Opposing Affordable Housing Project, Dave Chappelle Threatens to Pull Business From Yellow Springs, Ohio

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Chappelle said he'd pull his business from the city - Yellow Springs YouTube/screengrab
Yellow Springs YouTube/screengrab
Chappelle said he'd pull his business from the city

Chappelle attended this week's Yellow Springs Council meeting to push back against a rezoning request that would permit a multi-use development to add affordable housing units. The council voted against the development plan later that night.

Oberer Land Developers had been working with the village of Yellow Springs on a 53-acre housing development plan for U.S. 68 and Hyde Road near the south side of the small town, located about 70 miles northeast of downtown Cincinnati. The development's most recently proposed iteration included townhouses, duplexes, single-family homes, a park and several ponds. The plan also called for an affordable-housing land component that the village could continue to develop.

This plan differed from previous iterations that only featured single-family units with no affordable housing, and the site needed new zoning classification to allow for multi-family housing units. During the Feb. 7 village meeting, the council was voting on whether to approve Oberer's rezoning request and, subsequently, the expanded development plan.

Along with other village residents, Chappelle shared his thoughts with the council during the three-hour Feb. 7 meeting, voicing his opposition to the zoning change and multi-family development and threatening to pull his businesses from his idyllic hometown.

"I don't know why the village council would be afraid of litigation from a $24 million-a-year company while it kicks out a $65 million-a-year company," Chappelle said, referring to his company Iron Table Holdings. "I cannot believe you would make me audition for you. You look like clowns. I am not bluffing. I will take it all off the table."

Chappelle's plans to open restaurant Firehouse Eatery and comedy club Live from YS in the village were approved by the planning commission in September. The entertainer also frequently hosts concerts and comedy events in the village, even receiving approval for his own rezoning requests.

Chappelle did not provide a reason why he opposed Oberer's latest housing proposal or the affordable-housing component beyond in the past generally saying that Yellow Springs could do better.

“The average age in the village is 49 years old. Without its school, the city will not live beyond the retirees who decided to settle here,” Chappelle said in December. “These changes are inevitable, but we do have a decision about what they are or could be. Let’s use more of a visionary eye, instead of a reactionary one, because the potential of this place is immense—and Oberer is not the only solution.”

In response to articles over the past few days, a Chappelle publicist told CNN: "Dave Chappelle didn't kill affordable housing. Concerned residents and a responding Village Council 'killed' a half-baked plan which never actually offered affordable housing." (Slate has a terrific piece on why that's a lousy excuse, and why the whole ordeal, despite being newsworthy because of Chappelle's role, is actually a pretty good explanation for how liberals kill multifamily, dense projects in communities across the country.)

Prior to the meeting, Chappelle's sister Felicia, a longtime actress and business owner who also lives in Yellow Springs, sent the village council a letter opposing the latest iteration of the Oberer development. In the Feb. 3 letter that's been entered into public record, she noted her concerns about traffic safety, the developer's previous lawsuits, supply chain issues and protecting the village's abolitionist history.

But she also mentioned her brother's outsize influence.

"And we must not be stuck on avoiding, as was pointed out by a Member of Council at the last Zoom, the fact Mr. Chappelle has invested quite a bit into our town. It does seem like a personal slight to overlook how he influences the positive trajectory of a place in the world we all hold dear," Felicia Chappelle wrote.

"Mr. Chappelle is not an enemy to YS, its Villagers or our lifestyle," she added later in her letter.

Not all residents were opposed to the Oberer's development plan that featured affordable housing units, though. Several people noted that Yellow Springs currently isn't considered "affordable" for many looking to move there. Others said that while Oberer's plan wasn't perfect, it was a starting point to introduce more affordability into the village.

The single-family units in Oberer's previous plan would start at about $300,000, documents show. According to Realtor.com, the median listing price of a Yellow Springs home was $319,900 in January (the Cincinnati median was $219,000 for January, while the U.S. median was $408,100 in Q4 of 2021). Homes for sale on Feb. 10 were listed from $224,000 to $735,000.

The median rent in Yellow Springs is $916, higher than Ohio's median of $813. The overall housing vacancy rate has dropped from 6.5% in 2014 to 4.2% in 2019.

The village has nearly 3,700 residents as of the 2020 U.S. Census. The median household income is $61,522, which is higher than Ohio's state median of $58,642. Fewer than 13% of Yellow Springs' residents are in poverty, and 63.1% of residents have Bachelor's degrees.

At the end of the three-hour meeting, the Yellow Springs council did not approve Oberer's multi-use plan with the affordable-housing component, voting 2-2 with one council member abstaining. The company may, however, develop the land under the current zoning for only single-family houses.

Originally published by City Beat, Scene's sister paper in Cincinnati.
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