Hillsboro City Council on Monday heard local property owners suggest a plan to re-zone and widen a portion of North High Street, heard the safety and service director suggest the removal of a traffic light, and heard the mayor make some pointed comments about a letter the city received from a gay rights advocacy organization.
Council also took the first official steps in utilizing the new Community Improvement Corporation it recently established, placing three properties into the CIC for disposition.
Council heard from Ronald J. Smith and Bob Skoog Jr., who said they were owners of properties on North High Street in Hillsboro. Also present on the matter were Bob Skoog Sr. and Gerald Bradley.
Smith said he wants to work with the city to change the zoning from Residential A to Commercial C on North High, on the east side of the street from Wendy’s to Alley 21.
“We think this would have the potential to bring business and jobs,” said Smith. He said the plan would also result in widening the street to create a third traffic lane and relieve congestion.
Todd Wilkin, the safety and service director, said later that he has met with the property owners interested in pursuing the change. He said they have sent letters to other property owners who would be impacted and have received mostly positive feedback. But Wilkin said he wanted it brought to council and placed in committee so the public could weigh in.
Wilkin said he is supportive of the plan to the degree that it might attract development and jobs, and also because it would lead to the widening of North High Street.
“That would be a win-win,” he said.
Dick Donley, filling in as president of council in the absence of Lee Koogler, placed the matter into the Zoning and Annexation Committee. Committee chair Tracy Aranyos agreed with a suggestion that the first committee meeting will also serve as a public hearing on the subject.
During his report, Wilkin said the Ohio Department of Transportation recently completed an inspection of intersections, traffic lights and traffic counts, grading stoplights as “warranted” or “not warranted.” Wilkin said that while lights noted as “not warranted” do not necessary have to be removed, the administration is recommending the removal of one such light at the intersection of West Main and Oak Street, near the library.
There are two stoplights in close proximity at that location, the other intersecting with Willetsville Pike. Wilkin said the Oak Street light has been deemed “not warranted,” and the city plans to place it on blinking yellow status for 60 days, which is the protocol to follow prior to removal of a stoplight.
Wilkin said the city will monitor traffic flow and gather input from the public on the proposed change.
Wilkin said that the intersection of North West Street (SR 73) and Pea Ridge Road warrants a stoplight, but there have been concerns about semi-trucks having difficulty going up or down the hill at that location in bad weather when having to slow down or come to a stop. Wilkin said that ODOT reports 16 crashes at the intersection in the past three years.
Wilkin said ODOT’s estimated total cost for creating an intersection is $100,000, much of it in the cost of installing poles, although he said the city could probably do it less expensively. He said he also wants the public’s input on that intersection.
Wilkin said the widening of the road at the intersection of Fenner and North West has been discussed to create a right turn lane onto Fenner. He said all the upgrades under discussion are eligible for safety grants through ODOT, which the city will seek.
Wilkin said the street paving projects that started in June have been delayed by the “monsoon season,” but crews will begin paving again soon. He said the city is preparing for the construction of North East Street repairs, the right-turn lane at Pizza Hut and the pedestrian bridge near Walgreens.
In his report, Mayor Drew Hastings said that three days after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all 50 states, he had received a letter from an organization called Equality Ohio requesting that Hillsboro create a nondiscrimination ordinance that is lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusive.
The letter, from Alana Jochum of Equality Ohio, obtained by The Times-Gazette, states, “Some municipalities in Ohio have passed LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances to show they are welcoming cities open to attracting the best businesses and brightest talent. This letter is my request that you do the same in Hillsboro.”
The letter makes another reference to attracting “the best and brightest talent,” and concludes, “We have the resources and ability to help you make fairness and dignity part of the every day routine in Hillsboro. Let us help you assess how welcoming your ordinances are currently and how they can be improved.”
On Monday, Hastings noted the letter’s references to the city’s need to attract “the best and brightest.”
“I wasn’t aware that being heterosexual has such limitations,” Hastings told council.
Later, after Wilkin had given his report, Hastings said, “Not bad for a heterosexual.”
After the Supreme Court’s ruling last month, Hastings said he has performed probably 100 marriages so far as mayor, but he said he would “probably not” marry a same-sex couple.
The mayor said then, “It’s a thorny issue. I have longtime gay friends. But I’m not convinced gay marriage is something we should recognize.” He said he favors economic equality for same sex couples.
His opponent in the November mayoral election, Pam Limes, said at the time that gay couples “have a perfect right to get married,” and that recognition of rights for the LGBT communities was “long overdue.” She said that as mayor she would not hesitate to marry same sex couples.
Limes attended Monday’s council meeting, as she has done each month since announcing her candidacy last summer. On Tuesday, she said it was difficult to hear all of Hastings’ remarks on Monday due to the acoustics, and that she didn’t have any additional comments on the subject.
“I stated my opinion,” she said.
But she added that on Tuesday she asked the city for a copy of the letter from Equality Ohio, which she had just received and was reading.
In another matter, council unanimously approved placing three items into the newly formed city Community Improvement Corporation – the matter of the right of first refusal for the YMCA, the old bus garage which is being sold, and the Colony Theatre.
Before the vote, though, council member Justin Harsha questioned the wording of the resolution, which indicated that the rear portion of the Colony would be replaced by parking spots, while the façade would be maintained. He said council had not yet determined to take that action.
“I don’t want the city to spend the money to renovate the Colony,” said Harsha. But he said he wanted to exhaust all avenues to see if anyone else wanted to step forward to preserve the theater.
After some discussion, Beery suggested that council pass a resolution clarifying that the auditorium of the Colony would not be torn down until a vote by council, only after efforts were made to determine whether any individual or organization might want to spend the money to preserve it. Hastings also offered to advertise regionally to seek responses from any entity that might be interested in the Colony.
Harsha agreed to those provisions, which were put into resolution form and approved by council, followed by unanimous votes to suspend the three-reading rule and place the items into the CIC.
On another matter, Hastings offered praise for the recently concluded Festival of the Bells. He said, “I really admire any group that keeps a festival going for 31 years.”
He said he thinks “it’s time now” for the city to start getting more involved “to make an already good festival better.” He said he hopes to meet soon with festival organizers to discuss future opportunities.
In other matters, council:
• Heard again from Jennifer Reed, the Hillsboro resident who has complained that the city is improperly applying the noxious weed ordinance to vegetation on her property. After a lengthy discussion during which Reed said her rights were being violated and Donley said repeatedly that council had addressed the matter several times, Reed said as she left the building, “So you’re not willing to address it. Perfect.”
• Heard both Wilkin and Hastings praise the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District for achieving a better ISO rating, from a 5 to a 3, with Hastings saying, “This is a big deal” that should save homeowners’ money on insurance and “make us more job friendly.”
• Heard Wilkin praise the Hillsboro Police Department for more aggressively fighting drugs, noting that in 2014 there were 191 total drug-related arrests in the city, and through June there have already been 201 such arrests.
• Heard Wilkin report that HPD Officer Kyle Dwelly was the June employee of the month after making 39 arrests in June and putting in “a lot of time and assistance” for the citizens of Hillsboro.
• Heard Wilkin praise Kim Abbott, the city’s economic development director, who he said has been working on coordinating more events and attractions in Hillsboro, but the major power outage on a Saturday and inclement weather on a Friday night had canceled the “Under the Radar” music concert and a Liberty Park movie showing. Wilkin said the concert will be rescheduled, and more movies are scheduled.
• Heard local resident Richard Stiffler again express complaints that there are not enough jobs in Hillsboro.
• And voted to adopt the proposed 2016 tax budget for the city.
Council members Donley, Harsha, Aranyos, Ann Morris and Rebecca Wilkin were present. Koogler was absent due to vacation, and members Bill Alexander and Claudia Klein were absent, Alexander due to vacation and Klein due to illness. Their absences were excused.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.