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Former Environmental Commission member and local landscape designer Nadia Malarkey explained the Weeds Ordinance at the June 21 Village Council meeting. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Village Council — Weeds are out, ‘managed’ yards are in

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Villagers who are maintaining a natural landscape of native grasses and plants in their yard no longer have to comply with height limits on their plantings.

However, those who simply “let their yards go” must pull the noxious weeds likely growing there and keep grasses to nine inches, or less.

Those are among the changes Village Council is eyeing in an update to the Weeds Ordinance, which received a first reading at the June 21 regular meeting.

No vote was taken on the measure, and Council member Lisa Kreeger was absent from the meeting.

The Weeds Ordinance, which was updated last year, requires residents to keep sidewalks and sight lines free from vegetation, eliminate certain noxious weeds like poison ivy and Canada thistle and refrain from planting invasive species like honeysuckle and Callery pear.

New to the measure is that a property’s occupants — not just its owners — are now responsible for abiding by the requirements. Gone is the requirement of a three-foot buffer between one’s plantings and a neighbor’s yard.

In addition, a lengthy section has been added that permits “managed natural landscapes” such as “butterfly gardens, prairies, meadows, forests, rain gardens and low-maintenance native groundcovers.”

Former Environmental Commission member and local landscape designer Nadia Malarkey, who worked on the legislation, explained the new category at the meeting.

“You can’t just say, ‘I’m letting my garden go to hell,’” she said. “In order to have natural plantings, it has to be managed. That is the operative term.”

Malarkey said a desire to add the new permitted use came from a growing awareness of the threat of climate change and the decline of insect populations globally. According to the legislation, such landscapes attract and support wildlife, reduce fossil fuel use in mowing, suppress weeds and control stormwater, among other benefits.

“Based upon where we are on this planet, based upon climate change and insects dying, we decided to create a new landscape ethic,” she said.

Malarkey added that if someone “just lets their yard go,” weeds would likely invade, a violation of the ordinance. Instead, native landscapes must be planted intentionally. The new ordinance also emphasizes the use of nonchemical means to weed properties, such as by using hand tools.

“The hope is that by stepping back and understanding how a system works, we will become more adept at tackling the problem before reaching for the toxic synthetic chemicals as the first line of attack,” states an appendix to the ordinance.

Although there is a moratorium on the use of pesticides and herbicides on Village property, residents are still allowed to use chemical methods. However, the ordinance discourages that.

“If you say you get rid of these things, the first action is to get the Roundup and the pesticides, so we created best practices,” Malarkey explained of the appendix.

Those found in violation of the ordinance may receive a written warning. If the issue is not remedied in 14 days, they could be given a citation to Mayor’s Court for a minor misdemeanor. Enforcement is driven by complaints.

The full list of noxious weeds villagers must remove now includes 13 species, up from eight in the previous version of the ordinance. They are: common ragweed, horseweed, Canada thistle, poison ivy, tree of heaven, lesser celandine, Japanese knotweed, Johnsongrass, wild parsnip, grapevines (when growing in groups of 100 or more and not maintained for two years), poison hemlock, yellow groove bamboo (when the plant has spread from its original location and is not being maintained), and Russian knapweed.

In other Council business—

Remote meetings considered

Council discussed an emergency ordinance that would have allowed local public meetings to be held online for any reason. In the end, the ordinance was tabled; no vote was taken.

Most public entities in the state — many of which moved to remote, virtual meetings during the pandemic — must resume in-person meetings by July 1, at the latest. However, according to Village Solicitor Breanne Parcels, as a chartered municipality, Yellow Springs can set its own public meeting laws.

Village Manager Josué Salmerón supports the measure because he believes it allows for more public participation, which he says has increased since meetings were held via Zoom. Council Clerk Judy Kintner also spoke in favor of the law as it could expand opportunities for those unable to attend meetings in person.

“It opens the door wider for more kinds of people to look at becoming elected officials or board and commission members,” Kintner said.

Council members briefly discussed whether or not a public official would be required to have a valid excuse for attending a meeting remotely, such as being out of town or dealing with a family emergency.

Council member Laura Curliss and Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen both stated that in-person interactions are important, and expected with the position. Curliss added that she doesn’t want meetings “interrupted by bad technology.”

From the floor, Sue Abendroth said online meetings can create barriers for those who are not adept at navigating the technology. This reporter also spoke in favor of in-person meetings so that public bodies and their deliberations are open, transparent and accessible to the public.

New department approved

Council passed two emergency ordinances to establish a Village building department. The vote was 3–1, with Curliss voting no on both. One ordinance was for residential permits, the other for commercial ones.

Salmerón urged Council to approve the new department due to delays at the Greene County building department, which currently handles building permits. After creating its own department, the Village can decide to outsource the services back to the county, or choose another contractor to complete plan reviews and inspections. Either way, Salmerón argued, it would improve the process.

“With us having a certified department, we are able to have a greater voice in the process,” he said.

MacQueen, however, raised some concerns, asking for specifics on staff time and the cost associated with a new department. She also requested a presentation from the Greene County Building Department and other municipalities that have their own department.

“While I don’t not support this, I want more information,” MacQueen said. Later, MacQueen expressed support for the measure after hearing that Village staff were in favor.

Salmerón added that the department is needed urgently with several major building projects on the horizon, including the renovation of the Union Schoolhouse, the expansion of Cresco Labs and an undisclosed project at Millworks.

“I am concerned how fast they can get off the ground — if they can even get off the ground — given the current permitting process we have with the county,” Salmerón said.

Curliss said staff is already stressed and that withdrawing from Greene County may negatively affect that department’s ability to handle local permits.

Council will consider ordinances creating local codes and fees at a future meeting.

Ethics training required

Council passed the second reading of an ordinance establishing a local ethics policy that requires mandatory ethics training for all public officials and employees. Village officials, including those elected or appointed or working for the municipality, already have to follow Ohio Ethics Law. The vote was 3–1, with Curliss opposing.

Solicitor Parcels cited two recent ethics investigations at the Village as prompting the measure. She said some local ethics issues involving municipal employees could have been avoided if they had been required to take training. Housh said that these incidents show the measure is needed.

“It’s becoming very clear that we are having some ethics issues,” he said. “I am not going to go into detail on that but I think it’s important for us to lay a very clear standard for where we’re at.”

Council member Kevin Stokes said he was in favor of “having guardrails” that would require ethics training.

Curliss said she found the measure redundant with state law and worried that it would require staff resources for investigations into ethics complaints.

“This does not add to state law. Will we give them legal counsel and due process?”

According to the law, employees, elected and appointed officials have 30 days to take a one-hour training from the Ohio Ethics Commission, or possibly be removed from the position. An additional 30-minute ethics training is needed every three years.

Repeal R-A zoning?

During the New Business portion of the meeting, Council discussed an agenda item titled, “Zoning as a social justice issue.”

Council Vice President MacQueen shared how the Village has “exclusionary zoning” that limits multi-family housing in some zoning districts — specifically Residence A — reducing the availability of affordable units in town.

“In Residence A, you couldn’t have a duplex or a quad, yet if we allowed these things, it would make housing less expensive in Yellow Springs,” MacQueen said.

Village residents Becky Campbell and Abendroth spoke against removing single-family zoning designations. Abendroth said that “redlining” in town was created by financial institutions, not zoning.

“Zoning has not kept anyone from being able to live in any house in town, except for their own situation and circumstances,” she said.

Campbell said, “leave the zoning alone.”

“We don’t need to change it — as long as I’m alive,” she added.

Council members MacQueen, Stokes and Housh voted to revisit the issue at a future meeting; Curliss was opposed to doing so.

Reviewing police conduct

A proposal to create a local Citizen Review Board to investigate citizen complaints against police officers was presented to Council. No action was taken.

The proposal was drafted by a committee that included Gyamfi Gyamerah, Louise Smith, Bomani Moyenda, Michael Slaughter, Phillip Lawn, Cyprian Sajabi and Angela Allen, along with representatives from The 365 Project and the Next Steps Initiative. Council member Curliss assisted.

“There is not a high confidence level that the police can police their own,” Curliss said in introducing the measure.

The proposal calls for a nine-member board that operates independently of Council and the Village and with its own clerk and legal counsel. The board would have one appointment from Council, two from The 365 Project, two from YS Speaking Up for Justice, one from H.U.M.A.N., one from the Next Steps Initiative, and one each from the professional mental health community and the education community. The initial budget, including start-up costs, is estimated at $42,400.

From the floor, Abendroth suggested an “at-large” representative from the village, not connected with one of the local groups named. Bomani Moyenda said the board is needed for accountability and recourse after police misconduct. Louise Smith said the board is a type of “structural change” needed to fight racism. Salmerón suggested an outside legal review of the Citizen Review Board proposal.

Other items

• Council unanimously passed two resolutions condemning bills recently introduced in the Ohio legislature. One proposed measure limits government-owned and operated broadband Internet service, potentially dashing Village hopes of a municipal fiber network, while another bans the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools in the state.

Housh said the former takes away local control and reduces competition for commercial Internet Service Providers. Curliss said the latter measure is akin to a “gag order” on teachers that enshrines racism.

• Council unanimously passed an emergency reading of an ordinance allowing local renters to “Pay to Stay” rather than be evicted from their properties. Housh said the urgency was due to the CDC lifting its moratorium on evictions at the end of the month, although the moratorium was later extended through July. Yellow Springs was the first municipality to pass a “Pay to Stay” ordinance during the pandemic last year, after which 12 other jurisdictions in the state followed suit. Landlords can still evict tenants for other reasons, but can no longer do so for late payment, provided that the renter comes up with the money owed.

An ordinance prohibiting housing discrimination based upon income was pulled from the agenda.

• Council briefly discussed a request for proposal that has been sent out for the creation of a Village Climate Action Plan. Proposals to produce the plan, for $25,000, were due June 25. Specifically, the Village is looking for goals and strategies in the areas of energy, buildings, transportation, native habitat, water, local food, and waste reduction.

“The whole purpose of the climate action plan is to ensure that this community continues to exist,” MacQueen said.

• Matt Raska was sworn in as a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals and Nancy Lineburgh was sworn in to the Environmental Commission.

• Council member Curliss suggested a hiring freeze in the local police department so Council could “rethink” staffing and leadership positions. Longtime YSPD Sgt. Naomi Watson recently announced she would be leaving the department.

• Krista Magaw, executive director of the Tecumseh Land Trust, gave an update on efforts to protect the Jacoby greenbelt just west of Yellow Springs. She said the land trust recently secured four conservation easements in the area, and hopes to finalize others in the last year of a grant-funded effort that also includes the funding of conservation practices.

“We are going to give it our best shot because it’s an important area to protect, surrounding the Jacoby Creek,” Magaw said.

Council’s next regular meeting is Tuesday, July 6, at 7 p.m. in Council chambers. The meeting is one day later than usual due to the Fourth of July federal holiday on July 5.

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