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Village Council — MillWorks plan proceeds

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Efforts to rezone an industrial park in the village moved ahead this week after Council gave initial approval to the change in a voice vote at its regular meeting on Monday, March 4.

The new owners of the MillWorks Business Center on North Walnut Street have applied for Planned Unit Development, or PUD, zoning in order to develop artist
live/work studio apartments, a hostel and a children’s science museum at the four-acre site, currently zoned I–1 industrial, among other changes.

Council will consider legislation to rezone the property at its next meeting, March 18.

Last month, Village Planning Commission did not officially recommend the change, having failed to garner the votes necessary on one of eight standards the project must meet. The standard in question was that the project was “consistent with the health, safety and welfare of the village,” on which Planning Commission voted 2–2.

Jessica Yamamoto and her husband, Antonio Molina, purchased the longtime industrial facility for $1.15 million last fall, at the same time moving to the village.

In addition to renovating the existing 48,000 square feet of buildings into maker spaces, community kitchens, a children’s museum, a brewery and a new distillery, the new owners want to build new artist lofts, art studios and a hostel on the acre that fronts Fairfield Pike.

Ahead of the Council action, villagers on both sides of the issue spoke up, while Council members also weighed in on the issue, ultimately voting unanimously to bring legislation to rezone. 

Council member Kineta Sanford said she was worried about the displacement of current tenant EnviroFlight as part of the new plan, and the potential loss of 22 jobs to the village. Relatively, that would be like the city of Dayton losing 660 jobs, Sanford explained. 

“That’s a big impact,” she said.

The new owners have said that as part of their plans for the property they will not be renewing the lease for EnviroFlight, which currently leases 20,000 square feet at the center. EnviroFlight’s lease expires at the end of 2021.

Sanford also expressed concern over the loss of utility revenue from EnviroFlight, and questioned whether payroll from the new jobs projected for the park would be as high as EnviroFlight’s $1.8 million figure.

“It’s not just about one person or 22 people having to leave their jobs, it’s the dollar amount,” Sanford said.

Council President Brian Housh said that it’s not Council’s role to get involved in tenant disputes, while noting that the Village-owned Center for Business and Education may be an ideal site for EnviroFlight if they can no longer stay at MillWorks. He also expressed confidence in the Village’s plans to address stormwater impacts.

“If anything, this is an opportunity to solve storm water problems,” Housh said. “We will not commit to any project without there being a commitment to stormwater solutions.”

Neighbor Melissa Heston, who lives along the bike path, noted several areas of concern, keying in on the high volume of water that currently drains off the site onto her property and safety concerns with an uptick in visitors. 

Ultimately, Heston feels the vision of becoming an “entertainment district” does not fit within a predominantly residential area. 

“I want to ask Council if they want this particular area to become an entertainment district … it’s surrounded on four sides by residential housing,” she said, adding, “We residents do not.” 

Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen believes that traffic safety and stormwater drainage concerns can be resolved by the Village. And in addressing neighbor concerns in general, she highlighted that the site has long been an industrial one. 

“This district is zoned I–1, so anyone who is living beside it has to understand it’s not residential — it’s never been residential,” MacQueen said. “You chose to live in a place that’s going to have businesses in it.”

Villager Matthew Kirk noted that historically Yellow Springs has grown its own businesses from within and as a result, preserving primarily industrial space has inherent value. Other speakers suggested that the project has the potential of worsening area traffic conditions, especially the narrow North Walnut Street and a fast-moving, one-lane section of YS-Fairfield Road.

Council member Kevin Stokes reaffirmed that industrial uses would still be permitted at the site under the PUD. He also said he trusted the process so far in which the matter was discussed at length by Planning Commission and vetted by Village staff, which recommends approval of the PUD.

“It’s a matter of trusting that appropriate efforts were done before it got to this point,” Stokes said.

Speaking in favor of the project from the floor was Michael Jones, a ceramicist and 20-year tenant at MillWorks, who noted the synergy that the property may generate; the owners have plans for shared maker spaces.

“This project will bring artists and interested people together in a dynamic way,” Jones said. 

Two potential future tenants also spoke in support of the plan — Amy Magnus, who hopes to invest in creating the children’s science museum, and Zamir Hassan, who said he plans to move his nonprofit, Hunger Van, from New Jersey to the MillWorks site. 

Council member Lisa Kreeger looked toward the benefits that the new plan may bring.

“I’m of the perspective that this is a cool project for our community and I think it does take somewhat of a leap of faith to say how can we make it do the best for most,” she said.

Council also accepted several recommended conditions proposed by the Planning Commission and added a new one. One of the conditions is to remove, at the request of the owners, a restriction that allows no more than 30 percent of a tenant’s total space to be used for retail sales, which would allow the brewery to expand its taproom and for artists to sell their wares in their studios. Council is also requesting studies related to traffic safety, noise impact, stormwater management, fewer parking spaces than required and mandated that three of the apartments be affordable. A new condition proposed by Village planning staff aims to restrict retail shops and stores at their site, except if the goods are produced onsite.

Other items on Council’s March 4 agenda will be covered in next week’s News.

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