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Yellow Springs Development Corporation eyes membership, approach

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Some existential questions were on the table during the most recent meeting of the Yellow Springs Development Corporation, or YSDC, conducted via Zoom on Tuesday, Feb. 8.

Following a brief annual meeting, the group’s first since its beginning in early 2020, members discussed the YSDC’s place within the life of the village and township.

Prompting the conversation in part was a proposal from Treasurer Hannah Montgomery to revise the current dues of $500 for each member seat to a variable fee structure tied to the staff size and budget of the institutions and governing bodies the participants represent. Larger groups would pay $750 a seat; smaller entities would pay $250. In discussing the proposal, which reached no decision before being tabled, several trustees questioned the group’s overall makeup and discussed the most appropriate and useful membersip to be involved in economic development efforts.

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Schools Superintendent Terri Holden, an ex officio member of YSDC, said that while she supports economic development as a general concept, she has come to question the school district’s involvement toward that end.

“A natural question that I would have to answer for the school board: Are we just seats because we’re a large organization, or are we seats with some real teeth?” she asked. “I honestly haven’t felt that yet.”

Lisa Abel, who represents the Yellow Springs Community Foundation and whose two-year tenure as YSDC president ended during the annual meeting, noted that in looking at the faces of the trustees in attendance on the video conference call, she saw that “we don’t have a lot of people left who were part of the organization when it formed.” Given that evolution, and local changes over the past two years, a re-evaluation of membership and purpose could be appropriate, she said.

Abel added that at the time YSDC began, the school district, the Village, the Township and Antioch College were each looking at major initiatives: the school district and college in considering their facilities and assets, the Village in its Comprehensive Land Use Plan and the Township in selling the former firehouse on Corry Street. A primary purpose in forming the YSDC was to bring these and other entities together to coordinate and support their goals in more comprehensive ways.

“I don’t know who are the organizations that should be at the table now,” she said, adding that as a quasi-governmental community investment corporation, YSDC is required to have 40% representation by elected officials.

Situations and priorities of member groups have shifted since YSDC’s beginnings, Abel said. The question to ask now is “what makes sense at this point?” Another question is “if we want to continue,” she added.

Community Foundation Executive Director Jeannamarie Cox, who serves on the YSDC in an ex officio capacity, said she had been part of the initial conversations that led to the formation of the local economic development group. Sharing information across institutions was one of the primary goals, she said.

“We realized that there was not good communication between the groups,” she said.

In attendance at the meeting as an invited guest, Greene County Director of Development Eric Henry suggested that the local group confer with Fairborn’s economic development organization, which he described as “fairly well established.”

Step back or press forward

As reported in past News articles, the YSDC has spent time in recent monthly meetings honing in on goals and priorities for 2022, agreeing to focus on three areas of attention: business incubation, expansion and retention; development of the property familiarly known as the CBE, or Center for Business and Education, on the northwest edge of Yellow Springs; and fundraising.

Last month, the group formed subcommittees for each of the three priorities.

Abel said that in talking to subcommittee members since then, she heard two things: finding time to meet had been difficult, and many participants were unclear how to move forward on their assigned goal.

In response, Abel suggested that YSDC “step back and seek input from the community.” And rather than spread their efforts among three goals, “we would do well to have one goal to focus on and work on together,” she said.

Alex Bieri said he supported the possibility of stepping back.

“I think some of the soul searching that we’ve been doing has to do with the local political climate rather than an economic one,” he said. “I don’t think we need to fill hours and hours of meetings if there aren’t projects [that have been requested or identified].”

Realtor Shelly Blackman, who represents the community at-large, said putting the group’s collective energy behind one goal made sense to him.

When there are multiple efforts, “sometimes two people get saddled with moving that goal forward.” That’s too much to carry, he suggested.

The YSDC might adopt a more limited approach, Miami Township Trustee Don Hollister said.

“We’re [currently] taking a larger view — the economic vitality of the town,” he said. But the group could also remain relatively inactive, but ready to step forward when there is a specific need, such as the sale of the firehouse.

“Let’s remember we’re valuable if we step up to something every other year.”

Newly elected president Corrie Van Ausdal summed up the conversation for the time being.

“One option is to simplify and expect to get less done,” she said. “Another way is continuing to meet in smaller groups and push forward.”

Van Ausdal suggested that members take the questions discussed back to their individual organizations for further discernment.

In other YSDC business Feb. 8:

Bieri reported on several economic-related activities in Clifton:

• Miami Township Fire-Rescue Chief Colin Altman is pursuing a collaboration with the Cedarville Township Fire Department to turn part of the former Clifton firehouse into a training facility for fire and emergency units. Bieri said that they anticipate funding assistance from the County Commissioners, one of whom had told Bieri that the project “was something the county would like to support since it covers multiple jurisdictions.”

• The Yellow Springs-Clifton Connector Bike Trail project is still waiting to hear about its application for a Clean Ohio Grant. The requested grant of $900,000 would pay for phase one of the estimated $2 million project, Bieri said. The first phase will take the path from Yellow Springs to the new parking lot that Glen Helen plans to build near its entrance off State Route 343.

• The Clifton Craft House, a multipurpose co-op, is still raising funds and membership, Bieri said. An open house for neighbors is planned Feb. 19, at Clifton Opera House.

• Clifton will break ground in the spring on a new parking facility in its central business district as the result of receiving a Community Development Block Grant.

The YSDC’s next meeting will be Tuesday, March 8, at 4:30 p.m., via Zoom.


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