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Council weighs greenbelt against growth

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In the area surrounding Yellow Springs, which properties should be preserved as greenspace, and which should be kept available for potential future housing development?

Village Council briefly discussed that question at its July 16 meeting as part of a review of Council’s progress on its 2018 goals.

Council President Brian Housh acknowledged that while significant progress has been made toward many goals, action on the goal of protecting properties in the Jacoby Greenbelt had lagged. 

Specifically, Council set out earlier this year to confirm Yellow Springs’ urban service boundary and to identify and prioritize properties within the Jacoby Greenbelt west of the village to preserve. 

During the course of the discussion, Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen encouraged Council to remove two properties that are part of the proposed greenbelt, since they are within the urban service boundary, an area that can be fed by the municipality’s gravity-fed sewer.

“I’m proposing to Council that we not seek conservation easements on those properties,” MacQueen said.

MacQueen identified the properties as potential sites for housing. The village’s  affordable housing crisis dates to concerns about growth that arose in the late ’60s and early ’70s, she said, which, along with a desire to save farmland, led to the creation of the greenbelt. But without growth, MacQueen said, housing demand soon exceeded supply.

“We’re facing this critical situation today because Yellow Springs said, ‘we’re not going to grow, period,’” MacQueen said.

MacQueen also clarified that she was not proposing the Village expand its boundaries — the properties are outside of municipal limits — but instead think about the town’s needs in the long run.

“As a responsible council, we might think what Yellow Springs might be like in the next 40 or 50 years,” she said.

Council member Kevin Stokes agreed with MacQueen, saying that using the urban service boundary as a boundary for potential future growth was logical. 

“I think it is fair to consider future growth,” Stokes said, adding, “It would be wise to consider that that is available if needed and not to put us in a bind unnecessarily.”

Bates also confirmed at the meeting that the urban service boundary on file at the Village and regional planning agencies was still accurate. 

Krista Magaw, executive director of the Tecumseh Land Trust, which is working with the Village to achieve its goals for a greenbelt, said at the meeting that the land trust is responsive to the Village’s changing desires. She also noted the uniqueness of the Village’s greenbelt efforts. 

“Generally speaking, the land trust hasn’t preserved other greenbelts. There is no other municipality in Greene County that is thinking along those lines,” Magaw said. 

Magaw went on to suggest an additional property along Dayton-Yellow Springs Road be added to the proposed Jacoby Greenbelt, since it is currently vulnerable to housing development under Miami Township zoning codes.

“There is quite a bit of property there that could be parceled up into something that I’m pretty sure would not be affordable housing,” Magaw said. “That entry into Yellow Spring is very pretty.”

Magaw added the land trust would like guidance on the priority properties in the Jacoby Greenbelt ahead of a September land donor resource fair. Council will discuss the reasons for and against keeping the two properties in question as part of the greenbelt at an upcoming meeting.

Overall, Housh praised a “very overloaded staff” and “very overloaded Council” for making progress on its goals in the areas of affordability, housing, infrastructure, diversity, economic development, Village justice system, transportation and the greenbelt.

“We have eight goals that we established earlier in the year. There’s been significant progress on all of these goals,” Housh said.

In other Council business:

• Village staff will begin placing door knob hangers at residences where vegetation encroaches on sidewalks, trash has accumulated, grass is higher than nine inches or snow is not cleared from sidewalks.

Housh said that the new strategy is one way to address sidewalk accessibility as part of a Village active transportation plan. 

Village Manager Bates said that since Village crew members are on the streets every day they are logically the ones who could monitor compliance with such local ordinances.

“These guys are on every street in the village once per week,” Bates said. In the past, the Village has waited for a neighbor complaint before notifying a resident that they were out of compliance.

• Council briefly discussed the process for searching for a new Village manager ahead of Bates’ planned retirement in June 2019.

• Anna Bellisari of the Yellow Springs Tree Committee gave a short presentation on the possibility of the village becoming recognized as a Tree City USA. According to a handout from the committee, the four standards to meet include: 1) establishing a municipal tree board; 2) passing a tree care ordinance; 3) budgeting at least $2 per capita for tree care; and 4) observing Arbor Day.

Bellisari said that with the Tree Committee membership growing older, a municipal board makes sense. In addition, the committee is running out of sites to plant trees, and is looking to partner more with the Village on plantings.

“The way we see it, the Tree City USA organization is a really wonderful structure to make us work together, to work more collaboratively with the Village,” she said.

Bates, whose bachelor’s degree is in forestry, will draft an ordinance ahead of a December deadline to apply for recognition for 2019. She added that the Village already spends more than the minimum $2 per capita on tree care. 

• Council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing the Village manager to enter into an agreement with Gray’s Tree Experts of Miamisburg to clear vegetation from utility lines around the village. Village Public Works Director Johnnie Burns said that Gray’s bid of $92,000 was the lowest of three received. Arbor Care, of Yellow Springs, was the next lowest, at $97,000. 

Later, in the citizen’s comments portion of the meeting, Robin Richardson McCoy, who lives north of the village, questioned the choice of an out-of-town contractor when the difference in bids was minimal. Village resident Mike Scheper also spoke on the issue, asserting the importance of a contractor holding the requisite liability insurance, which Burns had earlier confirmed Gray’s Tree Experts had.

• Council member Lisa Kreeger updated Council on the process of creating a designated CIC in the village, a task currently being undertaken by the Economic Sustainability Commission. Kreeger said that the group, to which she is Council liaison, is developing a code of regulations which will then be reviewed by the Village solicitor.

Council members discussed the DCIC’s membership, which would include representatives from the Village, Miami Township and the local school district. While Council member Hempfling said she worried that the group might usurp Council’s authority, Kreeger responded that a collaboration between local jurisdictions is a positive development. 

“Yellow Springs has not done a good job coordinating and collaborating among entities,” she said, noting the concurrence of recent school and fire station levies and Village infrastructure improvements.

“To come together on strategic planning and figure out how we can meet the needs of the village, the DCIC is a way we can do that,” Kreeger said. 

• MacQueen aired concerns about the role of social media in the community, which, she noted, can be both supportive and detrimental. Discourse is also affected, she said.

“Some people seem much more comfortable being very negative and making personal attacks that they probably wouldn’t do in person,” she said.

MacQueen asked Stokes, the Council liaison to the Human Relations Commission, if the HRC could look at what it might do to help “enhance social media as a community-building tool.” Stokes said that he agreed it was in the HRC’s charge.

• Stokes laid out the details of an Implicit Bias training slated for all Village staff, Council members and police officers  next month. Tiffany Taylor Smith, a cultural competency consultant who works at the University of Dayton’s office of diversity and inclusion, will lead the training, which Stokes believes will improve relations within Village government.

“I suspect that we will all be better humans when we finish this process,” Stokes said. 

The three-phase program starts with an assessment of the Village’s “cultural climate” by interviewing staff members and reviewing current policies and practices related to diversity and inclusion, according to Stokes. Then, during two days in August, all municipal staff and Council members will attend two half-day trainings on implicit bias. Police officers will receive a specific training headed by a Dayton Police captain. The final phase includes one-on-one coaching. 

• Hempfling brought up concerns with a 2015 Council decision that made landlords responsible for the delinquent utility bills of their tenants. Hempfling, who is a local landlord, said that she is against the move not because it is “anti-landlord” but because it is “anti-renters,” as a delinquent bill notice sent to a landlord could affect the relationship between a renter and their landlord.

“I feel like its a bad policy and the biggest problem with it is the impact on renters,” Hempfling said.

Much of the ensuing discussion centered on the timing of notifications sent to both renters and landlords. In response to a question, Bates said that delinquent utility payments were in the range of $13,000 to $17,000 per year.

Council members also defended the policy. Housh said that while incentives for landlords to assist their renters might be explored, he was not willing to ask taxpayers to cover delinquent payments.

“I’m not ready to change the core policy,” Housh said.

• During the citizen’s comments portion of the meeting, Corry Street resident Wayne Gulden spoke about excessive noise during the Springsfest music festival in early July. He asserted that the noise exceeded what is allowed by municipal ordinance, and also asked about the process for approving and monitoring events and their noise levels.

“The events seem to get louder and longer,” Gulden said.

Council members said the Village would do a better job of notifying citizens in advance of events and enforcing the noise ordinance for events held at the John Bryan Center.

• Council will meet at 5 p.m. Monday, July 30, for a work session on infrastructure planning. Its next regular meeting is 7 p.m. Monday, August 20. Both meetings will be in Council Chambers.

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