Middletown Regional Airport

City of Middletown Statement

There have been a number of statements made about the Middletown City Council decision to improve safety by relocating the drop zone (DZ) for skydivers landing on airport property.

Start Skydiving ownership and supporters strongly oppose this measure and have made a number of claims. Much of the information being shared by the business owner is either inaccurate or not the whole story. There have been accusations and much discussion on social media and in media interviews. We want to clear up misconceptions and give the public the city’s perspective.

Start Skydiving has historically monopolized many of the assets of the airport by wearing three different hats: Airport Manager, Fixed Base Operator, and tenant business owner operating at the airport. In recent years, the hats of Airport Manager and Fixed Base Operator have been returned to the City. The City can understand that Start Skydiving is not used to simply operating as a tenant business owner at the airport, but it is simply false that the council has not reached out to the ownership of Start Skydiving.

Since at least June of 2019, the city of Middletown has made several attempts to engage with Start Skydiving. We have a record of the letters sent outlining the DZ relocation and other matters involving non-compliance with leases and other agreements, inviting engagement and notifying the company of steps that would be taken. Start has not responded to the City staff’s attempts to search for reasonable alternatives but has instead proclaimed on social media and to the Council that the Council should just leave things as they are. The Council and City staff are very disappointed in the lack of response from Start Skydiving. But more than that, Start Skydiving has absolutely refused to engage on alternative locations instead resting on “where we’ve been for 10 years has been fine, why would we change it?”

To comply with a 2017 grant from the FAA, Middletown is updating its Airport Master Plan and Airport Layout Plan. The final plan must place all assets and layouts for the airport. Drop zones must be mapped. FAA Circular 90-66B, Section 12.5.4 states: “When a DZ has been established at an airport, parachutists are expected to land within the DZ. At airports that have not established DZs, parachutists should avoid landing on runways, taxiways, aprons and their associated safety areas.”

Before making the decision to relocate the drop zone, Middletown City Council and City officials engaged experts and advisors and reached out to the Federal Aviation Administrations (FAA) for recommendations and considerations. There is complete consensus that it is unsafe for skydivers to land on the runway or to cross the runway, which they currently do to access the Start Skydiving hangar. Separating the landing zones for aircraft and skydivers is safer for everyone. The new location is supported by the airport manager, hired consultants, and the airport commission. Council heard input from all the affected stakeholders (including Start Skydiving) and made the decision it believes will be in the best interest of the airport as a whole and all of its users. The only one complaining about the decision is Start Skydiving.

Consultants with expertise in airport safety advised on where a new DZ should be located on airport property and that the new DZ provides skydivers with more time to adjust their landings. The downwind issue that has been raised by Start Skydiving is not valid, according to expert opinions.

The Council reviewed all materials and gave conscientious consideration to options, then took the advice and made the decision to relocate the DZ. Council made the decision at the May 5 public meeting following a series of public meetings at which the issue was discussed and which were attended by Start Skydiving.

FAA regulations make local airport the main arbiter of safety concerns. The Middletown Regional Airport has the discretion to designate DZs. The airport is public space required by law to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The airport is in compliance. One of the claims made my Mr. Hart is that those with disabilities will no longer be able to participate in skydiving. The city is very disappointed that after more than a year of attempts to work with Start Skydiving, this topic has not been raised until now. Nonetheless, the City is certainly open to exploring reasonable suggestions to accommodate those with disabilities.

This is not a matter of the city intending to harm Start Skydiving or any other business. The decision was made to improve safety for all airport users, improve the airport’s role as a driver of economic development and comply with the FAA grant requirements for a master plan and layout plan. Middletown welcomes everyone to the airport, including those with recreational purposes such as skydiving.

It is very disappointing that Start Skydiving and supporters have resorted to personal attacks and allegations about council members’ integrity. The City Council and City authorities have approached this matter in a professional and responsible way, including reviewing all materials, including input from the City Airport Commission as well as Start Skydiving, and seeking advice from experts.

The City Council welcomes input from any resident. Our council members are heavily involved in the community and elected to their positions by the public. It is unacceptable and frankly cruel to make the personal attacks that have been posted on social media.

Although the City’s intent is not to run Start Skydiving away from the airport, the City does need to take a broader perspective than just the interests of Start Skydiving in making its decisions regarding the future of the airport. The City has not told Start Skydiving that it may not continue operations at the airport, we have simply asked the company to respect our obligation to map the future of the airport, in part by determining the safest and most beneficial location for DZs on the airport property. We have plenty of space at the airport to accommodate many different aeronautical uses and are committed to continuing to provide space on the airport for interested operators to perform skydiving jumps. The City is even now preparing the relocated DZs for future use by Start Skydiving or any other interested skydiving group.

Citizens with questions may contact Acting City Manager Susan Cohen, susanc@cityofmiddletown.org or council members. We ask for courtesy and will respond courteously and honestly.

Housing Meeting – July 26

The Housing Committee met on July 26th and discussed the City’s residential properties that are located within the “buffer zones” surrounding our largest industrial zoned area that includes AK Steel. The buffer zones that have been identified are those residential properties located within 500 feet and 1,000 feet of the heavy industrial area.

“Buffer Zones” are defined as areas created to provide space between land uses or developments to separate potentially harmful impacts of one or more uses onto another. In the case of Middletown we are specifically concerned with our heavy industrial zoned properties and their impacts on our surrounding residential communities and uses.

Buffer zones are an important tool for the Committee in regards to the quality of life for our residents. Can people live comfortably alongside heavy industry? If so, how close? If not, what are our next steps to resolve this issue? Determining appropriate buffer zones from our existing industry will affect our City’s future housing development and commercial developments.

Today when planning a City there would never be heavy industrial uses placed directly next to residential uses without some sort of required separation for safety. Buffer zones shield housing from industrial off-site impacts and nuisances such as sound, odor, air quality, etc. The separation between incompatible uses can be achieved by having commercial uses located between, restricting motor vehicle access, increasing setbacks, requiring additional landscaping, restricting signs, and in some cases by requiring additional information and proof of mitigation from factories that may cause potentially harmful outputs from production.

The presentation provided to the Committee gave a closer look at the properties located within close proximity of our heavy industrial area. The areas surrounding the industrial zone were divided into ten different snapshot areas. The group reviewed each area in terms of the existing housing stock, median home value, existing conditions, and housing/zoning code violations. The information gained at this meeting will assist the group as we move forward to our next topic area of code enforcement.

For more information about the meeting or to view the presentation and materials discussed at the meeting, please click the link below.

https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/487/Housing-Information

July 12 Housing Meeting – Vacant Residential Land

The July 12 Housing Committee meeting focused on vacant residential land. Through the housing and foreclosure crisis and the recession, homes went abandoned and after sitting empty for several years, many became blighted in our neighborhoods.

Through state grants given to County Landbanks, the City of Middletown has removed approximately 500 blighted homes during the past decade. While removing blight and places where crime are occurring is a good thing, in this case, we created a problem as we solved a problem.

We punched holes throughout many neighborhoods, leaving blank empty lots scattered throughout the neighborhoods. Not only did they serve no purpose at this point,  but we also had to mow them as a city at a cost of about $250,000 per year to keep our vacant lots from blighting the neighborhood. And… of course now there were no property taxes coming in where the house used to be and no potential for future income tax.

We’ve had various programs to sell vacant lots to the neighbor next door, and we’ve sold off several lots each year. Bottom line, however, is that we still have hundreds of vacant lots and no plan to do anything with them except mow them. While removing immediate blight is not a terrible short term strategy, leaving grassy residential lots indefinitely is not a long term answer.

Other communities have utilized these lots for many different purposes. Bigger lots can have in-fill construction to build a new house on the now vacant lot. Other smaller lots have been utilized for neighborhood basketball courts, green space, pocket parks, public art and cultural exhibits, walking trails and community gardens.

I gave the example below of how we could create a flow chart that led us to the proper use of vacant residential lots. We discussed the pros and cons and the chart below is for discussion purposes only. It is a concept that we will develop more clearly as part of the new policy.

Vacant Land Chart

As always, if you wish to see the meeting or the materials that we are reviewing for discussion, you can view everything at the link below.

https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/487/Housing-Information

June 28 Housing Meeting – Vacant Residential Housing

The Housing Committee met again on June 28th to discuss vacant residential housing.  According to the US Census, Middletown still has over 3,000 vacant housing units as of 2016 (the last numbers available).  While there are many legitimate reasons for a house to be vacant, (house is for sale, rentals between tenants, etc.) there are still a number of vacant homes with no activity throughout the city.

The Ohio Fire Code and our own Property Maintenance Code require that vacant houses be boarded to prevent unauthorized entry. Under the property maintenance code, houses that are boarded up more than one year without activity are subject to demolition. We have never been that aggressive enforcing that provision of the code.

We continue to have more vacant property than the rest of Butler County and Ohio as a whole. Middletown lists 14.8% of our housing as vacant. Butler County is at 9.6%. Ohio is at 10.6%. Translating percentages to actual homes, if we wanted to look more like the rest of Butler County and Ohio, we would need to re-occupy another 1,000 houses currently sitting vacant.

We talked about the balance between an individual owner’s property rights to keep their code compliant property empty and pay their property taxes versus the city’s interest in having occupied neighborhoods paying income tax.

If you re-occupied 1,000 of those homes and each home produced the median household income for Middletown of $38,898, then those vacant homes could be producing another $600-700,000 in income tax each year if they were occupied. That’s another 3 streets a year we could repave.

Over 80 Ohio cities have vacant property ordinances of some type. Some have no fees and only require registration. Others impose significant fees each year and require a crime prevention plan and reoccupation plan as part of the ordinance.

There was a good discussion at this meeting, trying to find the balance of neighborhood improvement against individual property rights. We’ll tie the issues identified into our overall housing policy as we move through all of the various topics impacting our neighborhoods.

As always, if you wish to see the meeting or the materials that we are reviewing for discussion, you can view everything at the link below.

https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/487/Housing-Information

 

Housing Meeting June 14th – Tax Delinquent Housing

Our Housing Committee meeting on June 14th focused on Tax Delinquent Property within the City of Middletown.  According to the Butler County Auditor, there are 1276 parcels in Middletown which are subject to potential tax foreclosure for failure to timely pay property taxes.   The map looks like this….

Delinquent taxes

Those 1276 parcels owe a collective $6,189,484.00 in delinquent property taxes. Of that almost $6.2 million dollars, $4.5 million is owed to the Middletown City school district, almost $600,000 is owed to the City, $744,000 is owed to Butler County, and $282,000 is owed to other entities (Library, Miami Valley Conservancy, etc.).

Along with the $6.2 million in property taxes, 374 of those parcels have past due water bills totally $49,800.00. 137 parcels have filed city income tax returns but have not paid their balances of $67,000.00. Another 304 parcels have filed no city income tax returns for the past two years. To give you an idea of what that means to the city, if each of those houses had the city’s median household income of $36,898 and filed and paid their income taxes, the city would have received another $392,595.00 in income tax. My guess is that these addresses do not make the median household income, but you see the potential effect on revenues.

In the past, the City has at times been criticized for “picking on” minorities and the poor.  My question to the committee was “if these folks are delinquent on property taxes, delinquent on water bills, and many haven’t filed or paid city income tax, do you think  1) that they will ever be able to catch up? and 2) that their property is compliant with the property maintenance code?”

The answer in most cases is no.

My next question to the committee was that, given your valid concerns for the poor and minority residents of the city, and given that residents want their streets paved and quality of life restored to the city, what is the role of city government in dealing with these tax delinquent properties? If the City requests tax foreclosure on these parcels, are we “picking on” the poor and minorities or are we acting in the best overall interest of the city as a whole?

Said another way, if the owners of these properties can never catch up, are we ready as a community to work on getting them out of those properties and putting the houses back into the hands of people who can pay their taxes and maintain the property?   That doesn’t necessarily mean driving poor people out of the city, but it would mean helping them out of their current situation and into housing that they can actually afford.

Given the high number of tax delinquent properties, we all agreed that there would be a lot of properties available for foreclosure that wouldn’t impact residents. If there is an out of town landlord who is collecting rent but not maintaining the property or paying taxes, shouldn’t we get them out of control of the property? If the property is vacant and/or abandoned, we should probably start the process to get that house freed up for a more productive use. If the parcel is just vacant land, no occupying homeowner or renter would be hurt by the tax foreclosure.

At some point, we’ll have to deal with homeowners who cannot afford to maintain the house that they own. As part of this overall policy, we’ll have to develop tools to help people transition from housing that they cannot afford to hopefully better housing that they can afford.

It’s a long hard process and we are now earnestly at work. As always, if you wish to see the meeting or the materials that we are reviewing for discussion, you can view everything at the link below.

https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/487/Housing-Information

 

Animal Control Officer in Middletown

During the recession, the Animal Control Officer was one of the earlier positions eliminated to save money. We’ve relied on the Butler County Animal Control Officer for the past decade or so, but they generally only come to Middletown on specific complaints, so there was no ongoing, consistent, animal control in place for the past several years.

Our new Middletown Animal Control Officer started this month. We have re-established our relationship with the area shelters and all stray animals captured by the Animal Control Officer will be offered for adoption.

Given the lack of attention over the last decade to this issue, my guess is that it will likely take several years to thin out the stray cats, along with a now high population of urban raccoons and skunks. But we’re starting to put it all back together now.

Keep in mind that this also means we’ll be enforcing the animal control Ordinances of the city again. We’ll have dog running at large and no dog license cases, etc., starting to show up in court again.  Please keep your dog properly licensed and on a leash when required.

If you have a dog bite or an aggressive dog running loose, call the MPD desk at 425-7700 to report the problem. Our new Officer will be working on stray dogs, feral cats, and urban wild animals. He’ll have plenty to do for the foreseeable future….

 

 

Paving Update

If there is one area that dominates the resident’s and Council’s perception of the city and their desires, it is street paving. I’ve talked about this a few times here, but I received updated information and wanted to give everyone another look at what I see and the challenges in getting caught up.

First, below is the most recent update on what is required to repave all of the city roads.  The number is a staggering $160 million.

paving update

The bad side is we have a lot of catching up to do.  The good side is that we are spending more on paving in the area than everyone except West Chester….

Paving

This year’s paving program starting mid-July will include:

South Breiel Boulevard from Lefferson Road to Oxford State Road

South Main Street from 18th Avenue to the City limits

Goldman Avenue from Orchard Street to Highland Street

Lewis Street from Jackson Lane to Eaton Avenue

Marshall Road from Manchester Road to Riverview Drive

Park Lane – all

Contractors will perform this work for a total cost of $2,268,291.12.

In addition, city crews will be paving:

Minnesota Street from 10th Avenue to 14th Avenue

Shelly Street – all

Boylston Street from Victoria to Holly

Alley paving will include:

Sherman to Grand between The Alameda and Stanley

Panama to Verity between Elwood and Hughes

Verity (AKA Canal) to Broad Street Parking Lot Access behind the 1100 block of Central Avenue.

The cost for city crew paving will be about $150,000.

As revenues continue to strengthen, we will be putting more and more funding towards paving in future years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Housing Meeting May 24th

Our first housing committee meeting was May 24th in City Council chambers. Committee members include:

Doug Adkins                                        City Manager and Facilitator

Steve Bohannon                                  Council Rep

Ami Vitori                                             Council Alternate

Ashley Combs                                     City Planner

Pastor Torri Colts                                  Public member and CARE

Celeste Didlick-Davis                          Public member and CARE

Jason Hightower                                 Local businessman and CARE

Wendy Hunter                                     Residential Realtor at Coldwell Banker Oyer

Marc Dixon                                          Residential Banker at Guardian Savings

Lenny Robinson                                  Local Developer

Walter Leap                                         Local Realtor and Landlord

Dan Fishbaugh                                    Fishbaugh Homes, new construction

Dickey Brandon                                   Local Home Remodeler and Landlord

Wanda Glover                                     Second Ward Community Council

MPD, MFD, and Health Dept               As needed for various issues

You can view the video of this meeting on the Housing web page at Housing-Information  and click on the link at  Housing Policy Meeting May 24, 2018  

I laid out a plan to look at global issues facing our housing stock and then specific issues that we could tackle on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis.  The Global issues include:

Global Issue One – Tax Delinquent Property

Global Issue Two – Vacant Residential Property

Global Issue Three – Vacant Residential Land

Global Issue Four – Property Maintenance Code Compliance

Global Issue Five – Housing Buffer Around Heavy Industry Areas

Global Issue Six – Home Ownership

Global Issue Seven – Rental Housing

Global Issue Eight – Overabundance of Less Competitive Housing

Global Issue Nine –  Healthy Neighborhood Infrastructure

Global Issue Ten – Non-Infrastructure Aspects of a Health Neighborhood

Global Issue Eleven –  Unintended Consequences of Housing Choices – Gentrification

Global Issue Twelve – Selection of a Neighborhood for Revitalization

As we get through these global issues, it should be easier to look at specific neighborhoods and make determinations as to what should be done and where exceptions to the policy need to be reviewed.

My guess is that this is a several months long process with a lot of hard discussions.  That’s ok.  We’re long past due to deal with these issues.  They are very difficult and hopefully we can work as a community to resolve issues that have long kept us from being the best city we can be.

It’s my first priority for the rest of the year…. Wish me luck.

Housing Policies

As part of the updated City Master Plan process, the city will be completing a comprehensive review of our housing stock and the policies surrounding housing in 2018.

I spent a lot of 2017 talking about why we need to do better with our housing stock.

According to the Butler County Auditor, from 2011-2015, Middletown housing decreased in overall value by $58,367,350 during a time when most Butler County communities were starting to see improvements after the recession.

It made me ask why…

Below is the 1963 Master Plan map showing deteriorated and dilapidated neighborhoods….

1963 Neighborhoods

It looks a lot like the same neighborhoods we discuss as troubled today. For 55 years we’ve looked at this and said “that’s a problem,” but we weren’t able to resolve the housing disinvestment and neighborhood deterioration in any meaningful way.

I’m going to try to reverse that trend. I don’t want it to get to 75 years and we are still talking about these same problem neighborhoods.

To work on the housing piece of the Master Plan, I put together a housing committee that includes members of City Council, local residents, realtors, bankers, housing rehabbers, landlords, developers, home builders and members of the CARE group that attended City Council meetings on this issue.

We had our first meeting on May 24th and our second meeting on June 14th.  While the group is closed, the public can see everything we are doing and working on.  If you go to https://www.cityofmiddletown.org/486/Housing, you’ll link directly to the page we’ve created for this process.  You can watch taped versions of the meetings, hear the discussions, see the presentations made, the articles referenced… everything. And there is an email for your comments and input.

If you like it, tell us.  Hate it, tell us.  Have a better idea?  PLEASE tell us.  This is your city. Get involved.

 

 

 

 

Long Term Control Plan

I have blogged on several occasions over past three years about the EPA mandated Long Term Control Plan (LTCP) necessary to reduce Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) into the Great Miami River. The Consent Decree agreement was entered into Federal Court and became final and effective on 4/12/18.

City Manager Blog Post – EPA Sewer Agreement Information – Feb. 14, 2018

City Manager Blog Post – Sewer Rate Increases – Nov. 9, 2017

The City is now required to begin implementation of the LTCP.  The first project identified in LTCP consist of construction of a storm sewer to intercept a small portion of the flow from the Bulls Run stream where it enters the combined sewer system near the intersection of Sheldon Road and Santa Fe Drive. This intercepted flow will be redirected to a shallow green infrastructure basin (approximately one acre in area) located at Sunset Park, reducing storm water loading to the combined sewer system.

I have received several questions and concerns about this project and the impact it will have on the Park. I will attempt to answers those the best I can, keeping in mind we are at the beginning stages of the process.

First, “Why Sunset?  Why not put it somewhere else?”. From an engineering perspective, it is a prime location due to fact that it sits near the border where the sewer system transitions from separate to combined. This allows us to capture and retain storm water before it enters the combined sewer system thereby reducing the chance for an overflow downstream. The alternative would involve acquiring private property, demolishing structures and additional sewer infrastructure all of which would likely cost millions $ more.

Second, “Will this be a nuisance and safety issue?”. Our goal is to integrate this project into the existing park setting in an aesthetically pleasing manner by incorporating landscape and hardscape features that will enhance the overall park character. The existing playground equipment will be replaced with new, up-to-date equipment if impacted. The basin will be designed to meet or exceed all engineering safety standards and to minimize the potential to remain wet after rain events to avoid increased mosquito issues. To this end, the City has hired Williams Creek/V3, an ecological engineering and design firm that specializes in green infrastructure and sustainable project design. This will not be a traditional detention basin like you see in other parts of town. The City understands this is a highly visible and highly used area and will create an annual operations and maintenance plan to keep the basin looking good and functioning as designed.

Third, “When will this happen?”. As I mentioned earlier, we are in the early stages of planning and design. Surveying crews have been out over the past week or so gathering data. The planning and design process will take most of this year. Actual construction won’t likely start until early 2019.

Finally, “How can I get more information?”. The City will hold at least one public meeting onsite to provide additional details about the project when available and answer questions. I don’t know the exact date yet; but it will likely be later this summer. I will keep you posted. We also created a webpage dedicated to the Consent Decree agreement that will include updates about this and other LTCP projects.