Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings on Monday told city council that a new bill passed by the state legislature could be a valuable tool for developing the city’s uptown business district.
Hastings recently attended a meeting of the Ohio Municipal League, where he said the new legislation, HB 233, would be a boon to the town and “pretty easy to create.”
According to information from the Ohio Municipal League, the newly-approved Downtown Redevelopment Districts would create “innovation districts for the purposes of promoting the rehabilitation of historic buildings, creating jobs, encouraging economic development in commercial and mixed-use areas, and supporting grants and loans to technology-oriented and other businesses.”
Following a legislative committee hearing prior to passage of the bill, the Ohio Municipal League issued a statement saying, “We appreciate the local officials who came to the committee hearing to show their support for the proposal and for those that shared with committee members that communities are seeking tools like those in the bill to help foster private sector redevelopment in central business districts.”
Hastings said Hillsboro’s uptown region is “perfectly suited for this type of thing,” and the district project can compliment efforts already underway regarding façade improvement, as well as sidewalk and lighting upgrades.
Several council members seemed interested in the proposal, asking if it could assist with the development of an uptown plaza and contribute to the city’s efforts on preserving the façade of the Colony Theatre. Hastings said it could.
Hastings asked that the proposal be placed into committee for further study, and council President Lee Koogler placed it into the Property, Maintenance and Restoration committee, saying he might add it to other committees later.
In other matters, council agreed to continue studying the issue of the Design Review Board and the city’s community improvement corporation, after ordinances to repeal both entities had their first reading.
The ordinances were introduced by council members Tracy Aranyos, Ann Morris and Claudia Klein. Those members do not comprise a committee, but any three council members can introduce legislation.
Hastings has argued in favor of keeping both entities, saying the Design Review Board has been crucial for improving the look of the town, and the CIC is important for economic development.
But as she has argued before, Aranyos said that “a couple of citizens” have complained that the board is not “user-friendly.” Klein said the rules and regulations of the board should be posted online. Rebecca Wilkin said council was promised a copy of the board’s manual but has not received it. Justin Harsha said he sees the importance of the board, but questioned the appropriateness of Hastings being a member of it.
Mary Todd Hardeman, who chairs the design board, told council that the staff was supposed to provide the manual, and apologized for that not happening. She defended the board’s work, and again invited council members to attend meetings on the first and third Wednesdays of each month.
Later, council unanimously approved new members submitted by Hastings for the Design Review Board while the issue continues to be studied.
Regarding the CIC, Aranyos said council can move faster on projects, and complained about the attitude of some CIC members. She said the city has so far asked the CIC to handle two projects, and the organization rejected both.
Hastings said that successful communities have a CIC, and referenced a letter he had received several months ago from former banker Bob Hodson, touting the importance of CICs and recounting the history of CICs in Hillsboro.
Council members agreed that the ordinances on abolishing the Design Review Board and the CIC would have first readings, and Koogler placed them both in the Finance Committee for further study.
In his Planning Commission report, Hastings brought up the issue of businesses with drive-thru windows in uptown alleys. He said Downtown Drug, which leases one of the buildings he owns on South High Street, wants to relocate adjacent to the alley so it can construct a drive-thru window.
As Hastings nodded his agreement, Safety and Service Director Todd Wilkin said that since Hastings owns the building and sits on the local Design Review Board, a design board from Wilmington or Lebanon will be asked to make a recommendation on the drive-thru window.
But Wilkin added, “I’m not a fan of drive-thru’s uptown.” He said, “We have gotten enough feedback that is not positive.”
But Morris, whose family owns Twenty-Four Exchange, said that without the window in the alley next to her business, it would be impossible to compete with similar businesses in other areas of town. She said not allowing competitive benefits for uptown businesses would lead to “a vacant uptown.”
“There are an awful lot who don’t complain,” she said. She said alleys are not intended to be pass-throughs, like streets, but are designated instead for loading and unloading. She said more uptown businesses should add drive-thru windows in alleys.
Hastings said he previously was not supportive of the windows, but he has come to see their importance to uptown businesses.
In other matters Monday:
• Council kept in committee a funding request from Destiny Bryson of the Highland County Visitors Bureau, with Dick Donley saying he was sure something would be done.
• Hastings reported that he learned at the Ohio Municipal League meeting that drones can be used by local businesses for deliveries.
• Todd Wilkin reported that the 91st Civil Affairs Battalion is analyzing city streets to “obtain total street assets for our auditor.”
• Wilkin also thanked local resident David Collins for a $50 gift certificate as part of a parking survey, and commended local resident Deborah Harsha, the winner, for donating the funds to Girl Scout Troop 321 for trees at Liberty Park.
• Justin Harsha reported that he is now co-chair of the Festival of the Bells.
• Council agreed to another one-month extension of the moratorium on water and sewer rate hikes until legislation is finalized to make the moratorium permanent.
• Council approved a resolution to apply for ODNR Land and Water Conservation funds for a Harmony Lake trail.
• And council heard Lewis report that the city has more than $7 million on hand.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.