Affordable housing pitch at Yellow Springs soccer site owned by school causes debate

A Yellow Springs nonprofit group’s proposal to build affordable housing on land owned by the school district has generated backlash from local residents.

Yellow Springs Home Inc. recently presented at a Yellow Springs school board meeting, outlining a plan to compete for approximately $15 million in federal tax credits to build a 50-unit family rental project at Morgan Fields. The organization is seeking Ohio Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.

The Morgan Fields site is at the southwest corner of Dayton Street and East Enon Road on the west edge of Yellow Springs, on land currently used as soccer fields adjacent to Yellow Springs High School and Greene County Educational Service Center.

The request comes after Home Inc. proposed building affordable housing on the site of the Center for Business and Education last fall. The Center for Business and Education, approximately 20 acres on the northwest corner of Dayton Street and East Enon Road, is currently listed for sale at $2.5 million. However, the Center is not zoned for residential uses, and would require the co-owners — the Village of Yellow Springs, Cresco Labs, and Antioch College — to come together to change the covenants of the property, one of which is prohibition of rental housing.

“These ongoing conversations reveal there is no such thing as a perfect site,” Home Inc. said in a lengthy statement to the Dayton Daily News. “Doing what the market cannot and will not do requires compromise, flexibility, and collaboration. To meet this pressing public need, our goal is not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. That said, we recognize that each potential site has considerable constraints that need to be addressed before the community — and the bodies that represent them — are ready to move forward.”

The school board voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve “the exploration of the Home Inc. request to sell three acres of district property for affordable housing,” with Amy Magnus, Rebecca Potter and school board President Judith Hempfling in favor, and Dorothée Bouquet and Amy Bailey dissenting, voting again on the same lines on purchasing another three acres to replace it.

Prior to the vote of the second measure, Bouquet pointed out that the district was considering the expenditure without having secured the district’s operating levy in November.

“I don’t know which piece of land we’re talking about, I don’t know what money will be used for that, and I don’t know which monies will be used to make them functional as soccer fields,” she said. “I am also uncomfortable having that conversation before figuring out our operating levy. How can we, as a board that is supposed to manage the functioning and finances of a school district, talk about exploring the purchase of land when we don’t know how we’re going to pay our teachers two years from now?”

Further school board discussion centered on finding external funding for legal exploration, as the district cannot use public funds to do it.

Residents at the school board meeting Tuesday and residents who wrote into the school board expressed a mix of support and opposition on the proposed plan.

“(Affordable housing) is not the role of this board,” said resident and girls’ soccer coach Jonina Kelley. “Those fields have had extensive time and money put into them. They are a huge part of this community, and I don’t think at any point of the discussions that have taken place so far has the value of that been driven home.”

“Unfortunately, I think this ugly situation that we’re in now is a result of really poor communication,” Kelley added.

“This once-in-thirty-years grant is our generation’s chance to say we want more than virtue signaling,” resident Matthew Raska wrote to the school board. “If it’s a choice between a place for my kid to play soccer, or someone else’s kid to have a warm bed, I’m picking the warm bed.”

In a letter to the school board, Yellow Springs Soccer Inc. and the Yellow Springs Recreational Soccer, wrote that their leadership had not been consulted on the sale of fields they use and maintain regularly. The recreational soccer program serves between 250 and 300 young athletes seasonally who play on Morgan Fields, Yellow Springs Soccer President Sarah Wallis wrote.

“It is clear from the absence of discussion, conversation, and information about the proposal being considered, and the omission of long-time organizations involved in the Morgan Community Fields, that the impact of the proposal has not been fully considered,” Wallis said.

Additionally, several residents raised transparency concerns with an executive session on April 29 that had been conducted between the school board and St. Mary Development Corporation.

“The reason I thought it made sense is because there were conversations with two private landowners regarding this alternative space for soccer, and that is not something we’re going to discuss publicly,” Hempfling said Tuesday. “It was not an attempt not to be transparent.”

“The issue of selling school property sits front and center, causing yet more delays and chaos,” said Dino Pallotta, referring to a 7.9-mill, $26.3 million levy for new schools that voters approved last fall. “Let’s stop what we’re doing, focus on the new shiny penny, and forget about the business at hand: building the school.”

After the April 29 meeting, the school board was made aware that the entire Enon Road campus is collateral for the money the district borrowed to build and renovate their new school facilities, Hempfling said. It will therefore be necessary to see if the district can remove three acres from the agreement regarding the borrowed money.

Yellow Springs is severely lacking in rental housing, Home Inc. Executive Director Emily Seibel said during her presentation at the school board meeting Tuesday. A Yellow Springs Housing Needs Assessment, formed in 2018, also indicated that more than 43% of all renters in Yellow Springs are “housing cost-burdened,” meaning they pay more than 30% of their income to housing costs.

More than 300 households are on the Home, Inc. rental interest list, the agency said.

From January to April, Yellow Springs Home Inc. met with stakeholders in the village to begin looking at sites that would fit the needed criteria, Seibel said, including the village, Miami Twp., the school board, and the Yellow Springs Development Corporation. The group found sites to further investigate based on size, conservation easements, deed restrictions, access to utilities/infrastructure, and tax credit Opportunity Map scoring.

If a “viable path forward” is found, Yellow Springs Home, Inc., with St. Mary Development Corporation, will begin the rezoning and tax credit application process, which will cost about $50,000, according to documents from the agency.

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