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Village Council— Slowing down on CBE land

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Village Council at its Sept. 19 meeting signaled a new willingness to slow down plans for extending basic infrastructure to the entrance of the 35-acre parcel of land known as the Center for Business and Education, or CBE. Rather than voting on a request for proposal, or RFP, for extending water, sewer and storm sewer utilities to the property’s entrance, Council discussed the purpose behind the infrastructure expansion in more depth, with citizens in attendance vigorously weighing in.

“I think we have some time … to talk to the community and start a public process,” stated Council President Karen Wintrow at the meeting.

A majority of Council had previously indicated a need to move forward quickly on the infrastructure extension so as not to lose the Village’s Army Corps of Engineers, or ACOE, grant to cover project costs, estimated at approximately $270,000. All Council members have said they support the infrastructure extension, with Judith Hempfling and Marianne MacQueen urging more time for public input.

The plan has raised concerns and opposition among some villagers who say they feel excluded from the CBE development process or who have stated preferences that the land not be developed.

“I personally don’t want to see development” of the CBE land, said villager Dale Hotaling. Characterizing Yellow Springs as a “collaborative, inclusive community,” he said he believed those principles were not being observed in the current instance.

At Council’s previous meeting on Sept. 5, a group of villagers introduced a citizens initiative seeking a temporary moratorium on any development of the CBE land to allow time for more citizen input toward a cohesive plan for the property. That moratorium effort received a setback at the Sept. 19 meeting.

A representative from the Village solicitor’s office, Jessica Brockman, stated that Council’s planned vote on soliciting bids for the utility extension was not subject to a citizens initiative because it was an administrative rather than a legislative action.

In moving forward with infrastructure extension, Council would be “merely administering a contract,” she said.

But one member of the group, villager Dawn Johnson, said by email on Tuesday that the citizen group planned to press ahead with the moratorium effort and will seek its own legal counsel.

The CBE land is in the midst of being transferred to the Village by local economic development group Community Resources, which has held the property since 2004. Village Manager Patti Bates said at Monday’s meeting that the transfer agreement is currently being reviewed by the group and a closing is expected soon.

Community Resources representative Dean Pallotta confirmed on Tuesday that the transfer is in the final stages of review by the group, which had previously received a $300,000 loan from the Village toward the purchase of the property. The deeding of the land to the Village will serve as forgiveness for that loan.

The planned transfer was first made public at Council’s July 5 meeting, when Community Resources representative Sarah Wildman addressed Council regarding the group’s intention to transfer the land. At the same meeting, Village Manager Bates informed Council that the Village could extend utilities to the property in a more limited way using the ACOE grant, which had previously been scoped for extending infrastructure across the CBE. That larger infrastructure project was abandoned after a 2014 referendum in which Yellow Springs voters rejected by a two to one margin Council’s decision to use almost $1 million in Village funds to develop a commerce park on the site.

But the land transfer and the limited infrastructure extension are distinct actions, clarified Bates on Tuesday. She acknowledged that Village staff had previously recommended that the two actions be pursued concurrently.

Several citizens at Monday’s meeting spoke out against even a limited infrastructure extension to the CBE land’s entrance.

Villager Rick Donahoe cautioned that such an extension would likely set the stage for further development, and could jeopardize Village efforts to secure the western portion of the Jacoby greenbelt by increasing land values.

“What seems like a very small step” may have big consequences for the future, he observed.
Villager Dan Reyes offered the view that the infrastructure extension and a larger planning effort about the use of the land were best pursued in tandem.

“We want a good match between infrastructure and use of the land,” he said.

But villager Bob Baldwin said he believed it would be “shortsighted” of the Village to not extend basic infrastructure to the property’s entrance using the ACOE grant.

“I say do it. I don’t see a downside anywhere,” he said.

In response to several citizens’ concerns that villagers were not being included in the planning process for the CBE land, Council member MacQueen stressed that Council was committed to community involvement.

“Every single Council member wants the community to be involved,” she said.

In her view, the infrastructure extension via the ACOE grant is a separate issue from any future plans for the CBE land. “I see extending infrastructure as distinct from planning and working on the property,” she said.

A majority of Council members shared that view. “The grant is distinct from the bigger picture,” Vice President Brian Housh said.

However, Council member Hempfling said she believed that the infrastructure extension should be tied to a larger planning discussion for the CBE land that also considers the impact of development plans on the Village’s efforts to preserve the surrounding Jacoby greenbelt.

“We need a strong commitment and a strong plan,” she said.

All Council members have previously indicated their support for some form of development on the CBE land. At Monday’s meeting, Council emphasized the inclusion of villagers in a future planning process for the property.

Once the land transfer happens, the community will be able to “start a new discussion on that land,” said Council member Gerry Simms.

For example, the Village could organize a charrette, or public planning process, and involve groups like the Economic Sustainability Commission and the Village mediation program to encourage citizen participation. It could also gather citizen input through online means.

Citizens who spoke at Monday’s meeting were united in wanting a say in the future of the CBE land. Several villagers referenced past planning processes that elicited ideas that might still be workable.

“We’d love to participate,” said villager Johnson, who is among those seeking the temporary moratorium on development on the property for the purpose of more citizen input.

And several citizens acknowledged that the CBE has a history of stirring debate among Yellow Springs residents.

“The issue is contentious because villagers care,” said villager Kat Walter.

Council will continue a discussion of the proposed infrastructure extension to the entrance of the CBE land at its next meeting on Oct. 3.

Other items from Council’s Sept. 19 agenda, including a first look at the 2017 General Fund budget, will be covered in next week’s paper.

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