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MillWorks seeks zoning change — New vision for an old park

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An industrial park in the village is set for transformation in the post-industrial era, according to its new owner.

Artist lofts, art studios, maker spaces, community kitchens, a hostel, a children’s museum and more are planned for the MillWorks business center on North Walnut Street.

“The goal is to create a more ‘live, work, play’ type of environment,” Jessica Yamamoto said of her vision for the four-acre property, which she and her husband Antonio Molina purchased last September for $1.15 million. The California natives moved to the village with their two children at the same time.

MillWorks’ owners are seeking a zoning change from light industrial, I–1, to the mixed use of a Planned Unit Development, PUD, which would allow for residential and some limited retail. At its Feb. 4 meeting, Council agreed to allow the plan to be reviewed by Planning Commission despite the property being smaller than the five acres required for PUD zoning.

The way the 36-year-old Yamamoto sees it, in a world where mechanization is increasing, online shopping is dominant and malls are closing, the way to create jobs is by giving young creatives the space and the tools to start their own small businesses.

“Retail is the past. The industrial revolution is over. We are not going back to that,” Yamamoto said.

“I’m not interested in retail,” she added, “but I am supportive of people who produce their own products and want a space to market those products and I think this would be a good place to do that. That’s the goal.”

MillWorks started as a cannery in the 19th century, evolved into a seed company in the 20th, and in recent decades has hosted a variety of small businesses and working artists, including Yellow Springs Brewery, which is the anchor tenant in the new plan.

Under that plan, Yellow Springs Brewery will expand into about one-third of the  floorspace of the buildings on the property, which total 49,000 square feet. More space for brewing, canning and a move into a larger taproom is planned.

EnviroFlight to depart

But not all businesses are part of the vision for the property. EnviroFlight, a  company started at MillWorks in 2009 that produces an animal feed from insect larvae, will be leaving. The company’s lease, which expires at the end of 2021, won’t be extended, according to Yamamoto.

EnviroFlight did not immediately express interest in renewing their lease and other tenants were looking to expand, Yamamoto said of her decision.

“Since everyone else wanted to renew  and the brewery wanted to expand, it worked out really well that they didn’t express interest in renewal. So we put it out there that we will not be renewing it,” she said of the company’s lease.

EnviroFlight was surprised to learn of the change of plans, according to the company’s CEO and president, Liz Koutsos.

“This is all a big change, and news to us,” Koutsos said by phone this week.

EnviroFlight currently leases about 20,000 square feet at MillWorks and employs 22 people, from animal care technicians and researchers to engineers, entomologists and marketing professionals, according to Koutsos.

The company’s Yellow Springs staff includes “diverse people and a lot of great talent,” Koutsos said, which is critical since the company’s “basis is innovation.”

Started by resident Glen Courtright, who is no longer with the company, EnviroFlight was purchased by Intrexon/Darling Ingredients in 2016 and opened a commercial-scale facility in Maysville, Ky., last November.

Despite the opening of that new facility, Koutsos said that EnviroFlight had no immediate plans to move from its local operation, which serves as a research and development site.

“As we have transitioned to the new plant, our focus was not always on [Yellow Springs.] But I have always felt like we are part of the community,” Koutsos said. She added that separate R&D facilities are common in the industry.

Koutsos declined to comment on the company’s ongoing lease negotiations with MillWorks, but expressed gratitude for being a part of Yellow Springs, where it all began.

“We are proud members of the Yellow Springs community — we’ve been with the community for a long time,”  Koutsos said.

According to Yamamoto, no other significant changes are expected for the remaining tenants of the business park, which are S&G Artisan Distillery, Michael Jones Ceramics, Richard Lapedes, Rose & Sal, Sculptor’s Emporium and Michael Gray/Gray’s Earthworks.

New construction planned

The most significant change slated for the property is new construction on an undeveloped one-acre parcel that fronts Yellow Springs–Fairfield Road, according to a plan submitted by MillWorks to the Village Planning Commission.

There, 12 artist residences will be built from shipping containers, with studios on the ground floor and loft apartments above. In addition, a 25-bed hostel will be erected, according to the plan, prepared by local architect Ted Donnell.

Shipping container construction is a way to “reduce, reuse, upcycle,” in Yamamoto’s words. The goal is for three of the units to be affordable, she said. The idea for housing came from gauging the community’s needs from both conversations and the Yellow Springs Housing Needs Assessment.

“I kept hearing about the need for affordable housing and housing in general,” Yamamoto said. “We’re not offering a lot of housing so you’re not going to fill the whole need, but we want to help.”

The idea of the hostel came from a belief that “every little tourist town could use somewhere affordable for people to stay,” Yamamoto said. She envisions beds in communal rooms letting for about $25 per night.

As part of her senior project at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Yamamoto ran a small hostel in Las Vegas, which she was able to fill despite competition from the strip. That’s because in addition to affordable accommodation, hostels provide a way for travelers to meet one another, she said.

“It’s about the community experience,” she said. “You don’t meet other people when you stay at a hotel.”

Although the plans don’t call for changes to the site’s existing seven buildings, building connectors will be de-constructed to create open walkways through the property. In addition, the parking lot will be paved and striped, according to plans.

MillWorks is seeking PUD zoning to permit the following uses: a brewery/distillery, food prep/training, artist studio/lofts, hostel, flex space for small assembly, markets, theater, trade shows, concerts, demonstration/collaborative projects, performance/recital space, children’s science/museum.

The PUD’s conditions would not allow storefront retail, unless it is part of a studio, or “drive-thru” restaurants. However, processing of food products would be permitted, the plan states.

In other buildings, “maker spaces,”  places for artists to collaborate and share equipment such a larger-format printers, may be set up and a community test kitchen could serve as a place to prepare, preserve and serve food as part of “pop-up kitchens.” A children’s science museum, a longstanding project of villager Amy Magnus, is being eyed for one of the buildings.

Overall, the vision is to create a space that is more artistic and inviting, with opportunities for entertainment as much as entrepreneurship.

“We will cater heavily to the arts,” Yamamoto said. “I think people will not only see that on the exterior, but they will be able to get involved in it.”

“It will be a good feeder to the village and will supplement downtown,” she added.

Brewery to expand

The changes to MillWorks are welcome to one growing local company, Yellow Springs Brewery.

Started six years ago by Lisa Wolters and Nate Cornett, the brewery has continued to expand, a few years ago purchasing a building on the south side of town for event space and storage.

But Cornett said the brewery is glad to now be focusing its growth at MillWorks.

“We needed to grow but couldn’t as easily at MillWorks,” Cornett said. “It’s all changed now. It’s going to be a much smaller project on the south end of town.”

Cornett said that the brewery is “happy to be the anchor” of the new vision of MillWorks. Yamamoto called the brewery the “heart and soul of the town,” and said “providing them more space is very important.”

“It’s kind of like ‘Cheers,’” Yamamoto said. “It’s where you go after work and see everyone you know. ”

As part of the plans, the brewery’s taproom will move to another building on the property, more than doubling its size.

“The taproom suited us when we were new and up-and-coming but we could use the extra space,” Cornett said. “We hear from locals all the time that we are too crowded.”

The larger taproom is in a brick rather than cinder-block building, and also features a high ceiling with exposed beams and more light, Cornett said.

Additional space will be used for an expanded canning line and more tanks and barrels to increase production.

Overall, Cornett sees the changes at MillWorks as good for the village.

“This will allow for some cool businesses to come here,” he said. “I’m optimistic.”

Contact: mbachman@ysnews.com


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