Bowling Green Community Action Plan

Group tackles tough topic of BG zoning regulations

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The task assigned to the small group is even more cumbersome than its name – the Bowling Green Community Action Plan Implementation Subcommittee of the Planning Commission. The group held its first meeting last week to begin tackling a review of the city’s zoning ordinance – a process as sensitive as it is complicated. “It’s clear this is really intense and is going to take a lot of work,” said Jeff Betts, chairman of the subcommittee. The last thing the group wants is for residents 20 years from now to say, “Oh my God, what were they thinking,” subcommittee member Mark Hollenbaugh said. With a stack of reviews and recommendations in front of them, Bowling Green Planning Director Heather Sayler agreed that the job is immense. “It’s a lot to digest, that’s for sure,” she said. Council member Bill Herald thanked the subcommittee for its willingness to take on the job. “It’s easy to get paralyzed because there’s so much to do,” he said. “I really appreciate you tackling this.” Zoning is so complex for many reasons. First every rule is interwoven with other rules. So if one regulation is tweaked, it could create the need for changes in many other regulations. “Anything you do with one part is going to affect other parts,” Hollenbaugh said. And second, zoning is touchy because it tells landowners what they can and cannot do with their property. “It’s super important to explain the ‘why’ behind it,” so it doesn’t appear like a conspiracy to keep property owners from doing what they want with their land, Betts said. “Everything needs to be transparent. Everybody needs to know every step of the process,” Hollenbaugh agreed. A report by a consulting firm, Development Strategies from St. Louis, will be presented to City Council in December. After that, the subcommittee will have more to discuss. Members of the subcommittee last week talked about the need to not piecemeal the zoning code. Instead of dealing in haste with an issue when it arises, the group wants to plan ahead. The zoning rules must come first, Betts said, rather than trying to pigeonhole a project into a set of rules. The goal will be to look…


East Siders want to make most of city’s new action plan

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   East Siders want to know exactly how the new Community Action Plan will improve their neighborhoods. How will it help stem the steady decline of housing quality? How will it make landlords better maintain their rentals? Bowling Green City Council members Daniel Gordon and John Zanfardino held a meeting Tuesday evening for their constituents in Wards 1 and 2. The wards are on city’s East Side, which is the primary target of the new Community Action Plan. Many of the residents want to make the most of the plan – not settle for the easiest goals to achieve. Rose Hess objected to some city officials suggesting that the “low hanging fruit” of the very detailed plan be tackled first. She wanted that terminology banned from further discussions. “Let’s go for the high ones,” Hess said. Gordon agreed. “Let’s go as bold as we possibly can.” Those high hanging fruits include rental property certifications, help for homeowners sprucing up their East Side homes, efforts to make the East Side more appealing to families, and plans to make East Wooster more attractive to people entering town. The residents were curious about the proposed rental registration program. The landlord “self-certification” program falls short of rental inspections that some East Siders have sought for years. Both Gordon and Zanfardino said the self-certification process does not go as far as some residents had hoped. “Self-reporting is different than being inspected,” Zanfardino said. September Killy-Knight said the inspections are a matter of safety for renters. And John Roberts said the rental evaluations should not be voluntary. But both Gordon and Zanfardino also know the uphill battle the city has fought and lost in previous attempts to implement some type of rental inspection program. Gordon recalled efforts to license rentals in 1987, when his father was on City Council. Zanfardino said similar attempts were made again about 10 years ago. “Contentious doesn’t really capture it,” he said of opposition from landlords in the city. Though it may not be exactly what some residents want, the rental checklist may have a chance of moving forward, Zanfardino said. “To be honest, I think this has a real good shot,” he said. “I’m hoping the city makes…


BG Community Action Plan to fix up neighborhoods

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green’s leaders got a glimpse of the city’s possible future Wednesday evening. A future of healthy neighborhoods; homes for families, students and everyone in between; a strong business base; access to health and fitness – all adding up to a positive first impression for visitors and prospective residents. But those changes will take lots of time, lots of work, and lots of money. “I’m a big believer in the planning process,” City Council member Bruce Jeffers said after the presentation of the finished Community Action Plan. “When you plant a tree, you don’t plant it for yourself. You plant it for your children and your grandchildren,” Jeffers said. This plan is similar in that it will take decades to implement. The city, university, private business people and citizens will be asked to help by offering their expertise, investments and elbow grease. The CAP, which suggests goals for seven areas of the city, was presented to City Council and the Planning Commission by Adam Rosa, of the Camiros consulting firm. The proposal offered some specific ideas that could benefit the East Side neighborhoods and the community as a whole, such as: Diversify the housing stock, invest in new housing and reinvest in the existing stock. Set up a rental registration program that would help improve the housing conditions with information about rental available to students and others on a data base. Establish a Community Development Corporation to help move along larger projects. Offer small mini-grants of about $5,000 or so, to help neighborhood associations spruce up areas. Change some zoning codes and reduce parking requirements to stimulate reinvestment. Set up a rehabbers network program and a tool lending library. “There’s a lot of power at the neighborhood level,” Rosa said. Create attractive, formal entryways to campus. Build a hike-bike trail along a creek on the East Side of town. Rosa did more than paint a picture for the city officials and citizens at Wednesday meeting. He had photographs of communities that faced similar problems as Bowling Green, and were successful at turning those issues around. For example, South Bend, Indiana, created a beautiful walkable commercial district. Dayton used a Community Development Corporation to transform rundown housing near…


BG block party brings community and campus together

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green’s block party on Saturday met all the qualifications – live music, food, dogs and people of all ages. Spectators sat on straw bales as they watched musicians perform from the makeshift stage, complete with cardboard curtains, in front of the county courthouse. Children played games of giant checkers and got their faces painted. The hungry filled up on Chicago dogs and onion rings. And young and old pedaled along the temporary bike lane along East Court Street. “It’s close to perfect,” said Heather Sayler, city planning director who was in charge of organizing the Court Street Connects event. “We’ve had a constant stream of people since 10 o’clock,” she said. “I don’t think we could ask for anything better.” The block party was the brainchild of the city’s Community Action Plan process. At a series of public meetings, Bowling Green residents were asked what project they wanted to try out first in an effort to improve neighborhoods on the East Side. The block party was top on the list. “This is great,” said Adam Rosa, a principle with Camiros, the consulting firm helping with the Community Action Plan. “It’s amazing how much energy has gone into this. It’s great seeing all the energy.” The goal of Court Street Connects goes far beyond the one-day block party. “When people see changes in their neighborhood, it brings other positive changes,” Rosa said. “It will help with decision making about what we want to do.” Sayler agreed. “This makes people recognize this area could be more,” she said. The event created new and strengthened existing relationships between neighborhood groups, the city and students. “These partnerships will be great,” Sayler said. The event also served its purpose of bringing campus and community together – with all ages attending the block party. “That’s been really cool to see,” Rosa said. For example, the event brought Karen Walters and some young thespians from Horizon Youth Theatre to the event. After performing in front of the courthouse, they checked out the chairs made by BGSU students from recycled wood pallets, they tried out the bike lane, and got some free bike helmets. “I think it’s a nice idea to celebrate the connections”…


Citizens get peek at BG Community Action Plan

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Adam Kirian and Adrian Lowien came to the Community Action Plan open house for two reasons – 10-week-old twins Charlie and Freddie, who attended bundled in blankets. “We wanted to get some input for these little guys as they get older,” Kirian said as he looked at the tiny twins. The couple lives on the East Side of Bowling Green, which is the focus of much of the community action plan. “I’m glad they are trying to clean up the area,” Lowien said. The couple has a home on Clough Street, with several neighboring rental properties leased to BGSU students. “Sometimes they are really good kids and sometimes you want to call the cops every night,” Kirian said. Overall, the young couple liked what they saw at the community plan open house held Tuesday evening in the atrium of the Wood County Courthouse. “We like a lot of it,” Lowien said, especially the emphasis on open spaces. “I’d like to see more green spaces and parks. That would encourage more families.” From the other side of town was Beverly Miner, who also approved of the plans presented on big charts. “The theory is good,” she said, then added, “But it takes money to do things.” Miner particularly liked the proposals to upgrade housing, work on bettering the relationship between the city and the campus, putting a bike path on Court Street, and planning a Court Street festival. In fact, she’d like to see each area of the city have festivals. “I think the East Side kind of gets a bad rep,” she said. “I think we’ve got a great town.” Miner also thought the community planning process benefited from bringing in an outside firm as a consultant. “I’ve been impressed with the people here,” she said of the Camiros group from Chicago. “They can come in with an objective view.” Jill Carr, who served on the city’s future land use committee, appreciated seeing the effort taken to the next level. “It’s really encouraging.” “I love the emphasis on the East Side,” she said. “We can’t forget about the rest of the community, but that’s where we need to start.” Carr also appreciates the Court Street effort. “It’s…