Village Council— Outdoor drinking area draws flak
- Published: May 22, 2021
Should Yellow Springs allow people to drink alcohol in public, in a designated area downtown?
Over the last two weeks, that question sparked considerable debate on the YS News letters page and social media.
Village Manager Josué Salmerón aired a proposal for a designated outdoor refreshment area, or DORA, in the downtown area at Council’s April 19 meeting. The first reading of an ordinance creating a DORA was on Council’s May 3 agenda.
But at the May 3 meeting, the legislation was never read, as Council Member Kevin Stokes’ motion to do so failed to garner a second.
Technically, the DORA proposal is not “tabled,” as no Council member moved to table it. Instead, the proposal is simply not moving forward without sufficient Council interest.
Before the failed motion, Council members briefly discussed the matter.
Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen said she had “mixed feelings about it,” but leaned toward opposing the DORA due to public criticism.
“Given the number of people opposing it, I’m inclined to oppose it, certainly in its present form,” she said.
Council Member Lisa Kreeger also said the “voice of the community” convinced her to oppose the idea.
“We don’t have evidence at this point that business, restaurant and bar owners are in favor of this,” she added.
Stokes said that he was either “supportive or ambivalent” about the DORA when it was first proposed, but the level of opposition gave him pause. However, he worries that Council hasn’t heard from those in favor of the DORA.
“The fact that I have not heard support does not mean there isn’t support,” he said.
Council Member Laura Curliss noted that there were both benefits and drawbacks of a DORA in Yellow Springs.
“I understand a lot of people live in the downtown and we’re a little different than other places because of our size,” she said. “On the other hand, this could be pretty helpful. The businesses have been hit pretty hard.”
Council President Brian Housh said that he had talked to “quite a few business owners and folks who serve alcohol” who supported a DORA. Both he and Salmerón encouraged Council to organize a work session or town hall to gather community feedback.
“I do think it is worth further discussion,” Housh said.
Ahead of the meeting, Council received letters from a slew of villagers opposing the DORA, including Kathryn Van der Heiden, Marcia Wallgren, Caroline Qualls, Will Cook, Rebecca Kuder, Chris Wyatt, Pan Reich, Leslie Lippert, Joe Cook, Jon Hudson, Ellen Hoover and Bette Kelley. Some writers identified themselves as downtown area residents or business owners.
Letter-writers raised concerns about a DORA’s potential to increase traffic, noise, drunk driving, “chaos,” trash and litter, vandalism, petty crime, a “party atmosphere,” public urination and more.
How the DORA would be enforced was a question raised in several letters. For instance, Will Cook wrote it would be like creating a “multi-acre bar patio” throughout downtown that the police would have to monitor.
Others worried the proposal wasn’t vetted through businesses and restaurants that it would affect and that downtown residents were likewise not consulted.
The strain on available restrooms, safety concerns due to the ongoing pandemic, “unattractive” additional signage and reliance on single-use plastic were also raised as issues. Joe Cook wrote that the proposal was “ecologically tone-deaf.”
“Is there not already enough plastic waste in the world?” he wrote.
Some commenters noted that the DORA would harm the downtown’s “family-friendly” nature, and criticized the area’s proximity to Mills Lawn Elementary School.
“Does the Council really want to turn the entire downtown and surrounding neighborhoods into a place for free‐range drinking, exposing everyone, including kids, whether they like it or not, to people consuming alcohol?” Leslie Lippert wrote.
Finally, several writers shared that the proposal raises questions about the village’s embrace of tourism at the expense of the needs of the town’s residents.
Jon Hudson called the proposal one of the several recent “assaults on the quality of life in Y.S.”
Kathryn Van der Heiden noted, “Yellow Springs is a wonderful community but my experience is that more and more you are, inventing ways to bring more tourists into town and not attend to the needs of the peace and quiet and small pleasures such as music.”
The DORA legislation in Council’s packet featured a modified map of the proposed area, which no longer included the Glen Street or Limestone Street neighborhoods. According to the draft legislation, the local DORA would run seven days a week: Monday–Friday from 10 a.m.–10 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m.–midnight; and Sunday from noon–10 p.m. Plastic cups would be required, and the DORA was to be evaluated after five years, the legislation noted.
In other Council business—
• Council passed a resolution approving $125,000 in municipal funds for the Glen Helen Association to remove the old Antioch College power plant from the Glen. The nonprofit is seeking more than a half million dollars in state funds to remove the plant, which is causing ongoing security issues and ecological threats to the preserve. The funds will come from the sale of all of the Village’s Renewable Energy Credits, which Council unanimously authorized the Village manager to do earlier in the meeting. That sale will yield approximately $148,000 in revenue. The power plant at one time provided electricity to the entire village, so the Village has a responsibility to help remediate the area, Village officials noted.
• MacQueen, as Environmental Commission liaison, gave an update on the commission’s soon-to-be-completed Climate Action Plan. MacQueen suggested a new part-time municipal position to oversee the plan’s implementation, working in partnership with local environmental groups. Council members Curliss and Kreeger questioned whether the position should be funded by Village government.
• During the Citizen’s Concerns portion of the meeting, Yellow Springs area resident Angie Hsu encouraged the Village to take a stance in support of those of Asian-American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, descent, by passing a resolution condemning anti-AAPI hate. May is AAPI heritage month, Hsu noted.
• Council unanimously passed a resolution renaming the Ellis Pond bike spur the “Dressler Connector” in honor of Ed Dressler, a longtime villager responsible for the creation of the Little Miami Scenic Trail. Greene County Parks and Trails has agreed to create the design and erect the sign, according to Housh.
• Salmerón reported a fish kill at Ellis Pond, where more than 40 fish were recently found dead and floating on the top of the pond, along with a snake and turtle. Salmerón said the Village was investigating the matter and may install water aeration devices to improve the pond’s health.
• Salmerón reported that his office is looking into a villagewide bike sharing program run by the Village. In addition, Salmerón said some of the Village’s 30 hand sanitizer stations had recently been vandalized.
• Curliss suggested Council soon revisit the emergency ordinances it passed at the start of the pandemic, including the Village mask mandate, in the wake of new federal guidance regarding masks and other safety precautions.
• Stokes gave an update on the Inclusive and Resilient Yellow Springs partnership, which is asking the Village to support its efforts by setting aside COVID-19 relief funds for rental assistance and to address affordability challenges. MacQueen responded that Yellow Springs could become more inclusive by doing away with residential districts that only allow single-family houses, which has created barriers for more affordable multifamily housing.
• This reporter asked Council to reconsider in-person meetings due to the high rate of vaccination in the community and availability of a large space — the Bryan Center gym — in which to hold public meetings.