The Urbana City Council unanimously passed a resolution to authorize the administration to enter into a memorandum of agreement with DriveOhio to participate in the autonomous vehicle pilot program, and to promote autonomous vehicle testing sites within the city, at their regular meeting on Tuesday. Council member Dwight Paul took the resolution off the table for discussion, saying that when he put it on the table at the last meeting he was not necessarily opposed to the resolution but wanted more information about it.
“The reason I asked to table this at the last meeting was because I really didn’t have enough information. I wasn’t exactly sure what we were trying to do,” he said. “We covered some of this information at the work session; it was very informative. We’re not agreeing to any programs yet, we’re not agreeing to any money, we’re not agreeing to any facilities changes. Basically all we’re doing is saying if you guys want to talk to DriveOhio, we’d love to have you talk to DriveOhio, and then we’ll go through there. Any process or any progress moving forward to do any projects would come through council anyway, so we’d still have the right to go back and say we like this idea or we don’t like this idea and here’s why. In reality, this is just both parties saying that we’d love to talk about it. Personally I’m kind of fascinated to see what kind of ideas we can come up with, because the technology is advancing so fast that it will be very interesting. I’m all for it, I think we should go ahead with this and see where it leads.”
Andrew Bremer, managing director of global affairs for DriveOhio, also appeared at this council meeting to explain why his organization was seeking to coordinate with local municipalities.
“DriveOhio was created by an executive order by then-governor John Kasich is January of 2018 to be the state’s one-stop shop for anything related to smart transportation,” said Bremer. “‘Smart’ being anything related to technology and all those data points that are produced with technology – including, increasingly, our automobiles on our roadways as well as unmanned aerial systems, also called drones. We try to use all the available smart technology to see how it can safely impact the lives of Ohioans in a safe, responsible manner by saving lives, reducing congestion and improving reliability in our transportation system.”
Bremer said that DriveOhio was also concerned with workforce development and how they could train people to operate the new equipment, and gave examples of other cities they were currently working with. He said that the current memorandum of agreement involved no money, and that their preference at the state level was for companies to have a lasting presence in the communities where they tested, as opposed to leaving behind equipment.
“I like the idea,” said council member Doug Hoffman. “Obviously, this is just to kick us off and try to find opportunities, and I think if the city of Urbana can do its part to be involved in a cutting edge testing process, or maybe even receive some growth out of it, I’m all for having the discussion, and as opportunities come up we’ll reconvene and go from there.”
An ordinance sponsored by council member Ray Piper that would have included lawn clippings in the city’s definition of litter was defeated 4-2 with only Piper and council member Gene Fields supporting it.
“This is something I’ve been working on for quite a while and I’ve got a lot of complaints,” said Piper. “After doing some investigation into it for the last three years I feel that it is a safety issue for people on motorcycles, scooters, bicycles or walking, and this stuff is going down into the sewers.”
Council member Paul said his concern was about how to enforce the ordinance, and asked if there might be a better way to solve the problem through a safety ordinance rather than enforcing criminal penalties. Council member Pat Thackery asked if there was a time limit so that neighbors having a dispute wouldn’t call the police on one another the moment they were finished mowing.
After the ordinance failed to pass, Council President Marty Hess advised that it was always possible to revisit the idea and try to pass it in a different way.
This meeting began with a public hearing over property owner Linda Rivera’s application for rezoning so that she could operate a cafe and spa at her property on 861 South Main St. The property currently is used for apartments.
At a Jan. 28 meeting, the planning commission voted 4-1 to deny the request. Zoning Officer Adam Moore said that approving this rezoning request would create an island of B-2 zoning not contiguous to any other business district – commonly known as spot zoning. He noted that council rejected a rezoning application for properties in the same area in 2017, that the city had commissioned a neighborhood study plan in that area, and that rezoning the property would increase the building’s nonconformity regarding setback restrictions from the property boundaries.
“It is our belief that more B-2 district land is needed within the city of Urbana to satisfy the commercial growth pressure we have felt over the last few years, however, the comprehensive plan is very specific and encourages commercial development to happen within established growth centers within the city and not haphazardly throughout other districts,” said Moore.
Rivera owns eight apartments in Champaign County, including three in the South Main Street property that she purchased in 2002, two of which are currently occupied. She submitted the application after considering other uses for the almost 1,900-square-foot residential structure built in 1880. Several neighbors spoke against this rezoning at the planning commission meeting, but none chose to speak at the public hearing.
“I’ve gotten quite a few calls about it from a lot of the neighbors, and they’re opposed at this point due to parking and various other things, along with it not being contiguous to a B-2,” said council member Fields. “We’ve all tried to stop spot zoning, so at this time I just don’t think it would be a good fit.”
Council member Cledis Scott asked why the auditor’s website said that there were only two bedrooms in the residence when Rivera claimed there were six bedrooms. Council members Pat Thackery and Ray Piper said they were opposed to any zoning changes until the neighborhood study plan was complete.
Also at this meeting:
– Council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing the director of administration to prepare and submit final application to participate in the Federal Aviation Administration airport improvement program, and to execute contracts as required.
– Council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing the mayor to apply to the Champaign County Commission under the fiscal year 2019 Community Development Block Grant community development program and to pursue other economic development and public infrastructure-related CDBG programs.
– Boy Scouts from Troop 11 led the Pledge of Allegiance at this meeting, then asked questions of some of the city administrators in order to earn points toward their Arrow of Light badge.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304