Committees tackle design review, visitors bureau, Colony

By Gary Abernathy - [email protected]

Three Hillsboro City Council committee meetings Monday night resulted in recommendations to proceed with a plan to remodel the front of the Colony Theatre, explore the possibility of giving more money to the Highland County Visitors Bureau, and ask the city’s Design Review Board to post more information online and share more details about the board’s standards.

Attacking the problem of junk cars sitting idly around the city, and asking for more information about the Hillsboro community improvement corporation were also among the topics discussed, as successive meetings were held of the Finance Committee, Property Maintenance and Restoration Committee and a joint meeting of the property and Community Enhancement committees at the municipal courtroom at the Highland County Justice Center.

At one point during the evening, a discussion between some committee members and Mayor Drew Hastings grew contentious, particularly over committee members’ questioning of Design Review Board members and the subject of the CIC.

But as the meetings drew to a close, Dick Donley, chair of the Finance Committee, said that airing disagreements was good sometimes, and – after Hastings said council members don’t bring their questions to him – acknowledged that “maybe we ought to ask more questions” between council meetings.

At the regular council meeting earlier this month, three members – Tracy Aranyos, Claudia Klein and Ann Morris – voted against approving the names of the members of the Design Review Board submitted by the mayor. Aranyos had earlier said the board should be abolished, and she, Klein and Morris said their votes against the members were consistent with that opinion.

Aranyos, who is not a member of any of the committees that met Monday but was in attendance, again repeated her position that the review board is unnecessary and her goal is to “try to make it simple.”

But rather than move toward discontinuing the board, members of the joint committees – the property committee headed by Morris and the enhancement committee headed by Klein – asked that more information be shared about the board’s procedures and activities.

Design board members Mary Todd Hardeman and Avery Applegate agreed to do that, and answered several questions about the board’s existence and purpose, and its efforts to work with business owners who make changes to the exteriors of structures located in the city’s historic business district. They said the purpose of the board is to make sure the historic appearance of the uptown district is maintained, and offered examples of how they have compromised to help business owners stay within their budgets.

Hastings said he felt committee members were putting the board “on trial,” and said he would not let the board be disbanded. Becky Wilkin, a member of the Community Enhancement committee, responded that Hastings had not been “forthcoming” enough, including about the actions and purpose of the CIC or that “you were a member” of that group. She questioned the mayor’s comment that he would not allow the Design Review Board to be abolished.

“I’m all for council asking questions,” said Hastings, but he said council members don’t come to the city building to ask for information. He said council was spending more time on a relatively obscure design board than it does on bigger issues facing the city.

Some committee members disagreed and said they do ask questions and seek information, including from Todd Wilkin, the safety and service director.

Hastings said later that he welcomed questions, and agreed to work with the design board and the CIC to provide more information. He offered to put together a presentation for council on the CIC with other members of that organization in attendance.

The joint committees agreed to leave the Design Review Board issue in committee while the board made available more information about its procedures.

Also left in the Finance Committee was the question of providing more funding to the county visitors bureau. Hastings has asked council to put a higher percentage of the city’s lodging toward the bureau, taking it from about $3,000 a year to roughly $15,000 annually. Also on hand Monday was Tom Horst, the county commissioner who is president of the visitors bureau board.

Committee members noted that the legality of the fee collected by the city has been questioned, since the county collects a lodging tax. Ohio law says a lodging tax cannot be collected by both the county and the city, but Fred Beery, the city law director, has defined the city’s collection as a fee, not a tax.

“The law director feels the county (collection) is unconstitutional, and the county feels ours is unconstitutional,” said Donley.

Committee members agreed to consider the request to recommend appropriating more funds to the visitors bureau, but asked for a plan showing how the funds would be used. Morris said she would meet with either Kim Abbott, the city’s representative on the visitor bureau’s board, or its new director, Destiny Bryson.

The property committee discussed the demolition of the Colony, asking the safety director several questions about the structural integrity of the front of the building as it impacts adjoining businesses.

Some council members have urged having public restrooms as part of the Colony’s remodeling, and Justin Harsha presented pamphlets describing a restroom kiosk called a “Portland Loo” which some cities have utilized on sidewalks in public areas.

The committee voted to recommend moving forward with creating a plan to renovate the front part of the theater, including from the façade through a proposed small plaza that would adjoin a parking lot that would be created when the rear of the theater is demolished.

Committee members also recommended adding junk cars to city ordinances governing unkempt properties, a move that would authorize the city to tow away vehicles that are not operable and that no one is making an effort to repair.

Six of the seven voting members of council were on hand at the committee meetings Monday. Bill Alexander, a member of the Finance Committee, was absent.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.

By Gary Abernathy

[email protected]

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