Sunday, July 20, 2008

Barr Property Conditions, Visioning Group Update, and the EC's CEMEX/tire burn forum 8/25

Dear People: Village Council will be meeting at 7 pm in the Bryan Center on Monday, July 21. The Environmental Commission will meet on Thursday, July 24, 7pm, Bryan Center Rooms A&B.

The main agenda items for the VC meeting are two resolutions
  • to hire Don Vermillion to assist us with our village manager search and 
  • to set official conditions on the Friends Care housing unit at the Barr Property. 
We were introduced to Don Vermillion at our last Village Council meeting, when he presented a very brief overview of his approach to helping with these searches, and provided references to other local municipalities that have used his services. In response to a question as to why his rates were so low, Don explained that in a way his work for the local public good is "subsidized" by his position, focused on public projects, at the Fitz Center of the University of Dayton. He comes highly recommended by our interim manager, John Weithofer.

We should be able to quickly move on to setting the conditions on the Barr Property. I know that many of you may have a direct interest in reading these, and unfortunately there are 25 and they are fairly long and wide ranging--and I don't have an electronic copy to link to. 14 of them were suggested by Emi Randall, of Woolpert Services: Planning and Design, who has been hired as a project manager for this project.

I will hit only the highlights, from my perspective. The original conditions suggested by the Planning Commission included things like
  • Requiring the amenities included in the Friends Care proposal: green roof structure, pervious pavement, secure bike parking, energy star appliances, alternative energy (e.g. geothermal "to the extent financially feasible"), etc.
  • Retaining the requirements for senior housing status
  • "The developer shall make every effort to facilitate the relocation of the Barr house." This condition stipulates "at least" a 3-month timeframe in which the developer solicits proposals for relocation, after which time the structure may be removed "using a salvage process."
the added suggested conditions include things like:
  • "The Final Development Plan must show preliminary storm water run-off calculations, conceptual surface and sub-surface drainage as well as detention and discharge plans," to be approved by village engineer. 
  • The engineer and/or village administration must also approve things like the plan for hooking into water service, sanitary sewer, storm drainage, a "Site Amenities Plan" with exact locations of everything including things like trash receptacles, open space, a "photometric plan" relating to the light emitted from every fixture, a plan for soil erosion and sediment control during construction, renderings of signage, "landscape plan that shows the location, number, and species of plants to be planted and trees to be preserved," etc.
  • Approval by the Police and Fire chiefs for emergency response access and fire codes.
  • A requirement to remove the chain link fence.
  • "No mechanical equipment or dumpsters should be visible from either Limestone St. or Xenia Ave and must be screened from adjacent property owners. These items must be screened through the use of plant material or decorative wall or fence materials."
  • "The developer shall employ architectural techniques to better integrate the proposed building into the surrounding Historic District through the use of exterior features, heights, appearance, color, and texture of the materials of exterior construction that are congruous and in harmony with those of the restored historical structures within the contiguous Historic District. The final architectural plans for exterior materials must be approved administratively. To aid in illustration, the developer shall provide architectural renderings with building materials and colors specified, or material samples for the exterior finishes."
The Visioning Group has also prepared a timetable for their work, adjusted to work with our process of hiring a Village Manager.

The Village Manager will then offer his update on various items of concern, including our response to a citizen's frustration about faulty sewer work that led to damage to his home, the work of Emi Randall and Brad Schwab of Woolpert Planning/Services, the Village Paving Program of 2008, the Advertisement for the Village Manager position.

The Environmental Commission is tentatively scheduling a forum on the CEMEX Tire Burning issue on August 28. We are in the process of inviting representatives from the Greene Environmental Coalition, CEMEX, the EPA and the Regional Air Pollution Control Agency, and possibly one or two other interested groups. A representative from Village Mediation will moderate the event. We will spend a good amount of time at our next meeting working on an effective structure for this forum, which we hope will be fair, respectful, and educational for all.

Final note: I've been reading a book on effective teaching this week, by a guy named Robert Boice. He advocates moderation, above all, holding back, reflectively, rather than rushing into a project with guns ablazing in the face of a rapidly approaching deadline, claiming that an "active waiting" approach is actually a more effective way to get things done, and done well. 

He also recommends approaching the vital tasks of our lives with playfulness and a certain level of detachment. He quotes a devastating aphorism from writer Stephen North, "The worse the writer, the greater the attachment to the writing." And explains, "This maxim refers to struggling writers who get too invested in their work to see alternatives or to listen to criticism, who refuse to revise or deviate from original plans, who communicate in insensitive ways. You can see how the same principle applies to teaching."

After 20 years, I'm still learning how to be a good teacher, by a whole lot of trial and a whole lot of error. And I'm using the same method for serving on Council. I'll be taking a reflective pause next week, and won't be sending a note (or posting to my blog). But I'm always open to hearing your constructive ideas for my work and the good of the village.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Planning Comm (7/14): Birch III PUD?, Historical Preservation?, Library Alley Problems

This is an old picture from the YS News published in relation to the documentary film, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, directed by Faith Morgan.
Dear People--Another busy week looms. Tomorrow (Mon 7/14) I'll have my normal office hours from 12-1 pm, and in the evening at 7 pm is our Planning Commission meeting, so I'll focus on that for most of this note.

However, do note that Village Council will meet the following week, Monday 7/21. We'll be considering the conditions on the Barr property development at that meeting, and should have several resolutions to pass regarding appointments to commissions, the Village Manager hiring process, etc.

PLANNING COMMISSION TOMORROW NIGHT: After the normal reports to the Commission--including my update on Council activities, the Bike Enhancement/Northern Gateway Committee, Zoning Administrator/Planner report (Ed Amrhein) and the Miami Valley Regional Planning Comm's Bike Plan and Miami Township Zoning Commission reports--we'll proceed to Old Business: Comprehensive Plan Review and Revisions, with John Eastman, and the final approval of our 2008 goals.

Next, (by about 8:30--but I hope earlier, maybe 8 pm?) we'll go to three items of New Business items that may be of greater interest to villagers:
  1. Concept presentation for a Planned Urban Development (PUD) within Birch III. The proposal is to convert 8 of the lots in the Birch III development (totalling 2.782, located roughly in the middle of the development) from single family dwellings to 6, 4-unit dwellings that they call "attached patio homes," which would have a new "back alley" between them for 12 of the units. Analysis by Ed Amrhein suggests that the potential benefits of this development are: increased revenue from taxes and utilities, increased enrollment in schools, and possibly faster build-out time for the subdivision. The questions that Ed suggests we may need to consider, include:
  • Where is the 25% open space that our ordinances require?
  • Is the alley built to a standard that it could function as a street?
  • How would utilities be connected to the twelve units fronting on the alley?
Additionally, an "Other Voices" column from a resident of Birch III, Mark "Sol" Solomon, in last week's YS News (7/3) raised residents' concerns about this project and the process thus far. My impression from Mr. Solomon's article is that he and some other neighbors who have already moved into the development do not oppose density per se, or--at this point--any specifics of the proposal, but were feeling the developers weren't really being straight with them about their motivations, etc., and that the residents will have made a major life decision/investment based on information that is now changing. Mr. Solomon suggests that the price of these units will be $200,000; houses there are normally in the $300,000 range.

If any of you have specific concerns about this development, please let me know! I can forward your concerns to the PC in whatever way you would like.
  1. Information re: Historic Preservation: At my request, we received a large number of documents from the Historic Preservation, including an inventory of specific homes/buildings that are already on the Ohio Historic Inventory, sample historic preservation ordinances, and information about how to work towards being a certified local government. Most of Yellow Springs, including the Antioch College campus, are part of a national historic district, but we don't currently have a historic preservation ordinance.
  2. 2 requests to "vacate" (i.e., as far as I can tell, essentially "close") an alley or portion thereof: 
  • One of these requests is relatively noncontroversial--it's essentially only a "potential" alley on a currently empty residential lot on the east side of N. High St. (409 N. High) that connects to alleys that have already been closed. Since there's no alley there, except in the most abstract sense,"vacating" this alley really just affirms the current reality.
  • The second request involves the regularly-used alley behind the library, which runs parallel to Xenia Ave., connecting Davis and Limestone. The problem is that current use causes noise, dust, and higher speed traffic than is appropriate for the gravel lane, which is annoying to the neighbors and potentially dangerous (particularly since children, pedestrians and bicyclists also use it, and cars often "confront" each other on this narrow lane, and need to back up, etc. This agenda item allows us to "explore alternative solutions to existing problems," rather than simple closure. 
That's about it, except for agenda planning for our next meeting.

I hope a lot of you caught Vick Mickunis interviewing Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. (Here's a link to his interview on today's WYSO weekend.) Klein's book focuses on the way "free market" approaches are often rammed through on the heels of disasters, whether natural or man-made, by "disaster capitalists." Those who seek to profit from disasters, typically paint a picture of the original destruction, plus the destructive processes of their own desired (very profitable) takeovers, as positive: as creating new, utopian, blank slates on which they will create improved worlds, institutions. It's a "Rapture" fantasy--promising a (profitable) heaven after the end of the world as we know it. So here's a quotation from the conclusion of the book, which focuses on "people's reconstruction" movements that seems especially relevant to our village's current challenges:

[P]eople's reconstruction efforts represent the antithesis of the disaster capitalism complex's ethos, with its perpetual quest for clean streets and blank slates on which to build model states. . . . [These people's movements] are inherently improvisational, making do with whoever is left behind and whatever rusty tools have not been swept away, broken, or stolen. Unlike the fantasy of the Rapture, the apocalyptic erasure that allows the ethereal escape of true believers [the myth that underlies disaster capitalism], local people's renewal movements begin from the premise that there is no escape from the substantial messes we have created, and that there has already been enough erasure--of history, of culture, of memory. These movements that do not seek to start from scratch, but rather from scrap, from the rubble that is all around. As the corporatist crusade continues its violent decline, turning of the shock dial to blast through the mounting resistance it encounters, these projects point a way forward between fundamentalisms. Radical only in their intense practicality, rooted in the communities where they live, these men and women see themselves as mere repair people, taking what's there and fixing it, reinforcing it, making it better and more equal. Most of all, they are building in resilience--for when the next shock hits. (Klein 466)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

VC this week + Summer Reading: Corn & Me

The picture to the left is my grandparents' farm, ca. 1940.  My parents live there today, but it looks very different (except the house).  All the fences, and most of the small buildings, are gone; now there's a large system of grain bins and elevators on the east end of the farm, past the barn, which is still (barely) standing.

Dear People--As usual I'll be in the Emporium on Monday at noon, for anyone who wants to chat with me about Village business ahead of our next meeting, which will be held in the Bryan Ctr. this Monday, July 7, 7 pm.

There's not a lot on our agenda, but it's all pretty important.

First, we'll consider five resolutions relating to:
1) renewing the Village Treasurer's employment contract (a small raise included); 2) establishing green pricing in Yellow Springs; 3) initiating the employment contract with our interim Village Mgr.; 4) authorizing the interim Village Mgr.'s signature on our bank accounts; 5) authorizing the hiring of an administrative assistant for the Village Mgr.

Second, we'll hear a special report from Don Vermillion of the University of Dayton who has been suggested as a consultant for helping us initiate a search for a new village manager. It's my hope that someone like Professor Vermillion, who is a local consultant in this area, may be able to provide us better, vetted candidates than we could get from depending on our own stretched resources, and, reportedly, at a considerably lower cost than the fees many head-hunting firms charge. I will appreciate your thoughts and input on this process.

Third, we'll be discussing two items of "old business": 1) The director of our Wastewater Treatment Plant, Joe Bates, will be on hand for a discussion of where we stand in regard to the EPA's concerns about the plant. (The YS News's article on this issue is here. I'm happy to answer any questions about my quoted statements in that piece.)
2) John Grote, our chief of police, will help us understand security issues, etc. raised by the Antioch Closure and what is being done to address those issues. (We also received a letter from Colin Altman, Miami Township Fire Chief, directed to Tom Faeke, related to the issue, which is in our packets this week, which was also reported on in the most recent issue of the YS News.)

Fourth, under "new business" we'll be discussing and developing a "Work/Action Plan" for the village, for the next several months while we are in a state of transition under interim manager Weithofer. During this time we are planning to attend to several items of work that need our most immediate attention. Given our stretched resources and the uncertainties represented both by the Antioch and other situations, and the need to find a new manager, we need to think very carefully about what we can realistically accomplish at this time and how to best set up our next manager for success here. The main things, as I understand it, that we are likely to focus on include the WWTP issue; the Antioch situation and its implications for the village; and some specific issues related to streets/infrastructure--repairs and construction within already established new developments (e.g., the already-promised infrastructure for the CBE), in addition to hiring a permanent manager.

If you have thoughts or concerns about what we as a village should prioritize over the next several months, or how we should approach these challenges, please do attend, listen, ask questions, and speak up.

Summer Reading. (A longish biographical aside, which you may not have time for.) These last two weeks, I've been gobbling books. I read Don Delillo's Falling Man, Wendy Lee's Happy Family, and have just started in on Louise Erdrich's A Plague of Doves. Each of those works of fiction from the past two years or so has me intrigued.

But I've also finally been reading the Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Early in the book he visits an Iowa farm and traces not only the path that a typical bushel of corn takes these days, into beef feedlots, high-fructose corn syrup, ethanol, and chicken mcnuggets, but also the strange long history of that plant, worshipped by the Aztecs for centuries, now spilling recklessly into the mud by the grain elevator in my home town, and profoundly profitable to Cargill and ADM (not so much to the actual farmers).

This book has particular resonance to me, as a person who grew up on a corn and soybean farm in Iowa, and who now lives here in Ohio, surrounded by a summer sea of grain commodities. Corn has probably contributed most of the carbon atoms in my body (and yours). Corn also paid for my education. Virtually every job I had through college was directly related to grain commodity production and consumption. Corn literally made me who I am. But its mass production also literally obliterated the house and farm I was raised on (you can see my family standing in front of our old, now demolished home, if you want to pay to see this New York Times article from 1970. Or email me and, if you're polite, I'll send you an electronic copy.)  The vagaries of the corn market nearly plunged us into bankruptcy during the farm crisis of the 80s. As I was growing up and away from the farm, corn production was dramatically re-shaping the whole layout and architecture of the farm my grandparents bought and on which my parents still live today, as well as the nearby towns. The area is much emptier (of people) and a less sustainable place than it was 70 years ago when my immigrant grandfather purchased that property. 

At a party several years ago while I was in graduate school, I was explaining to a man I'd just met (and have never seen again) how I had rejected farm life and all it entailed, and my guilt about that abandonment. He said blandly, "Ah, but it also rejected you." I was a little shocked, at the time (me? a reject??), but it stayed with me today because, as it happens, it's true. 

That region has been deliberately cleared of people and farm animals and communities. Of people like me. This happened through technological "advances" and federal policies designed to promote the overproduction of this one beautiful, highly manipulated plant. The tidal wave swept me here, amongst you, even as I thought I was making my own decisions. Yet, I carry the corn inside me. It is me. And of course, here in southwest Ohio, we are still surrounded by it.

Today, the fields upon fields of even rows of identical green plants remind me (and Pollan) of erect, uniformed soldiers. And rightly so, as soldiers in sand-colored uniforms fight and die in Iraq for the petroleum resources, at least 25% of which go to growing our industrial food supply, Pollan explains. And yet those fields are still achingly beautiful to me, summer evenings, glittering fireflies.