The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

October 24, 2012

Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium meets with commissioners

HARPERSFIELD TOWN-SHIP — Commissioners on Tuesday postponed their usual work sessions and agenda to host the monthly board meeting of the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium.

The event was held at Spire Institute Tuesday afternoon and drew board members from northeast Ohio’s 12 counties, including Ashtabula. Commissioner Peggy Carlo represents the county on the consortium, which has 33 member organizations.

The purpose of the consortium is to help ensure that the region is sustainable and resilient, and that those things that residents value most about it are preserved and protected. It is funded by a $4.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the federal Sustainable Communities Initiative. Participating counties and organizations pledge in-kind services as their local match to the effort.

Carlo said the expenses and manpower that went into hosting the meeting and a pre-meeting tour of the county will count toward that in-kind commitment from Ashtabula County. Board members spent 2 1/2 hours Tuesday morning visiting several key projects between Harpersfield and Ashtabula via a bus tour.

“We were trying to show them some of the projects that feature sustainability and smart growth,” said Brian Anderson, executive director of Growth Partnership for Ashtabula County, one of the local professionals who hosted the tour.

“We had a great tour,” Carlo said. “People were amazed at the diversity.”

Projects highlighted included the 534 Corridor Plan, downtown Geneva revitalization, SPIRE Institute, Grand Valley wine region, Harpersfield dam/covered bridge and Bridge Street/Point Park.

Mark Winchell of the Ashtabula County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Dawn Gates of the Ashtabula County Department of Planning and Community Services partnered with Anderson to present the tour.

Hunter Morrison, a Mahoning County resident and executive director of the consortium, said the most impressive part of the tour was, to him, learning about the micro-climate that makes the Grand River Valley region ideal for wine production.

He said Ashtabula County has already benefited from membership in the consortium, which has been active for a little over a year. The Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, one of the members, digitized all of the county’s land use and zoning maps and made them available on the consortium’s website, cat.neoscc.org. Maps from the other counties are online, as well, as Eastgate’s in-kind contribution.

“It’s really about delivering value to the region by using the tools we already have,” Morrison said.

Next month representatives from the consortium will be in Ashtabula County to collect experiences and opinions of residents involved in the housing industry. The research is part of a regional analysis of impediments to fair housing choice study the consortium is conducting. The Ashtabula County meeting is 3 p.m.  Nov. 15 in the commissioners’ meeting room of the old courthouse.

“We will be back in the county several times to engage citizens and stakeholders to look at what are the opportunities for Ashtabula County and the three counties along the eastern border, as a whole,” he said.

Morrison said the group also has launched a new website, vibrantneo.org,that reflects the theme of the group’s engagement process: learn, share, create and act.

Carlo said she feels that Ashtabula County can benefit from the regional focus of the consortium, especially when it comes to issues like transportation.

“It’s a privilege to serve on this board,” she said.

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