Hillsboro City Council talks zoning, city park

Officials disagree on portions of code update

By David Wright - [email protected]

Discussion continued Monday on a proposed update to Hillsboro’s zoning code, with several public officials disagreeing on various portions of the draft at Hillsboro City Council’s May meeting.

Zoning and Annexation Committee Chairwoman Wendy Culbreath said her committee met recently to make a number of changes to the update, which was drafted by the Hillsboro Planning Commission and an outside consultant.

As previously reported, the committee removed a rule that would limit household pets in Hillsboro homes to a total of four, a measure which drew the ire of local pet owners who would be in violation of the law if it was approved.

At the previous zoning committee meeting, Culbreath said Hillsboro should have clear animal control rules on record, but not in the zoning code.

During the public comment portion of Monday’s council meeting, planning commission Chairman Tom Eichinger requested the committee discuss animal control ordinances. Eichinger said such ordinances already in the city code are outdated and ineffectual.

Council President Pro Tempore Justin Harsha placed the matter in the Street and Safety Committee for further review.

The committee had also discussed the wording of the code, with Culbreath saying she believes a section saying property owners will not be allowed variances unless they are undergoing an “extreme hardship,” should be changed. Instead of “extreme hardship,” Culbreath said the wording should be “justifiable reason.”

During the committee meeting, Eichinger disagreed with Culbreath, saying the same wording is in zoning codes all over the state.

Culbreath argued that changing the wording would make the code more “user-friendly.”

On Monday, Culbreath said she wanted to be on record expressing her opposition to a section of the code update that says any property uses not specified in the code are prohibited.

At the committee meeting, Eichinger had said that portion should not be removed, and Culbreath disagreed.

“It takes away freedom,” Culbreath said Monday. “It steps on freedom.”

Eichinger and Mayor Drew Hastings both said Monday they wanted to respond. Harsha said since the public comment portion of the meeting had already been held, Eichinger would not be allowed to comment further, but Hastings could.

Hastings said he didn’t find the rule restrictive, adding that as a property owner, even prior to his tenure as mayor, he has never run into problems with various boards in charge of zoning and property matters.

“We’re still a nation of laws,” he said.

Council heard a second reading on the code update Monday night.

In other business, council heard from Hastings about plans to turn the old Railroad Street park into a “sports complex,” which would include a skate park, new basketball courts and an indoor sports arena.

Hastings told council that only installing a concrete skate park in the area, as has been discussed at prior meetings, will not be enough to revive the area.

According to Hastings, the mortgage for a basketball training center to be built nearby will be put toward park improvements such as new outdoor basketball courts and infrastructure/drainage work.

Hastings previously said the training center will be built by the city, then purchased by local basketball instructor Tirrell Cumberland.

Hastings said organizers will have a total dollar number for the project soon, adding that reviving the park will give the city “a really good bang for our buck.”

Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie said during his report that a city property soon to be sold to PAS Technologies on Homestead Drive is set to bring in $50,000, and suggested a portion of that revenue be earmarked for parking spaces behind the empty Colony Theatre lot and the rest for the skate park.

McKenzie added that other properties in town could bring in revenue if they were sold, including the municipal parking lot near the police department, the rest area on U.S. Route 50 east of town and lots at the corner of Railroad Street and McDowell Street.

Harsha placed the property sale matter in the Finance Committee, of which he is chairman.

In other business, Property Maintenance and Restoration Committee Chairwoman Ann Morris said her committee held a joint meeting with the Community Enhancement Committee to discuss plans for the Colony Theatre lot. Morris said local historian Avery Applegate was tasked with sketching a design for the park, which will include a decorative facade mimicking the theatre’s old marquee, as well as lighting, seating and landscaping. The committees will meet again soon to continue discussion and review designs by an architect, Morris said.

Utilities Committee Chairman Brandon Leeth said he has been in discussions with Hillsboro Water Plant Superintendent Jason Bernard about “new technologies” available for water treatment processes that would eliminate chlorine and other chemicals.

Harsha said his Finance Committee met recently to discuss an ordinance repealing all previous ordinances regarding the compensation of non-union city employees and establishing new pay schedules. Harsha said the committee made a number of changes, and will meet again soon to discuss the matter further.

Civil Service and Employee Relations Committee Chairwoman Mary Stanforth said a draft of the Civil Service Handbook will soon be ready for review.

In other news from the mayor’s report, Hastings updated council on a court case involving the Dallas Music building, which he described as one of the most blighted properties in the city. According to Hastings, the city is seeking foreclosure on the building, and a court trial in the case will be held on Aug. 24.

Hastings also said it is unlikely a local judge will release funds from the estate of the late Jean Head to be applied toward the bond on the new fire station on North East Street in Hillsboro.

In other items, Hastings said the city should sign an agreement with Hillsboro’s community improvement corporation to establish new rules for cleaning up blighted properties, lauded Good News Gathering for a recent neighborhood cleanup project and congratulated Hillsboro Police Department Dispatcher Betsy Bryant for being promoted to police officer.

In the Hillsboro Planning Commission report, Hastings said the commission discussed creating a master plan for the city, which would provide a detailed outline of the next five to 10 years and include a summary. Hastings said the plan may include new highways, annexation, Rocky Fork Lake tourism, bike trails and destination shopping. The commission also discussed the zoning code update, Hastings said.

In the safety and service director’s report, McKenzie detailed various projects the city has taken on, including sewer rehab on East Main Street, storm drains, curbs and gutters in different areas and the demolition of the structure known as the Armintrout building.

Council entered executive session at the end of the meeting for about a half an hour to discuss contractual matters. No action was taken.

In other business, council heard a third and final reading on an ordinance increasing the base fee on monthly water bills and a resolution approving the construction of new catwalks at city reservoirs. Both measures were approved and adopted.

Council also approved a resolution introduced by Hillsboro Auditor Gary Lewis that brings the city into compliance with new state procedures for purchase orders and invoice reporting, and five resolutions authorizing the safety and service director to apply for a variety of grants, including the Community Block Allocation Grant Program, Community Development Neighborhood Revitalization Program, Ohio Department of Transportation Alternatives Program, Ohio NatureWorks Program and Community Development Critical Infrastructure Program.

Council President Lee Koogler’s absence was excused.

Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.

Officials disagree on portions of code update

By David Wright

[email protected]