that Council members are allowed to communicate with each other and staff outside Council -meetings.

The issue of a lack of trust was also addressed by Council member Judith Hempfling.

“This is an honest and forthright group of people here,” she said of Council. However, she said, “I think we moved too quickly” on the extension of utilities to the CBE. Hempfling and MacQueen had requested in earlier meetings that Council slow down the process, but were voted down. If Council approves the RFP at its next meeting, as planned, the infrastructure project would begin shortly after and likely be finished by the end of the year, Village Manager Patti Bates said.

Along with MacQueen, Hempfling stated that it wasn’t clear that the 2014 referendum results indicate that villagers oppose any development on the CBE property. In her informal survey of citizens on the topic, she said, she found that some oppose any development on the property and others simply voted in 2014 against the specific project, but do not oppose development now.

Her own view of the need for development on the property has changed in that time, said Hempfling, who previously opposed the CBE.

“I’m concerned that businesses in the community that we love will have to leave,” she said. “I think a little more space for development would be a good thing.”

Council President Karen Wintrow also expressed her concern that there is need for more space for local businesses to expand.

“We are talking about businesses leaving this community,” she said. “There is no place for businesses to move in Yellow Springs.” And because the extension of utilities would be funded by the federal grant rather than the Village, “this is a fiscally sound decision.”

Community Resources member Dean Pallotta stated that there is a need for business expansion in order to counter the rising cost of living in Yellow Springs.

“I come here to Council meetings and hear the same stories, how it’s too expensive to live here,” he said, emphasizing that more business development will broaden the Village tax base, thus lowering villagers’ tax burden.

If Council doesn’t act on the CBE infrastructure, the Village risks losing the ACOE grant, according to Wintrow, stating that the Village has lost several grants in the past due to inaction.

“This says something about Yellow Springs, that we don’t have the wherewithal to move forward,” she said.

Other items of Council’s Sept. 10 business, including Shook Construction’s presentation on the guaranteed maximum price for the new water plant, will be in next week’s News.

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