2021 in Review | Top Stories
- Published: January 6, 2022
Oberer plans spark concerns
At its July 19 meeting, Village Council voted to annex 34 acres of land into the village. The land, part of a 52-acre property owned by Oberer Development, is slated to become the site for a new housing development, Birch Creek. Benefits of annexation included an increased tax base for the Village.
Months after Council voted to annex the land into the village, residents balked at the proposed planned unit development, or PUD. The proposal, which initially went to Planning Commission in late fall and was approved on Nov. 9, includes plans to build 140 units featuring a mixture of single-family homes, duplexes, and attached row housing. If the plan is accepted, Oberer will donate 1.7 acres of land to the Village for affordable housing and playground equipment that will be housed in a dedicated park space. Opponents to the proposal claim that the Village has not adequately vetted the plan and cite concerns about increased traffic and density. While the Planning Commission approved the conditional use application, Council postponed voting on the matter after requesting additional materials from the developer.
The COVID-19 pandemic persisted in Yellow Springs and the world beyond in 2021, affecting every aspect of village life.
On Jan. 8, residents and staff members of Friends Care Community became among the first in the village to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine was rolled out to others in waves, with all those 16 and up eligible by late March; those 12 and older in August; and those 5 and older in November.
Many local businesses began resuming indoor operations in April and May as case numbers began to go down with the vaccine’s availability. In April, YS Schools students went back to school in person, following nearly a year of online and hybrid schooling. Though masking and physical distancing were put in place in all schools, COVID outbreaks shut down the Community Children’s Center in both September and November.
The statewide mask mandate was dropped in May for those who were vaccinated following federal guidance, and the mandate expired entirely on June 2 as the Ohio Department of Health lifted most other pandemic health orders. Locally, the downtown mask mandate expired when the state’s did, but was revived in August after the virus’ Delta variant caused Greene County numbers to rise.
The Omicron variant — more transmissible than both Delta and Alpha — reached Ohio in early December, and county numbers again rose, prompting the Village to cancel the previously planned New Year’s Eve ball drop.
—Lauren “Chuck” Shows
Union School House WYSO site
In July, it was announced that the historic Union School House, located at 314 Dayton St., would be the new site of local public radio station WYSO upon completion of a major renovation and addition that was unanimously approved by the Yellow Springs Planning Commission. Upon completion, the radio station will move from its current location on Antioch’s campus, the Charles F. Kettering building.
Built in 1872, the schoolhouse was the first integrated school in Yellow Springs. For several years in the 1950s, it was also the Village headquarters and jail, and in more recent years, the building was a hub for several small businesses who rented space there, although it had fallen into disrepair. Dave Chappelle, through his company Iron Table Holdings, LLC, bought the 1.4-acre property in 2020 for $480,000, and purchased an adjacent lot for $70,000 earlier this year.
WYSO started in 1958 as an Antioch College student and faculty radio station and purchased itself from the college in 2019 to become an independent nonprofit.
The Union School House plans include remodeling the existing building and constructing a 10,000-square-foot addition on the property’s west side, and a 150-foot radio tower. Plans for the addition include two floors, scaling down to one floor near the western side yard property line. WYSO would occupy the existing basement and the first floor of the original building and the addition. The second floor of both the existing building and addition would serve as professional office space for Iron Table Holdings.
School facilities levy
Having agreed in 2020 to work with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, or OFCC, in moving forward with developing a facilities plan for Yellow Springs public schools, the Yellow Springs school board began the year by approving the Cincinnati-based architecture firm SHP to help develop a master plan for the district, with the goal of putting a facilities levy on the November ballot. The anticipated price tag to meet identified building needs at the time was $30 million.
Soon after, district Superintendent Terri Holden put together two community advisory committees: one focused on educational visioning and the other to weigh all the information being gathered in order to recommend a plan to the board. The committee meetings, held online because of the ongoing pandemic, were facilitated by representatives of SHP, and four options were identified by early February. With a commitment from the OFCC to reimburse up to 26% of the project’s price tag if the district met OFCC requirements, the choices laid out were to build a new K–12 facility at the site of the current middle/high school on East Enon Road, at a then estimated cost of $33.3 million; to combine renovation and construction of a major addition in creating a K-12 campus at the same location — about $30 million; and to combine renovation and minor construction at the same site — also about $30 million. The fourth option, initially labeled the “zero option,” and later described as the “renovation option,” involved working independently of the OFCC, and thus being ineligible for a reimbursement from the state, to take on repairs at the district’s two campuses. The district would eventually conclude that renovating the schools, rather than working with the OFCC to build new, would ultimately cost the district more money over the long run.
The district held a community forum in February and two more in March to solicit public input. While many participants expressed support for the project, issues that emerged included the future of the Mills Lawn school and property, the desirability and location of a K–12 campus and the price tag, which grew over the year to about $36 million for new construction. A random sample survey conducted in April showed that respondents either favored or would accept a K–12 campus, but balked at the projected cost.
In May, the school board approved moving forward with a K–12 construction plan, and in June and July took the necessary actions to put a levy on the November ballot. The ballot measure combined a 6.5-mill property tax, to continue up to 37 years, with a 0.5% income tax, which had no end date.
In November, voters rejected the measure by a 61% to 39% margin.
The superintendent expressed disappointment in the vote and said that the district would regroup after the three newly elected school board members take their seats in January.
Kingwood Solar talks ongoing
Opposition to Vesper Energy’s large-scale Kingwood Solar project continued in 2021. The Texas-based company has spent the last several years securing 43-year farmland leases comprising 1,500 in Miami, Cedarville and Xenia townships on which to build a 175-megawatt solar photovoltaic array.
In April, the solar firm submitted an application to the Ohio Power Siting Board, or OPSB, to have the project approved. Meanwhile, individuals and groups like Citizens for Greene Acres, Miami Township trustees, Greene County Commissioners and Tecumseh Land Trust, as well as technical staff of the OPSB itself, have expressed opposition to the project.
In November, the OPSB held a public hearing in Xenia. Around 300 people showed up to the hearing, which lasted nearly five-and-a-half hours. Most of those present were opposed to the project, but supporters spoke as well.
Concerns about the project included environmental impact; noise during construction and operation; appearance; the effects of harsh weather events; and negative interactions with Vesper officials that have prompted distrust.
Supporters stressed the environmental benefits of green energy; financial benefits to landowners; tax benefits; and the expectation that landowners be allowed to use their properties as they choose.
While area officials have no power to approve or reject the Kingwood application, the OPSB has indicated it will consider their positions when making its decision, which has been pushed back to spring of 2022.
—Lauren “Chuck” Shows