At his first city council meeting on the heels of his re-election last week, Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings told council members he was “happy, honored and grateful” for the faith voters placed in him, adding that residents want action and “for most voters it can’t happen fast enough.”
“If city council or anyone else was ever unsure of what your constituents and residents want for this city, this last election should make it clear,” said Hastings.
Hastings said that as someone who began buying properties in the city “long before I ever thought of running for this office,” he denied he has a “built-in agenda.”
“I believed in Hillsboro’s uptown as a private sector developer and I continue to believe in it as a public sector developer as mayor,” said Hastings, adding that he owns six out of approximately 100 buildings uptown.
“Do all of us property owners hope someday our investments will become more valuable? Of course we do. But it will be because the city itself becomes more valuable,” said Hastings.
The mayor said that the budget that will be presented to council in December “reflects residents’ concerns and our efforts toward fighting blight, the drug problem, sidewalk repair program, paving and a number of other issues.”
He said voters “have made our jobs easier by eliminating much of the guesswork about the direction they want our city to go.”
Hastings gave council members a document called “Hillsboro Uptown District Plan,” which he said was modeled after a similar plan from Lebanon, Ohio, and states it is “intended to be the guiding document for future development and redevelopment for the Hillsboro uptown district and will be part of the overall Comprehensive Plan of the city.”
In its introduction, the document states, “Today, uptown Hillsboro is a unique place filled with promise. We have great historic structures and a rich past to build upon. Many nearby communities have already realized the overwhelming value in protecting, showcasing and marketing their historic districts. Waynesville, Maysville and Lebanon are all nearby successful examples. Hillsboro has all the attributes of those towns, we merely need to implement our plan.”
The blueprint addresses issues such as housing, hotel development, office development, competition, public investment, and “quality architecture and appropriate patterns.” Advocating for maintaining the uptown area’s historic appearance, the document states that “contemporary building patterns do not fit or belong uptown,” adding, “this development pattern erodes the uptown fabric and reduces its viability. Domino’s Pizza at Governor Foraker is a prime example of an inappropriate building in the uptown district.”
In another nod toward uptown development, city council President Lee Koogler asked council to consider defining an uptown “entertainment district,” which he said would allow the creation of more liquor permits. He said that through the years the uptown area has lost liquor permits to other areas when uptown businesses have closed and others opened elsewhere in the city.
Koogler said the Ohio Department of Development would approve additional liquor permits if the city identified an entertainment district, which he called a “development tool for uptown.”
Koogler said he was not encouraging “a saloon on every corner” such as in the days of temperance movement leader Eliza Jane Thompson, but instead the ability for businesses to create a couple of uptown bars or restaurants where residents could enjoy an alcoholic beverage. He asked the Finance Committee chaired by Dick Donley and the Community Enhancement Committee chaired by Claudia Klein to examine the issue.
Safety and Service Director Todd Wilkin told council that the new pedestrian bridge on North High Street is complete, with a sidewalk that extends 50-feet from the bridge to the south.
Wilkin said additional funding is being sought, reminding council that the city had submitted a capital budget request to the state in 2013 asking for more than $400,000. The city was awarded just $100,000.
“The project would have been for the installation of sidewalks from the ‘airplane’ on North High to Southern State, which would include new ADA complaint ramps at the intersections, and a pedestrian bridge,” said Wilkin.
When the city received fewer funds than requested, “we made the decision to address the biggest safety hazard for pedestrians on North High Street… (which) was the lack of a pedestrian bridge,” said Wilkin.
“We are installing a crosswalk, pedestrian light and button, and reworking the guardrail so pedestrians can cross the street safely,” said Wilkin. “We will be working with the state, local businesses and residents to continue installing the sidewalks out to Southern State.”
In another matter, the Street and Safety Committee met prior to the council meeting Monday to discuss the Festival of the Bells, with many festival committee members in attendance. Street committee chair Justin Harsha told council that the meeting addressed concerns raised by the administration, and “a lot of issues were brought up by all.”
Harsha said the city and the festival would “work toward a better relationship so we can grow,” and address a number of items, including the location of the festival, although it will not change in 2016, said Harsha. Koogler said the city is interested in “more of a partnership” with the festival.
Harsha said festival officials will notify the city of its next meeting so city representatives can attend and “see where it goes from there.”
In other business:
• Wilkin said the city has been notified that it has won a $49,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to build another pavilion at Liberty Park, saying it would be “similar to the pavilion by the amphitheater and help build a dog park.”
• Council learned that Water/Sewer and Streets Manager Randy Barr will retire at the end of February 2016, with Wilkin saying Barr has been with the city for 26 years and “his experience and knowledge will never be replaced,” thanking Barr for “all the hard work, blood, sweat and tears.”
• Wilkin said that Aaron Milburn was the employee of the month, noting that Milburn has been with the city more than 14 years and that he was nominated by his supervisor “for the work he performed in October and for stepping up and leading the Public Works Department.”
• Hastings told council that the Hillsboro Planning Commission is considering hiring “an expert consultant to review and assess the zoning rules in the city,” and that commission members agreed that “zoning ordinances must be updated before the zoning map is reviewed for changes.”
• The mayor reported that the Planning Commission is asking business owners on the west side of North High Street to install sidewalks where needed.
• Council approved sign variances for Sherwood Auto and a partial variance for the new Hibbett Sporting Goods store which is moving into the former Dollar General building on Harry Sauner Road.
• Council passed consent legislation in connection with Ohio Department of Transportation project to resurface SR 138 (Danville Pike) within the city limits in 2018.
• Council authorized the transfer of $2,000 into the Enforcement and Education Fund as requested by city Auditor Gary Lewis, based on a request from Hillsboro Police Chief Todd Whited for police education activities.
All council members were present Monday.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.