July 31, 2003
Village Council approved last week the creation of a new residential zoning district, Residence A-1, for larger lots. Council’s decision sparked a discussion among Council members and between Council and the public about housing needs in Yellow Springs and how best to meet them.
The 4–1 decision came at Council’s meeting July 21. Council president Tony Arnett and members Mary J. Alexander, George Pitstick and Denise Swinger voted yes; Joan Horn voted no.
“I want to lodge a negative feeling that such a district would smack of elitism,” said Horn, who was absent at Council’s first reading of the proposal. “This seems counterproductive if we’re trying to have large homes and small homes intermixed in the village. I don’t see the need for it.”
In response, Pitstick said, “I call it upscale. I don’t call it elitism. There is a need in this town for that type of housing.”
Council’s action adds to the Village Zoning Code a fourth residential district, in which lots must have a minimum frontage of 75 feet. The district’s frontage standard was until recently the standard in the Residence A district. Along with reducing the minimum frontage for Residences B and C, Council in the spring lowered the minimum lot width of Residence A to 60 feet. At the time Council said the move to reduce the street frontage requirements, in part, was an effort to encourage growth in Yellow Springs.
Land in town would not be rezoned Residence A-1. Instead a property owner or developer would have to petition the village to rezone the land. Any area zoned Residence A-1 must be at least 10 acres large.
Last week Council added the new larger lot district in response to a June recommendation from the Village Planning Commission. The planners said that they suggested the new residential district to add to the zoning “tools” of the Village. At the time, four members of Planning Commission supported the recommendation, while member Dawn Johnson voted against it, saying that the new district would limit the number of houses that could be built in the village, and would therefore work against the housing diversity that Council said it wants to create.
That concern was also raised last week by Marianne MacQueen, director of Yellow Springs Home, Inc., a local community land trust. That group has been working the past two years to identify small empty lots in the village for potential development of affordable housing, and, after calling 100 homeowners, has found only two possible lots, she said.
“The idea that there are a number of small lots available that affordable housing can be built on is not accurate,” she said. “Where will those lots come from if not from the older part of town? Establishing larger lot sizes cancels out” the potential for affordable housing on those lots, she said.
Pitstick maintained that the Village has focused on affordable housing, such as the recently approved Hull Court development off Xenia Avenue, to the exclusion of more upscale homes.
“We have a need to maintain diversity on both ends and we have avoided working on the upper end,” he said.
In March, local architect Ted Donnell, whose company Axis Architecture is developing the Hull Court project, said the development would consist of 10 condos whose base price would be around $120,000.
During the debate last week Arnett stated that he supported the district because he agreed with what he believed the Planning Commission wanted to address, keeping on the books a “community standard” that had once been valued. Commission members seemed to be saying, Arnett said, “don’t throw away the idea of this kind of district.”
Swinger said she supported the district because the 75-foot minimum district had been “on the books 20 years and was not an issue then. I don’t have a concern.”
The discussion also precipitated frustration from Council and audience members about how best to express opinions regarding housing needs in the village. People need to be able to address the housing issue without “name calling,” Arnett said. He said that he was “bothered that the words ‘elitism’ and ‘classism’ are intruding back into the conversation.”
In response to Arnett, MacQueen said that his remarks felt like put-downs to those who didn’t agree with him. “I would like to say what I have to say and be listened to,” she said, without feeling that her opinions were being diminished.
Arnett said that he agreed that all parties need to be civil. “When the term ‘smacks of elitism’ is used, that seems to me to cross the line and become name-calling,” he said.
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In other Council business:
• Council members unanimously agreed to move ahead with the Appreciative Inquiry visioning process, which would include a “summit” during which local residents would share areas of satisfaction about Yellow Springs along with their visions to improve the community. The process would be facilitated by Chester Bowling, an Ohio State University specialist in community leadership and management, who developed a set of questions to use at the summit.
Last week Council members approved the questions, although they questioned Bowling’s proposed summit structure of a four-day event. Council members said that it would be difficult to maintain enthusiasm over a four-day period, and agreed that two days would be better. They also said that they wanted the summit to take place over a weekend so those who work weekdays could participate.
Council members said that they want the process to be open to all who wish to participate. In response to a question from Elsie Hevelin as to how they could ensure that the event’s organizing group would be “representative” of the whole community, Arnett replied that “it’s not our objective to form a representative steering committee but to develop a representative process.”
Council members will begin circulating information about the Appreciative Inquiry process to all area churches and other organizations to try to solicit interested persons.
• Council members agreed to take part in a study by the Greene County Office of Sanitary Engineering on the volume of water in the county. Jeffrey Hissong, director of the office, explained that the project will seek to determine how much water is available, especially the quantity available in the Little Miami River buried valley aquifer and “what is the maximum you can take out of the aquifer without doing sustainable damage.”
The study will cost $40,000, and if all local governments in the county take part, each community’s price tag will be about $750, Hissong said, although he stated that so far it’s unclear how many are participating.
Council members agreed on the importance of the study. “I don’t see how we can afford not to be part of it,” Horn said.