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Miamisburg-based developer Oberer seeks to rezone 52 acres on the south end of the village from an R-A designation to a PUD, or Planned Unit Development. (Photo courtesy of ChrisK Realtors)

Two Planning Commission members resign

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The Yellow Springs Planning Commission is seeking two new members.

Sarah Sinclair-Amend, who served as a voting member, resigned Jan. 13; and Matthew Kirk, who served as an alternate, resigned Jan. 6. The two resigned after publicly commenting in opposition to a request from Oberer Development companies to rezone 52.6 acres as a planned unit development, or PUD.

In a letter to Village Council, Sinclair-Amend said that she came to this decision after questioning the motives of Village government officials and realizing that her role on Planning Commission did not allow her to be critical of Village decisions regarding the PUD proposal.

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According to both Sinclair-Amend and Kirk, Council President Brian Housh and Planning Commission liaison Lisa Kreeger requested meetings with Sinclair-Amend and Kirk where they were given a choice between advocacy and retaining their roles on the commission.

“It was presented as an option: stay on [Planning Commission] and be quiet, or resign and be able to speak freely,” Kirk said in a phone interview after his resignation.

In an email to the News, Housh wrote that commission and board members are asked to sign a roles and responsibilities agreement. Among other things, the agreement states that commission and board members will “refrain from statements regarding the decisions or discussions of the board or commission on social media.”

“Publicly commenting on commission decisions is also disrespectful to commission members who must continue to make decisions on the matters involving those conflicts,” Housh said.

In addition, members are asked to sign a roles and responsibilities agreement that is specific to Planning Commission. That agreement includes a “process for public disagreement,” or a process where commission members can publicly disagree with members of Village Council or members of their own commission.

The agreement directs members to “speak first with the Village Planning and Zoning Official or the Village Manager regarding the concern. Should that not resolve the issue, go next to the Village Solicitor, by way of the Council clerk.”

According to the letter Sinclair-Amend submitted to Council, she sought the advice of Village Solicitor Breanne Parcels prior to speaking out against the PUD proposal.

“I spent hours upon hours researching best practices, policy and published research in order to share accurate information with my fellow private citizens and also public officials and government staff,” she said.

Sinclair-Amend recused herself from votes regarding the Oberer PUD proposal, but has spoken at public meetings and on Facebook about the development.

In his emailed comments, Housh said conflicts of interest have become an issue, given the quasi-judicial nature of Planning Commission.

“It becomes problematic when PC members are conflicted out of voting on projects due to their public statements, since we have a limited number of members,” Housh wrote.

In an email to the News following her resignation, Sinclair-Amend said: “As a commissioner and as a private citizen, I have — and always will — strongly advocate for open governance standards, including transparency, accountability, and public participation.”

Preceding Sinclair-Amend’s resignation, Planning Commission alternate Matthew Kirk resigned his position on Thursday, Jan. 6. In an interview with the News, Kirk explained that he felt he could be more effective as a community member.

“We happen to have a difference of opinion in the direction of the village and I have the opportunity to affect the community in a more positive way if I am not in this position,” Kirk said in a phone interview following his resignation.

Kirk has spoken out against the proposed development in public meetings and on social media, and said that the Village has not been transparent about its negotiations with Oberer.

“I’ve been speaking out actively on the project every time it’s appeared before Council,” he said.

On social media, Kirk questioned Council’s motives on the timing of the ordinance that would rezone the Oberer property to a PUD, calling it a “classic political tactic.” The original first reading of the ordinance was in December.

In light of Kirk and Sinclair-Amend’s comments and criticisms of Village government, Housh said that Council has been re-evaluating how commissions function; specifically, whether Planning Commission members are able to advocate for the community.

“The role involves applying the existing zoning code to the issues brought forward in an unbiased manner,” he said. “Being a strong community advocate is not an ideal fit for a Planning Commission member and can create the impression that applicants are not receiving a fair hearing.”

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