New uptown green space is good, the process was not

By Gary Abernathy - [email protected]

I have no doubt the changes being made on Governor Trimble (and probably Governor Foraker in regard to traffic flow) to create a new green space area, redirect traffic to one-way status and reconfigure parking are well within the scope of Mel McKenzie’s authority as safety and service director. The approval of city council was not legally required for the changes to be made.

But in an ideal world (or small city), the mayor or the SSD would have laid out this plan at last Monday’s council meeting, if not asking permission, at least giving everyone a heads up.

In lieu of that, they would have fully answered questions from The Times-Gazette when it originally began asking them last Monday.

They also would have met with the business or businesses most impacted (that would be The Times-Gazette) to let us know that we would be losing the customer parking that has existed at our front door ever since we moved here in 2011.

They also would have met with the county employees who have long had reserved parking along the courthouse on Trimble to let them know their spaces were being relocated to another side of the courthouse.

None of those things happened.

Some people have suggested that with a year and a half to go in his term, and having already announced he’s not seeking re-election, and dealing with a city council that seems inclined to say no to a cure for cancer if the idea comes from Mayor Drew Hastings, the mayor is going to do as much as he can that doesn’t require approval from council.

They might be right, but I can’t muster enough indignation to completely condemn him for it. As mayor, Drew is the top administrative figure in Hillsboro, empowered by his office and the voters to implement his vision.

Just as in an ideal world the plan for the new green space would have been shared with council, just as ideally, council — if it had been given a heads up — would have received it with a general attitude of agreement and consent. Overall, it’s a very good idea, and will add a nice visual touch to what is currently a much blander uptown district than it should be.

But that likely wouldn’t have happened. More likely, a majority on council would have found reasons to object and delay. It would have been placed in the bottomless pit of a committee for endless study and, ultimately, no action.

Mel said Friday, “Everyone’s got an opinion. It just prolongs the process. You’ve got to make a decision and go with it, or you can take forever but nothing ever happens. This is not a new idea.”

More accurately, it’s not an entirely new idea. In 2015, Drew had suggested the building of a plaza on Governor Trimble that would have eliminated the whole street. An ad hoc committee led by Highland County Common Pleas Judge Rocky Coss came up with a design, and council’s Property, Maintenance and Restoration Committee held meetings on the subject. The last thing I can find on it from council was a vague direction to keep working toward finalizing a plan. That was three years ago.

The project being implemented now is a significantly downsized version of the original plaza idea. When you look at the rendering of the full plaza proposed three years ago, you see many of the same elements – the decorative old-style clock, the street lamps, the green space and benches.

Mel, who was not SSD back then, said last week he was never a fan of completely closing Trimble, and he’s probably right. The new plan will continue traffic flow through Foraker and Trimble, albeit in one direction.

If Mel is right and the city ends up with the old fire station as part of the negotiations with the Paint Creek fire district for the new fire station, utilizing it for council committee meetings, planning commission sessions and community events makes sense, and the addition of the small little park will enhance the overall appeal of the uptown square.

As upset as I was that this plan was being enacted without any conversation with the newspaper about losing our storefront customer parking, I have to remind myself that in 2015, when the proposed plaza was under consideration, I publicly stated my support for it in spite of the fact it also would have cost us that same parking, and would not even have left parking on the other side of Trimble that will exist now under the new plan.

The project is being funded by the $78,000 gift from the Mason trust fund given to the city in 2013, with a note stating the funds should be used at the mayor’s discretion for something other than paying bills or conducting routine business. When the plaza was discussed, everyone seemed in general agreement that such a project was a good use of those funds, although the cost of a full plaza was pegged at about $177,000, so the Mason funds wouldn’t have covered it all.

I don’t blame Drew or Mel for accomplishing as much as they can within the scope of their sole authority. But when a project will result in a significant change to the city landscape, it should be shared with council and discussed at length with businesses and others who will be directly impacted – even if permission isn’t required, and even if objections for the sake of objecting will ensue.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456, or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.

By Gary Abernathy

[email protected]