Council discusses CRB, Mills Lawn greenspace
- Published: October 8, 2021
In its regular meeting Monday, Sept. 20, held via Zoom, Village Council members considered whether to move forward with discussions about the formation of a citizen review board, or CRB, which would review citizen complaints against the Yellow Springs Police Department. Expressing some weariness with the effort, they resolved to meet with attorney Larry James for an informational session, where they will discuss the legality of the proposed board.
Council members Lisa Kreeger and Laura Curliss advocated for tabling the discussion until after the election in hopes that new Council members may have “more of an appetite” for the discussion and implementation of a CRB.
“We’ve been talking about this since 2019,” Kreeger said. “I’m strongly in favor of the CRB, but I feel like the momentum is not there from Council and staff.”
Council President Brian Housh said he was not in favor of tabling the discussion, but heard the frustration of villager Gyamfi Gyamerah, who has been a part of writing the proposal and also suggested tabling the matter. Gyamerah said that he felt misrepresented in recent interactions with Council and wanted to know “where Council is on the proposal in its current iteration.”
Council member Marianne MacQueen said she was not opposed to tabling the discussion, “but I’m not sure what will be different when it comes back to Council in 2022.”
Council member Kevin Stokes said he favored the legal review.
“I hope it goes through review before coming back to Council,” he said.
The legal review would inform Council as to whether the proposal is viable without serious alterations. The review is scheduled to precede Council’s Oct. 4 meeting, and is open to the public.
In other Council business Sept. 20:
Community Reinvestment Area
In the “new business” portion of the meeting, Council discussed the possibility of petitioning the state to allow the Village to designate a Community Reinvestment Area, or CRA. According to the Ohio Department of Development, the CRA program is a tool “that provides real property tax exemptions for property owners who renovate existing or construct new buildings.” For Yellow Springs, that means that both residential and commercial property owners within the CRA could receive a tax exemption on renovations.
Village Manager Josué Salmerón explained that having a CRA would help owners who are wanting to upgrade rental properties.
“I think the Community Reinvestment Area as an economic development tool can help address some of the concerns that Council has discussed about the burdens that are placed on landlords who are accepting [Section 8] vouchers,” Salmerón said.
Salmerón said that the tool would allow the Village to give a tax abatement to property owners who have made improvements. In other words, the property owner would not pay additional taxes if the improvements would raise taxable property values.
In order to create a CRA, the Village would need to conduct a housing survey, which would look at the existing housing stock and identify an area where property owners could improve existing stock and developers could build new structures. Parcels said that the housing survey conducted in 2018 could be updated with 2020 census data and used in the application process.
Salmerón went on to say that, if approved, property owners and developers within the CRA could apply for “up to 100% real property tax exemptions for up to 15 years.” Each application from property owners would be approved on a case-by-case basis. The website for the Ohio Department of Development, however, says that exemptions over 50% may need to be approved by the local school board. Salmerón said that these tax exemptions could incentivize property owners to bring their buildings up to code.
“I think you are all aware that we have several properties that are not up to code,” he said.
Salmerón added that having a designated CRA would allow for grant applications that focus on creating more infill housing.
“I think it would be advantageous for us to designate the entire village as a CRA,” he said.
In response to a question from Housh, Salmerón said that there is no timeline for creating a CRA, but legislation could be brought to the next Council meeting on Oct 4.
“This is my effort to show you what’s possible,” he said.
Mills Lawn greenspace
Yellow Springs Development Corporation President Lisa Abel spoke to Council on behalf of the YSDC. She explained that the nonprofit group is working with Yellow Springs Schools to determine possible uses for the Mills Lawn property should the proposed facilities levy pass. She said that the YSDC’s goal in working with the school district is to create a forum for community engagement and to facilitate a communitywide conversation about the future of the Mills Lawn property.
Council discussed their own messaging on the levy and whether they should commit to the preservation of Mills Lawn’s greenspace. Kreeger, who is one of two Council members on YSDC, said that a memo to Council about the Mills Lawn property, written by Curliss, misrepresents the work of the YSDC and resorts to “gossip, rumors, innuendos and triangulation.” Kreeger said that she supports greenspace, and looks forward to a healthy community wide discussion.
Curliss asked if the Mills Lawn greenspace was included in the planned study to evaluate the property for best future use, or if the evaluation would focus on the building footprint. She said that when the YSDC commissions a study as a development corporation, it is likely that future plans will focus on urban development rather than greenspace conservation.
Kreeger responded that the evaluation was for the entire property. Stokes, Council’s second representative on the YSDC, and Kreeger reiterated the purpose of the development group, explained its goals and addressed its scope.
“We [YSDC] are not a developer,” Stokes said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with considering the possibilities [for the property],” Stokes said.
“The goal is to hold respectful, communitywide forums, and to promote understanding,” Kreeger added, concerning the Mills Lawn effort. She went on to say that the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, the group that has been commissioned by the YSDC to study the Mills Lawn property, has a mission to create usable urban spaces while preserving natural landscapes.
Villager Matthew Kirk thanked Council members for sharing their feelings on the Mills Lawn greenspace, saying, “we’ve heard a lot from the gloom and doom crowd.” He asked that Council formalize the Village’s role in the conversation and promise to listen to community input on the future of the space.
“I propose that a majority of Council and the candidates commit to preserving the greenspace … in blood,” Curliss said.
According to Housh, Council supports working with the schools and “loves the idea of preserving the greenspace.” He reiterated that there’s a process, and that the majority of the YSDC voting board are elected officials, so that there is transparency and representation.
“I will put it in blood. I want to preserve the Mills Lawn greenspace,” he said.
MacQueen said that there is a sense of mistrust between a faction of villagers toward the Council and school board related to the Council’s decision not to rezone the land that Mills Lawn School sits on and the school board’s decision to assess the value of the Mills Lawn property.
If the school board sold the land for development, “they would be run out of town, tarred and feathered,” MacQueen said. “There’s been a hype and fear that is totally unnecessary.”
Council passed a resolution allowing Salmerón to enter into a contract with Anixter Tantalus in order to purchase 400 new electrical meters. The current software will not support remote readings after Dec. 31, 2021, so Village employees will have to read these meters by hand.
Installing 400 meters is the first wave of replacing all water and electric meters.
“We are looking at the infrastructure for the future,” Salmerón said.
According to Public Works Director Johnnie Burns, the new meters will serve as collection points for data and be connected to the Village fiber network that is under construction, moving the village a step further toward remote readings for all water and electrical meters. This way of tracking usage will allow villagers to see their usage in real time and receive timely alerts if there is a sudden spike in usage.
Council President Housh asked why the replacement was necessary, given that many of the current meters have been replaced recently. Burns said that the Public Works department will keep the existing meters to use as replacements. The new meters will also help track electrical outages more effectively, he added.
“It will also give the lineman a better opportunity to click on a website and see if there are outages on both sides of town, rather than just Facebook telling us that both sides of town are out,” Burns said. “They’ll be able to tell by the meters which transformers are out.”
Council approved the measure unanimously.
“This has been a longtime vision, to get to a place where we are more efficient and where we serve our citizens better,” Housh said. “It’s great to see that unfolding.”
Other Council actions
• Council approved a resolution that allows Salmerón to submit a purchase order for $156,972.53 to Insight Pipe Contracting in order to re-line village sewer lines.
• Council approved the third quarter supplemental, declaring an emergency that will allow the Village to accept and appropriate funds.
• Council established a fund to accept American Rescue Plan dollars. The Village has already received the first installment, which totaled $196,000.
• Council approved a resolution that would allow Salmerón to apply for a grant through Broadband Ohio. The grant would be in addition to the $300,000 that the Village was awarded.
• Council voted to accept and certify the tax levy rates and amounts that were determined by the Greene County auditor’s office.
Other Village news
• Mayor Pam Conine conducted a swearing-in ceremony for newly hired police officer Steven Kinkade.
• Greene County has received a grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to manage scrap tires. The county will be hosting two tire drop-off days on Thursday, Sept. 30, and Thursday, Oct. 28, from 9–11 a.m. at Greene County Environmental Services. Residents must register in advance with Greene Soil and Water by calling 937-416-6906 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Lisa Kreeger announced that the Arts and Culture Commission will be presenting the VIDA award to the owners of Rose and Sal for their contributions to the community.
• During the citizen concerns section of the agenda, Dino Pallotta, owner of local coffee shop Dino’s Cappuccinos, said that some businesses are not enforcing the mask mandate, and that enforcement “is becoming a burden on businesses.” Council decided that it was time to revisit the mask mandate for downtown businesses.
• Lindsay Burke spoke on behalf of the Downtown Business Association, or DBA. The DBA is urging Council to use previous traffic and parking studies commissioned by Council to act on plans for additional parking downtown.