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The purchase of the former firehouse on Corry Street by locally based comedian Dave Chappelle's company, Iron Table Holdings is set to close March 15. The sale was facilitated by the Yellow Springs Development Corporation. (YS News archive photo by Matt Minde)

YS Development Corporation— Goals, behavior discussed

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Where should the Yellow Springs Development Corporation, or YSDC, put its focus and energy in the coming year, and what are appropriate matters for the group to consider?

Members of the quasi-governmental economic development group spent the majority of their last regular meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 2, discussing the organization’s purposes and goals as well as expectations for the content of group discussions.

The goalsetting was a planned part of the agenda, but the conversation about expectations was added as “new business,” in response to a discussion during the January meeting in which Marianne MacQueen made comments deemed inappropriate by other YSDC members.

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MacQueen had, in January, raised concerns about the purchase of the former firehouse on Corry Street by locally based comedian Dave Chappelle’s company, Iron Table Holdings. The YSDC facilitated the sale, which is due to close March 15. MacQueen was the only person among the group’s 10 voting members to vote against selling the property to Chappelle, who plans to turn the building into a comedy club and restaurant. One member abstained because of a conflict of interest.

During the January meeting, MacQueen noted that Chappelle, who has a large fan base across the country, has in the last couple of years purchased multiple properties in the local central business district, and that the anticipated use of several of those properties has yet to be made public. She said she feared that the community is evolving into a destination for the upper-middle class, and the character of life in the village may change in unintentionally detrimental ways.

After an article in the YS News detailed the January meeting discussion, YSDC President Lisa Abel wrote a letter to the editor expressing the belief that comments made by a member during that discussion had been inappropriate, though she did not name the individual.

“While this conversation was redirected, it is not within the scope or responsibility of the YSDC board to publicly comment on the assets of a community member when those assets are not included in the work before us,” she wrote. “And any commentary on diversity, racial equity, economic class, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, etc., should be relevant to and in context with the mission and goals of our organization.”

Abel shared portions of the letter, which appeared in the Feb. 4 News, during the group’s meeting earlier that week, stating that her intention in writing it was to spell out publicly the responsibilities of YSDC members. In bringing it to the group, she said she wanted “to make sure we’re on the same page with relevance to our discussions and brainstorming.”

Members Lisa Kreeger and Steve Conn both spoke in favor of the letter’s contents, expressing discomfort with comments made during the January meeting.

MacQueen, however, said her concerns remain.

“I believe [the purpose of the YSDC] is to help create a robust and diverse economy” in Yellow Springs, she said. “Given that we are a very small village and have a small downtown, when a single person buys [multiple properties], that is something that should be of concern for our organization.”

Such accumulation of holdings should be considered when the YSDC sells a property, she asserted.

“I’m very concerned about this, and there are many others in the community [who are also concerned],” MacQueen said.

Conn, one of two YSDC representatives appointed by the school board, disagreed with the appropriateness of such considerations.

“Our charge is to deal with projects that are before us,” he said. Discussion outside that scope is “out of bounds to me. In a sense we were making [personal] value judgments.”

Kreeger, who like MacQueen serves on the YSDC as a representative of Village Council, noted that there is precedent for individuals owning multiple properties in the village.

“That’s just the nature of acquisition,” she said.

She added that if there had been an equally favorable proposal for the firehouse site, then other factors, such as a potential buyer’s additional holdings, may have been considered.

“There was no comparison,” Kreeger said of the other proposals.

The YSDC has said that it received six proposals for the site, and considered three of them to be viable. Consideration of the proposals was done in executive session, and none of the losing proposals have  been made public.

Abel’s letter to the News also included the statement that YSDC “voting members should be representing the interests of their respective organizations, not their own personal views or opinions.”

Don Hollister, a Miami Township Trustee who, with resident Corrie Van Ausdal, represents the township on the YSDC board, said he had qualms about that ideal.

“I don’t check with my colleagues [in the Township] on all my votes,” Hollister said.  “And Corrie doesn’t ask me how she should vote.”

He said that an issue might arise where they felt led to consult with the other Trustees, but “legally, she’s not bound and neither am I.”

Kreeger said that what Hollister said was true, but she always feels “compelled” to align her decisions with Village goals.

“I can’t separate from being a member of the Village Council,” Kreeger said. “That’s my identity.”

Abel didn’t clarify the statement further, saying that her desire in writing the letter and bringing it to the group was to foster discussions in which members would be both “respectful and curious.”

Goal setting

The foundation for the group’s Feb. 2 discussion of goals was the result of an internal poll in which members responded anonymously about their individual hopes for the development group’s future work.

Kreeger, who compiled the submissions, said that she feels satisfaction with the year-old YSDC’s efforts so far.

“We launched this initiative in really, really challenging times,” she said of the past year. “[The YSDC’s work] was imperfect, but we got stuff done.”

Categorizing the results of the poll, President Abel said that six themes stood out:

• establishing and refining processes and documentation
• developing a marketing plan for the Center for Business and Education
• obtaining grants
• putting a focus on agriculture/food
• putting a focus on housing
• collaborating with other agencies and institutions

An extended conversation followed MacQueen’s suggestion that the group identify three main goals “with the understanding that things also come up that we aren’t aware of.”

As members shared their individual top three preferred areas of focus, collaboration emerged on everyone’s list.

Van Ausdal noted that collaboration was at the heart of the YSDC’s founding, which occurred in the “aftermath of the fire levy passing and school levy failing.”

Issues such as housing, food and the environment can be addressed within the context of collaborative projects, she said.

MacQueen agreed.

“It’s huge,” MacQueen said of collaboration. “It not only brings different entities together, but also issues.”

She also noted that the group’s economic development efforts could well include agricultural enterprises, given the rural nature of the area. She suggested that YSDC meet with Susan Jennings, of Community Solutions/Agraria, and Krista Magaw, of Tecumseh Land Trust, to explore possibilities.

Hollister agreed that the area’s agricultural base holds a lot of economic potential, and that with such local industries as EnviroFlight and Cresco Labs, some expertise in green technologies was already present.

At the least, the YSDC could sponsor an event that might encourage future development, Hollister said.

Collaboration was also at the top of Steve McQueen’s list. McQueen, who is the other school board representative with Steve Conn, added that he also would like YSDC to keep Yellow Springs history, culture and values in mind with every project it undertakes.

Shelly Blackman, recently appointed to represent the general community, said that he sees YSDC, in collaboration with other entities, as acting as an “oversight body” for local development activities that create economic opportunities and jobs.

Job creation emerged during the discussion as an important development consideration to the group’s members as well.

“And that those jobs be living-wage jobs,” Abel said of her personal thoughts.

The necessity of raising more funds to support their work also emerged as a leading goal.

“We have to have money to accomplish projects,” Kreeger said.

Abel noted that increased funds could allow the YSDC to pursue a variety of activities undertaken by other community development groups, such as buying buildings and converting them to uses that meet the YSDC’s goals.

While members spoke about the need to pursue grants, Hollister added that there are people in the community who might be willing to invest in particular projects.

“It’s different from philanthropy,” he said of financial investment compared to giving.

As the conversation continued, Kreeger said she wondered if the group was being overly optimistic about its goals for the coming year.

“We’re starting to take more of a five-year plan,” she said, adding that even after the possible end to the COVID-19 pandemic, the community will face a time of recovery. While 2020 was “a launch year” for the YSDC, and 2021 could potentially be “a growth year” for the organization,” a more realistic view might be to consider it “a recovery and growth year.”

“I love the ideas, I don’t want them to go away, but I’m not compelled that they’re 2021 goals, given the climate,” Kreeger said.

Abel agreed and suggested that some more exploration is needed. Reminding the group that collaboration was among every member’s top three goals, she asked that they “talk to others” in their organizations and the community about needs, ideas and hopes for the YSDC.

Further discussion about goalsetting will continue at the group’s regular meeting in March.

In other business at the Feb. 2 meeting:

• Patrick Lake, who is shepherding discussions about the possible creation of an Educational Corridor, or District, on the Antioch College campus, reported on the effort. He said that a site had been identified on campus for potential construction of a Yellow Springs Schools facility. Later, Lake specified an area on the south side of the campus known as the golf course. He also said that the college has indicated a willingness to sell the land parcel, but he did not indicate an asking price.

• The group updated its bylaws to include asking the Clifton mayor, or the mayor’s designee, to join the YSDC, which already includes representatives of the Village, Township, public schools, Chamber of Commerce and Antioch College.

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