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Village Council— More inclusive, equitable Yellow Springs

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A new local coalition wants to help Yellow Springs live its values of diversity and inclusion.

At Council’s regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 19, members of Inclusive and Resilient Yellow Springs told the community how they plan to do so.

Among them was Home, Inc. Outreach and Fundraising Manager Kineta Sanford, who gave a presentation on the coalition’s goals and upcoming activities.

“Our mission is really to support the diverse communities that exist in Yellow Springs by identifying and removing barriers to opportunity and success,” Sanford explained.

“We need to think about how barriers to access operate in our community and to use our organizations to make sure we remove those barriers and uplift the entire community,” added Sanford, a former Council member.

Three initial projects are aimed at addressing those issues —  the rejuvenation of Beatty Hughes Park, giving housing repair grants for low-income villagers and offering a “cost of poverty” experience for villagers to better empathize with the plight of the poor.

“You essentially live in the life of someone who is experiencing poverty,” Sanford said of the latter.

Beatty Hughes Park, a 1.1–acre Village park between Kieth’s Alley and Corry Street, is a priority because “access to greenspace” is an issue for many community members, Sanford said. The housing repair grants, a project of Home, Inc., pay local contractors to improve poor housing conditions.

“It’s a really great repair grant to include accessibility upgrades or any necessary upgrades for health and safety for homeowners,” Sanford explained.

The coalition brings together two local groups, Inclusive/Resilient Yellow Springs, formed last year and Livable/Equitable/Age-Friendly Yellow Springs, or LEAF, which evolved out of the dementia-friendly work led by the YS Senior Center in 2018 and 2019.

Toni Dosik is the project manager of LEAF, which is part of a national network of groups undertaking community-planning projects and is linked to the national and state chapters of the American Association of Retired Persons.

Dosik identified nine “domains” the coalition would be focusing on, with plans to seek input from community members over the next year: outdoor space and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, community support and health services, and education.

Dosik called the plan “daunting but exciting,” and noted that even though there were a lot of “buzz words,” the coalition is actually doing the work.

“It really takes a whole village,” added Sanford. “Toni and I can’t do it all by ourselves. We really have to get out of our silos and really reach out and partner together to get the work done.”

Coalition partners include the Senior Center, Home, Inc., the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce, the 365 Project, Antioch College, Yellow Springs Schools, the Village of Yellow Springs and the Yellow Springs Community Foundation.

Council Member Kevin Stokes, who is part of the coalition, said the group will continue to keep the Village apprised of efforts. He encouraged villagers to participate in the “cost of poverty” experience, which he found particularly valuable.

“We think we know what it is to be equitable, but diving into an experience like that does give you the opportunity to avail yourselves of other ways of thinking,” he said.

Village Manager Josué Salmerón said the Village is undertaking a utility-rate study in order to see “how that impacts poverty and affordability challenges” in town.

Council President Brian Housh said there is a “big intersection” between the coalition’s goals and Council’s interest in criminal justice reform and antiracism work.

In other Council business from its Jan. 19 meeting:

• Council unanimously passed a resolution recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday in Yellow Springs. The day of June 19 will not be a paid holiday for municipal employees, but the Village “encourages local observances” in order to “promote the historical significance of the date slavery officially ended in the United States through individual and group activities dedicated to reflection, learning and healing,” according to a later press release. Juneteenth recognizes June 19, 1865, when the final group of enslaved African Americans, in Texas, learned that they were free — over two months after the end of the Civil War. The day has been celebrated regularly in Yellow Springs over the last few years.

Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen asked that Council assign a commission to work with local groups to organize a commemoration of the holiday. Housh said he hopes to later add it as a paid holiday.

• Council spoke at length about removing required parking minimums in the zoning code from downtown properties, but took no action. Planning Commission recommended the change last year since they routinely waive parking requirements when a conditional use permit is being considered.

Planning Commission Chair Frank Doden said that the situation has arisen recently in deliberations about Trail Town Brewing, Greene Canteen and a new hair and nail salon on Xenia Avenue.

“Just about any time we’ve encountered some type of conditional use application for anything downtown, parking has always been this weird stumbling block because of the way the streets are laid out,” Doden said.

Village Planning and Zoning Administrator Denise Swinger said that instead of parking minimums, commercial applicants should be encouraged to come up with a plan for how they will handle customer and employee parking, perhaps in collaboration with local parking lot owners.

“It seems like an exercise that doesn’t allow for any creative thinking for how someone might consider an alternative,” Swinger said of the current code.

But Housh was hesitant to approve the change without a parking audit. Council Member Laura Curliss said the amount of parking is not the issue, but that parking for those with accessibility needs and signage are more pressing concerns. MacQueen proposed that the parking plan be required of applicants, not just encouraged. The first reading of an ordinance on the matter will be considered at Council’s Feb. 1 meeting.

• During the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting, KellyAnn Tracy shared her concerns about the Justice System Collaborative Committee, where, she said, participation has dwindled. She urged the Village to designate municipal resources to assist the committee.

Council’s next regular meeting is Monday, Feb. 1, via Zoom.

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