By Dedra Cordle
An affordable housing advocate has been chosen to serve on the Greater Hilltop Area Commission.
At its meeting on Jan. 3, the commissioners accepted the nomination of Ashley Montana to fill an open appointed seat. Pending approval by the office of Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, Montana will begin serving her three-year term next month.
Nominated by commissioner Dean Smith, the westside resident is no stranger to area commissions.
While working toward her degree in city and regional planning at The Ohio State University, the undergraduate served as an intern for the chair of the Fifth by Northwest Area Commission, which covers approximately 700 acres on the northwest side of Columbus.
In 2016, she was selected by the commission to serve as the chair, becoming one of the youngest individuals to be chosen for that position. Smith said that was just one of the reasons why he nominated her to fill the at-large seat on the GHAC.
“A lot of us would not have been as prepared to hold that position (when we were) in our early 20s,” he said.
Montana served as the chair of the Fifth by Northwest Area Commission for three years before resigning in 2019. She said she stepped down from that advisory board so she could attend more GHAC meetings as a way to learn about community concerns when she took the position of community engagement director with the Franklinton Development Association.
“I think I’ve been here ever since,” she said after the meeting.
As the ‘home’ subcommittee chair of Envision Hilltop, a community-based action plan that aims to overcome decades of disinvestment in business and housing on the westside, Montana advocates for mixed income housing and affordable housing, especially for low income families.
She said as the ‘home’ subcommittee chair and as an advisory committee member for Envision Hilltop, she wants to continue their overall mission as a member of the GHAC.
“I think they (the Hilltop commission) have done a really good job so far (in supporting the Envision Hilltop plan), but I would like to reiterate some of the things that are featured in the plan, in particular the alignment with mixed use housing, low income housing, and land bank properties that are city owned,” said Montana.
She intends to serve as a member of the commission’s planning and economic development committee and the public safety committee.
Commission chairman Dan Fagan said he was “thrilled” that Montana was chosen to serve on the advisory board.
“She is already very involved in our planning and economic development committee and she is already very engaged in what is happening in our community and trying to find solutions to some of the problems in our community,” he said.
“I think that with her background in city and regional planning and her interest in making our communities safe and walkable, Ashley will be a real asset to the commission.”
Unlike last year which saw only one individual nominated for the at-large seat, the commission mulled the nomination of five individuals. In addition to Montana, the individuals also considered were:
- Angel Manuel Cruz, a food truck owner who also has a landscaping business. Nominated by commissioner Adhanet Kifle, he wanted to serve as a representative for the local Hispanic population and assist in the establishment of a new park in the area.
- JD Groves, a former commissioner who is the president of an electric company. Nominated by commissioner Rachel Wenning, he wanted to work toward providing job opportunities and job creation for the community.
- Ricky Kitchen, an educator who has a passion for health equity. Nominated by commissioner Dan Fagan, he wanted to serve as a representative of the Georgesville area and shine a spotlight on the development that is taking place in that area of the westside.
- Steve Sheets, a life-long Hilltopper who is a retired educator and coach. Nominated by commissioner Jennie Keplar, he wanted to serve on the commission as a way to “give back to the community.”
After three rounds of voting, the current 14-member commission was deadlocked between Manuel Cruz and Montana. Columbus Division of Police Sgt. Fred Brophy was tasked with picking a name out of a canvas tote to determine who would receive the at-large seat. Manuel Cruz’s name was selected but he did not accept the nomination, stating that he believed the commission would be better served with Montana’s experience.
The commissioners held another vote to determine whether the outcome would have been affected had Manuel Cruz not been in the running. By a majority vote, the commissioners selected Montana to fill the at-large seat.
In other news, the commission selected its officers for the new year. Victoria Bates-Frye will serve as the chairwoman while Dan Fagan will serve as the vice-chair. Joseph Argiro will continue to serve as the secretary and Dean Smith will serve as the treasurer.
Assignments for the committees will be announced at next month’s full commission meeting. It will be held on Feb. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Columbus Metropolitan Library – Hilltop Branch, 511 S. Hague Ave.