Downtown revitalization effort features historic districts

By Michael Seffrin - [email protected]

SIDNEY — The downtown revitalization effort that’s currently underway proposes an expanded historic district intended to save historic structures, Sidney City Council learned Monday night.

The Downtown Revitalization Task Force updated council on its efforts during council’s work session.

The meeting also included the second of two public hearings on energy aggregation as the city prepares for the voters’ decision on the issue at the polls Nov. 3.

The task force provided council with examples of historic districts that would include north and south districts and a downtown district in the center.

The task force listed the following reasons for creating the districts:

• Includes other vital businesses, housing and parks.

• Provides the opportunity to apply for more funding.

• Proactively divides the downtown area into phases for revitalization.

• Separates the districts from the rest of the city when it comes to codes and design standards.

• Creates a sense of “place” in a long-forgotten area of town.

• Will potentially “save” several of our historic structures.

“I think this is crucial to the future of the community,” said Mayor Mike Barhorst, who thanked Amy Zorn, chairwoman of the task force, and the group.

Barhorst asked why the group proposed expanding the revitalization area to include the three districts.

Zorn said the most important factor in that decision was an attempt to save historic structures in those areas. “The last thing we want to do is limit ourselves,” added Mike Dodds, a member of the task force’s Strategic Planning Committee.

Barhorst, recalling what happened during an earlier downtown revitalization effort, said “you may be frustrated” if you tackle too large an area.

Vice Mayor Mardie Milligan asked what the building restrictions would be in a historic district. Zorn said that’s still being explored. Milligan added a historic district could help the city deal with code violations.

Dodds said the downtown organization plans to incorporate under the name Sidney Alive! The Strategic Planning Committee has recommended that the task force appoint the board officers. The board is to have three standing positions consisting of one county commissioner (to be appointed by the commissioners), one City Council member (to be appointed by council), and the city manager. There will be a president, vice president, treasurer and secretary. The board will have nine to 15 people.

Prior to the work session, council conducted the second public hearing on energy aggregation. The hearings are part of the effort to educate voters about issues they will decide at the polls Nov. 3. Two ballot issues concerning energy aggregation for electricity and natural gas will be on the ballot. Voters will decide whether the city should participate in the energy aggregation program.

With aggregation, a municipality combines the retail electric and/or natural gas load of its residential and small commercial constituents and negotiates a rate with a competitive energy supplier to provide the customers’ energy supply. The residents benefit because the larger, aggregated load permits the municipality to negotiate a rate with the competitive supplier that is lower than the traditional utility’s current service rate for individual customers.

In addition to Sidney, other area towns proposing energy aggregation programs are Russia, Botkins, Fort Loramie and Bradford.

Affordable Gas & Electric (AGE) is the consultant assisting the city with establishing electric and natural gas aggregation programs.

AGE representatives stressed at the hearing that the city has no financial stake in the program. It is an effort to enable consumers to save money on their energy bills. If voters approve the city’s participation in the program, AGE will negotiate with energy suppliers and bring a proposal to City Council. If council doesn’t like the proposal, it can reject it, the AGE reps said.

Consumers also have the option to opt out of the program if they prefer to buy their energy under a different contract.

The AGE reps said they are continuing their education efforts, which have include stories in local newspapers, information on social media, and presentations to groups.

In other business:

• Gary Clough, assistant city manager/public works director, said the Port Jefferson Road improvement project still is on schedule to be done by the end of October. He said reseeding would be done next spring.

• Barbara Dulworth, community services director, said demolition of the old train depot at the northwest corner of North Street and West Avenue is progressing, with debris being removed as the work continues.

• City Manager Mark Cundiff reminded council about the groundbreaking for the water source project. It will be held near the terminus of the Canal Feeder Trail in Graceland Cemetery on Wednesday, Oct. 14, at 10:30 a.m.

• Cundiff reported the dispatchers’ union had voted to accept the city’s latest contract officer. Council will consider a resolution to approve it at its next meeting.

• Cundiff said a joint application of the city and Shelby County for a CHIP housing improvement grant had been approved for a total of $934,000.

• Council went into an executive session to discuss appointment and employment of a public official.

By Michael Seffrin

[email protected]

The writer may be contacted at 937-538-4823 and on Twitter @MikeSeffrinSDN.

The writer may be contacted at 937-538-4823 and on Twitter @MikeSeffrinSDN.