Saturday, October 13, 2012

Should the village be in the real estate business?

The Yellow Springs News reported this week that village council is considering authorizing the village manager to bid on the vacant parcel of land located at 150 Railroad Street. That is the lot right next to 108 Dayton Street that the Center for the Arts Steering Committee once considered buying, to the extent that they actually purchased a one-year option to buy it that they ultimately let lapse. I am somewhat familiar with this land, as my office is in 108 and I have been parking on it for almost 10 years.

When I moved into that office the landlord told me that he had a 99 year lease on eight parking spaces there, and one of them was mine. At that time, there was gravel on only a small portion of the lot. After a few years, someone, graveled over the entire lot and it be came de facto parking for 25-30 cars. Once that happened, the tourists took notice and there were times I would arrive at my office to do real work and find that my parking space was occupied by someone who had come here to hang out. Bitter..? Admittedly so.

So, imagine my surprise when I showed up at my office one day, recently, and found the lot cordoned off with yellow police-looking tape, and a sign that said "authorized parking only." Am I not authorized? I wondered. I decided not to take a chance on getting my car towed. So, now I park wherever I can find a spot: in the Bryan Center lot; next to the train station; over by the post office. The loss of all those parking spaces has put noticeable pressure on parking all over town. Yeah, you guessed it: bitter doesn't even begin to describe it. But, I understand that I have no legal standing here and am powerless to do anything about it.

At this point, someone is already looking for the "comment" button to tell me that I should be walking or biking, instead of driving. That might be a good answer for someone else, but, for personal reasons, neither one of those is an option for me. So, let's not go there.

If the village were to purchase that land, the article in the News opines, they might open the lot back up for parking until they decide what to do with it. That should be welcome news to me - back to the status quo. And, knowing how this town is, whatever the village proposed to do with the land, thereafter, would meet with stiff resistance by at least 50% of the population - parking in perpetuity and plenty of material for the Blog's chief cartoonist - a win/win situation.

But do we really want that? Do we want to be in the real estate business? Do we want to own a lot that nobody has been able to unload since it was the site of a grain elevator back when trains used to run through here? The Center for the Arts decision to purchase an option on that lot was controversial in itself. Most thought the lot too narrow for construction of a useful building. Has the lot gotten wider? Is there something long and narrow that can fit in there that will add to the economy of this town? Am I missing something? Do we want to spend the taxpayer's money on this? That Joni Mitchell tune from back in the 60s notwithstanding, perhaps that parcel really is only suited for a parking lot. Maybe it's been trying to tell us that for all these years.

Unless the village has a clear cut reason for purchasing that land, such as paving it over to create a permanent municipal parking lot, I don't think council should authorize the village manager to bid on it. Village council meets on Oct. 15. The auction is on Oct.18. I'd hate to see them make a decision that was influenced by the time pressure involved.

But, a nice, paved-over parking lot with clearly marked parking spaces that could handle maybe 50 cars wouldn't be all that bad.



Les Groby said...

The worst thing that could happen to that lot would be for it to be put in the hands of our incompetent, glacial, anti-prosperity Village Council. That would guarantee that the lot is never put to any useful or economically productive purpose. They would find a way to screw up even a parking lot. It is a problematic parcel to put to good use, but it would be much better to let a private owner who might someday come up with a good use for it get a good deal on it at the auction than to put it in the hands of Council who will do nothing or worse with it.

Maureen Lynch said...

It's a bad idea in so many ways: another quickie decision with no community comment, an unknown source and cost, and council overreaching into real estate development. Council does NOT need to control everything in town. We didn't elect them to do this.

Virgil Hervey said...

This from Judith Hempfling:


I tried to send this comment regarding your blog piece on 108 Dayton Street. It didn't seem to take so am sending it by email.



"In a country and a community that claims to value democratic governance, I'm amazed that it is socially and politically acceptable to belittle, degrade, and insult the people who have been elected to represent the citizens with the sort of name calling that Les Groby does in his comment above. Like the anti-government rhetoric of the tea party, this kind of commentary weakens our democracy derisive name by insulting personal attack. Should it be an acceptable part of our political discourse or of the discourse on this small community blog?"

Virgil Hervey said...


I moderate the comments, and thought Les Groby's comment was acceptable. It is not a personal attack on an individual. While these are not words I necessarily would have chosen, I do think that strongly worded criticism of a public body is acceptable in a free society. If this were Russia, Les would be jailed, and so would I.

Virgil Hervey said...

Another comment from Judith Hempfling:

I'm not suggesting censorship by government. Newspaper editors and blog moderators on the other hand do set standards regarding personal attacks. If Les's comments are not personal attacks I don't know what is. They are personal attacks on five specific individuals. And whether a moderator of a small community blog should allow that kind of name calling should be a discussion for the community members who use the blog.

I am arguing that citizens show respect for democratic government if they value it, by sticking to debating the issues rather than name calling. It may feel good to vent your spleen, but it also discourages participation by citizens because it degrades democratic government itself. It degrades the people who put in many hours of hard work on your behalf. If the members of the Council are as incompetent and stupid as Les suggests, and if insulting us enriches our public dialogue, I really do suggest that you become candidates and find out first hand how helpful such commentary really is to a good decision making process.

The main problem regarding these personal attacks is not that they hurt my feelings or those of other Council members. By this point in time, we see them for the cheap and meaningless comments that they are. The main problem with personal attacks is the impact they have on the body politic. Again, I think such public commentary is corrosive to our democracy. It is a cheap way for citizens to feel superior to somebody else. And, it is one more nail in the coffin of our democracy if it convinces ordinary citizens not to get involved in a knowledgeable and meaningful way while the monied interests further dominate the process.

Judith Hempfling

Les Groby said...

@Judith—You are not only "suggesting" government censorship, you are attempting it. When you send a publisher an email "suggesting" that the comments of a specific individual are not "acceptable", it is a different matter than a private citizen making such a "suggestion" because, as the head of our local government, you are in a position to cause problems for those who reject your "suggestions". Coming from a private citizen, "whether a moderator of a small community blog should allow that kind of name calling should be a discussion for the community members who use the blog" would simply be a call for discussion, but coming from the President of Council, that statement implies a threat that you will use your position to interfere with Mr. Hervey's business if he does not comply with your "suggestions", whether you intend to imply that or not. Fortunately Mr. Hervey chose to share your message with us and reject your "suggestion", but others might not. From now on, if I find I'm being obstructed from expressing my opinion about Council on other forums or in other ways, I will have to wonder if that is the result of your working behind the scenes to silence me. I did notice that my emails about the "anti-fracking" ordinance did not appear in the Council meeting packets, so perhaps you are already doing that.

If you are genuinely concerned about promoting public participation in government, consider the effects of what you are doing here—dismissing strongly worded criticism of performance in office as "personal attacks" and "name calling"; attempting guilt by association by spuriously mentioning the Tea Party; implying that expressing negative opinions of particular government officials is "anti-government"; putting words in my mouth ("stupid"). Do you really believe that warning against strong disagreement with policy and strong criticism of performance by announcing that you will take it personally and work to silence it will encourage people to speak out on public issues? Will not pre-dismissing criticism as "cheap and meaningless" discourage comments from those who are not in your faction?

Excuse me for saying so myself, but if what you want is for citizens to be engaged in a "knowledgeable and meaningful way", I should be your poster boy. I have followed local issues and government activities very closely for decades. There are very few citizens in Yellow Springs as knowledgeable about local affairs as I am. Be careful what you wish for—Council would get a lot more strong criticism if more citizens were paying attention as closely as I do.

Anonymous said...

Characterizing Les Groby's comment as a personal attack and damaging to democracy is really over the top. To see an elected official demonize a critic and a publisher by attribution as Judith has done (...."cheap way for citizens to feel superior to somebody else"..."cheap and meaningless" "nail in the coffin of democracy"...)THAT's really corrosive to democracy!

Stand your ground Virgil. And Les. Your blog and your commentary provide valuable information and insight and you should be thanked, not spanked.

Sue Abendroth