Sunday, December 30, 2012

Neighborhood Networking

At a recent meeting of the Amberley Women's Forum, the topic of an Amberley Village neighborhood directory was discussed. One resident who had moved here from Terrace Park, told and showed us the great Terrace Park directory that she had kept when she moved to Amberley. It contained lists of babysitters, referrals for roofers, lawn care, mechanics, and other local businesses that had actually been used by residents. If you were looking for someone to check on your house while you were on vacation, it was easy to see who your neighbors were. Rollman Estates used to publish a  neighborhood directory and Brookwood has a neighborhood listing. Wouldn't it be nice, we thought, if Amberley could do this? And wouldn't it be even cooler if it could be done online, without incurring any printing costs?

Shortly after, Peg Conway read an article about a local Cincinnati community that was using an online "closed" networking website to do exactly what we envisioned. It is called "Nextdoor." Verified residents of a community who live within the specified boundaries are invited to join and to invite their neighbors to join. Members can create subgroups within the larger group, such as bookclubs and garden groups. Members can make referrals for local businesses and babysitters. Best of all, it makes it easy to figure out who our neighbors are.  CNet reviewed Nextdoor when it first launched in October 2011 and The New York Times also gave it a positive review in May of 2012.

When you receive your invitation to join Nextdoor, we hope you will join! It is just one more way to keep Amberley residents connnected.  If you don't live in Amberley, you can set up your own Nextdoor community here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Budget Time

Last week the Finance Committee of Council met to discuss and make recommendations to Council for the 2013 budget. Thanks to the culture of austerity that pervades the Amberley Village administrative offices, very nearly every single line item of the 2012 budget is coming in significantly under budget for the year. Under the leadership of Village Manager Scot Lahrmer, Chief Rich Wallace, and Public Works Supervisor Steve Rasfeld, village staff has worked hard to reduce expenses in every area of the Village. Even Council is making the move to go completely paperless, for which I am extremely grateful! Our staff is to be commended for the seriousness and creativity with which they have tackled our expenses -- all while their own salaries have been frozen since 2010 and their compensation and benefits are under continual review by Council.

In the proposed budget, 2013 expenses are projected at $4.8 million, with estimated revenues of $5.5 million.  While at first glance this looks like a surplus (called a positive fund balance in municipal finance), the real significance lies in what is NOT appropriated.  Margin notations in the proposed budget showed more than $1 million in equipment purchases and capital improvements that are being deferred.  These unfunded items include police cruisers, fire hoses, upgraded traffic signals and lights at the intersection of Ridge and Section, maintenance vehicles, and repairs to Village Hall. Additionally, the 2013 budget included a contingency of $250,000, which will be reduced to $5,000 to $25,000.

While the budgeted appropriations going into 2013 are less than last year, we still face a deficit of $1.3 million in the General Fund balance. Also, we face significant capital expenses in the future, which the Finance committee will begin planning for in the near future.  Passing the Police Levy in the spring and, most recently, paying off the debt on Amberley Green which we were able to do because of a once-in-a-lifetime estate tax windfall, are positive steps in a process that must continue to move forward toward re-establishing Amberley's sound financial footing. As a Council, we must continue to work with village staff to find ways to sustain a healthy balance sheet in all areas. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Kennedy Heights Arts Center

In case you missed seeing the banner at the corner of Ridge and Section Roads, or missed the event listing on the Amberley Village website, yesterday was an "Amberley Afternoon" at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center.  Located at 6546 Montgomery Road in Kennedy Heights, the Center is less than a five minute drive from most of Amberley. It's close enough to walk or run to as well, as I've run past it many times myself. Which is probably what you do too -- walk, run, or drive past without stopping to see what's inside.

FotoFocus Exhibit "Let's Face It"
Yesterday, a gorgeous fall day in Cincinnati, I stopped by to see what the Kennedy Heights Arts Center was all about. From the moment I stepped inside the historic gothic mansion, I was both surprised and impressed. To my immediate left, in what was once most likely the parlor, is a bright and airy gift shop. The rest of the first floor is also filled with sunlight -- which is not something you often see in a house such as this one, which was built in 1875 and was once the home of Lewis Kennedy, developer of Kennedy Heights.

Conway & Stern/McIntosh families with Executive Dir. Ellen Muse-Lindeman

The Arts Center is currently exhibiting the works of photographers Melvin Grier, Michael Kearns, and Michael Wilson, as part of the city-wide FotoFocus exhibition. It is also a participant in the Taft Museum's Art for All program and is hosting a reproduction of Robert S. Duncanson's "Landscape Mural." Last summer it participated in the "Play Me I'm Yours" piano project by ArtWorks.

Community art created with Cedric Michael Cox
The Center sponsors programs for children and adults and also hosts an Artist in Residence. I don't know what took me so long to go inside this neighborhood gem, but I hope that Amberley residents don't wait for another invitation other than this one to stop by for a visit.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Amberley Deer Managemet: Proposed Policy

The Health Education & Welfare Committee has been meeting since May to discuss the issue of deer management in Amberley Village. Historically, this is an issue that comes before Council on an annual basis, with Council being the governmental body tasked with determining how many deer are too many and how to balance the concerns of our residents who like to see deer with our residents who are frustrated by the damage the deer cause to their property. Additionally, Council has had to determine the limit of deer our parks can handle without causing irreversible damage to undergrowth and other wildlife.

The Health Education & Welfare committee began its investigation into the issue by meeting first with experts from the Cincinnati Park Board and the Ohio Division of Natural Resources. From these two entities, we learned that the number of deer in Ohio has exploded in the last thirty years from an estimated 17,000 in 1970 to over 750,000 white tail deer today.  With no natural enemies in Ohio, the ODNR relies on hunters to keep the number of deer in check with approximately 250,000 deer harvested by hunters annually. Another 25,000-30,000 are involved in deer vehicle accidents.
The Committee also met with the city manager and chief of police of Wyoming, Ohio, as well as sought input from our own Amberley Police. Several residents attended most meetings and also provided valuable input.

The goal of the committee was to develop a policy that will maintain a deer population at a level that is acceptable from a safety and nuisance perspective as well as to ensure a healthy deer herd and continued sustainability of other wildlife and plants in Amberley Village.
Two documents were presented at the October Council meeting. First is a historical summary of the rising deer population in Ohio, as well as information collected from the informational meetings related to deer management. This document will be prominently published on our Village website and includes citations to the Minutes of each meeting which will be linked to the main document. Additionally, it was the desire of the committee to educate our residents about different varieties and species of plants that are often known to be unpalatable to deer – although, as we learned deer will eat anything, with the exception of honeysuckle – one of our most invasive plants – when they are hungry enough – so a plant chart is included in the document.  Finally, going forward, Amberley Village will continue to keep records of deer vehicle accidents and property damage with the aid of an online form that our residents can access for self-reporting.

The second document  is a Resolution to Establish a Deer Management Program. In years past, Amberley had no codified deer management program in place. Each year the HEW committee met and determined, by Resolution, how many deer would be culled in that year. This method is fraught with the potential for mismanagement, as Council members can feel pressure from residents to cull more or fewer deer by virtue of the issue being left to elected officials. The deer management policy put forward in this Resolution takes the politics out of the job of deer management. Deer management is a health and safety issue, and as such, it should be relegated to our Amberley Police department.

Going forward, the police will be permitted to cull up to 50 deer per year without additional approval by Council. If evidence suggests that more than 50 deer should be culled, then approval by Council will be required.
Furthermore, a more accurate method of counting the deer will be used than has in the past. Thermal imaging technology will be used to count the deer every third year, beginning in 2013. Because this is more expensive than a helicopter count, the Village Manager will try to pursue an agreement with the City of Cincinnati which owns French Park.  Deer culling will continue to be done by trained sharpshooters. We are aware that other communities are implementing bow-hunting programs, but our police feel strongly that the potential for accidental injury is too high of a risk.

Finally, our residents should know that the committee takes the issue of deer culling very seriously. We realize that it is a sensitive issue and that there are residents who feed the deer and enjoy having them in their yard. We will continue to monitor the program and provisions are included in the policy to allow for resident input and future evaluation of the deer management policy.

This Resolution will be brought before Council for a vote at the next regularly scheduled council meeting on November 12, at 6:30 PM. Residents are invited to attend the meeting and express their opinions on deer management in Amberley Village at that time. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Good News!

Part of the job of the Public Outreach Committee of Council is to convey Amberley news to both our own residents and the other local communities.  Close to home, your household should have recently received the first of Amberley's new biannual, hard-copy newsletter. We know that barely a quarter of Amberley households currently subscribe to the online version of the e-news, but it is important to convey Amberley's news to everyone in the Village.  The newsletter is a streamlined version of Village news and coming events. Because of our culture of budget-consciousness, you will not find any "fluff" articles and features. Council's goal is for all households to eventually subscribe to Village news online. If you haven't yet done so, please do it now at

In other local news, Amberley's participation as one of twelve local "WeTHRIVE!" communities was featured on WKRC TV on August 8th. Two members of the Amberley Village community, Jim Rulli and Councilman Tom Muething, joined representatives from each of the other WeTHRIVE! communities on a bus tour which featured stops in each participating community. Amberley was given the opportunity to tell the story of how we have used grant money to improve  our healthy options in Amberley.  By now, I hope our residents have had a chance to try out the new fitness equipment at the Village Hall walking path, enjoy the new community garden and rest area at Amberley Green, or experience the newest French Park trail and Amberley Bridge. New signage also indicates projects paid for by WeTHRIVE! Amberley has made these lifestyle improvements with no outlay of money from our taxpayers or our Village budget.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Deer Management...

. . .is the term used by government, wildlife, and park agencies when the deer population is thinned to protect either the biological ecosystem or to reduce property damage caused by deer.  The Health, Education & Welfare committee of Council, which I chair,  is currently in the process of re-evaluating Amberley's deer management practice and going the additional step of creating an actual deer management policy, by passing an Ordinance that future Councils and staff can rely on in order to know what to do to most effectively manage the deer in our community. There is no currently existing Ordinance, which means that Council is left to invent solutions year after year.

In furtherance of the goal of establishing Village deer management policy, the HEW committee has so far had two separate meetings with experts in the field of regional wildlife and natural resources. In May, two representatives from the Cincinnati Park Board came to a meeting and discussed the deer management practice of the Cincinnati parks. The minutes of this meeting from May 7th, can be read HERE. Deer are culled in the Cincinnati parks for one reason only: to ensure the sustainability of the park ecosystem. No consideration is given to residential property concerns or incidences of deer-vehicle collision. While these are legitimate municipal concerns, they are not the concern of the Cincinnati Park Board. According to Park representatives Dave Gamstetter and Jim Godby, in their opinion, the optimal number of deer to ensure a sustainable ecosystem is 15-20 deer per square mile. When asked specifically about French Park, they estimated that the park could sustain six deer before exhibiting signs of deer defoliation or a "browse line." It is not only the flora of the park that is at issue, but since the deer will eat practically anything, food supplies for smaller woodland creatures from turtles to squirrels are affected by too many deer in one area.

This week, two wildlife experts from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources spoke to the HEW committee. They relayed the history of Ohio's deer population and how hunting practices have changed in the last two centuries reflecting the fall and rise of the deer population. Briefly, when Ohio was settled, no hunting regulations were in place and the deer population was decimated. Hunting of deer was prohibited and most deer populations were on game preserves. As the population began to increase, deer hunting resumed in the 1950s with strict regulations. By the 1980s, hunters were permitted one deer per season. Currently, Ohio has three different zones with different "bag" limits. Hamilton County allows the most deer per hunter per season with six deer permitted. Additionally, Urban deer zones permit an additional six "antlerless" deer per season.  The representatives from the ODNR stressed that for communities, it is important to find the balance between the "biological carrying capacity" (which is the primary concern of the Cincinnati Parks) and the "cultural carrying capacity" which addresses residents' concerns about their landscaping and other property damage, as well as deer-related vehicle incidences.

Both the Cincinnati Parks and the ODNR stated the deer have no natural enemy in Ohio other than coyotes that can take out very young deer. Other than hunters and the automobile, there is no other way of controlling the ever-increasing deer population. Contraceptive use on deer is also prohibited by the ODNR.  Additionally, "trap and transfer" methods are also impractical and inhumane. Statistically, deer mortality rates when deer are moved are higher than 50%. Also, there is nowhere else in Ohio or in neighboring states to take the deer. For more on the Ohio Division of Wildlife's recommendations for managing deer populations, you can read Publication 138, which also gives recommendations for plantings that may be safe from deer predation.

The next meeting of the Health, Education, and Welfare committee to address the deer issue will be on Friday, July 13th at 3:00.  Our guests will be Lynn Tetley, City Manager of Wyoming, Ohio, as well as Wyoming's Police Chief. Wyoming has been undergoing a similar investigation of their deer management policy and it will be helpful to learn what our neighbors have to say about this issue. Everyone is invited, as well as encouraged, to attend these public meetings. It is important for Council to hear from residents. You will be able to speak and to ask questions of our guests.

For a very informative article on deer management techniques please read THIS article by the State of Connecticut. Several states and studies were used for reference, including Ohio.

Have a great July 4th weekend. Be extremely careful if you plan to light fireworks as it is very, very dry this year.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Fun Stuff

Ridge Road Trail Head
View from French Park driveway
Standing on the corner of Ridge and Section Roads this morning with Councilman Tom Muething, and Steve and Wes from Amberley's Public Works Dept, going over logistics for next Friday's We THRIVE! event, I couldn't help but grin. We were planning for an event that is going to be one of the culminating pieces of the improvements we've made to the Village with a grant from We THRIVE! and Hamilton County Public Health with the goal of improving our residents' access to nutritional foods, healthy lifestyles and exercise, and reduced use of tobacco. The particular project we were discussing is unique in that it involves a sharing of assets with the Cincinnati Park Board and Amberley.

You may have noticed the "We THRIVE!" sign by the side of Ridge Rd. about 100 feet north of Section. This sign indicates a project that is funded by Amberley's grant. In this case, it is a new trail in French Park, with the trail head located at the sign on Ridge Road. The trail will increase options for walkers and runners who currently use the existing Village Hall walking path and a sign will be placed on the west side of Ridge Rd., at the ball fields, informing users of increased opportunities for exercise. What's particularly exciting is that in order to reach the connecting piece of trail located within French Park proper, users must cross a yet-to-be-constructed bridge.

Two roads diverge...
Which brings me to this morning's meeting... The bridge itself will be constructed by a group of young Israeli Scouts and a group of inner-city teens from The Mayor's Summer Greanleaf Program. The teens will not only be literally building a bridge on June 22, but will also be, figuratively speaking, bridging the culture gap and forming connections with kids their age from different countries and backgrounds. Local Amberley businesses Topicz and PepsiCo are donating snacks and water for the teens, and a resident has donated pizza.  The actual bridge building will take place next Friday at 8:00 AM, but there will be a dedication and laying of the final plank, as well as a tree dedication and a Proclamation from the Mayor at 12:00 Noon. All residents are invited and encouraged to attend.

In the wake of budget cuts, belt-tightening, and a police levy, I could only smile and say "this is the fun stuff!"
A surprise awaits inside!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Have you ever given serious thought to your family's rate of recycling? More household items than you might suspect are now recyclable and the more Amberley residents recycle, the greater our Residential Recycling Incentive (RRI) grant from the Hamilton County Solid Waste District. Last year, Amberley's rate of recycling was 22% which is very good. If our rate is between 20%-24.9%, our RRI $ per ton is $28.  We received a little more than $11,000 in 2011 just for recycling. However, if we increase our rate to 25%, our RRI $ per ton increases to $32.  How can we do that if we are already one of the top recycling communities in Hamilton County?

If we are smarter about recycling we can easily meet that goal. Mariemont and Montgomery already surpass us by 10%, and Mariemont does it with the small red bins as well.

First of all, go ahead and order that large recycling bin from Rumpke. You will find that with the acquisition of a larger bin, your rate of recycling will probably surpass your rate of throw-away trash. The bins can be purchased and delivered to your home. You could wait a year and get one for free when Amberley renegotiates it's garbage contract (most likely), or you could buy one this year and get another one next year. I know we could easily fill two large recycling containers at my household every week.

Pay attention to what you are throwing away. Toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls? Both are recyclable, but you are probably throwing them away. I've started keeping two waste baskets in the bathroom -- one is for recyclable trash.  Open your mail over the recycling bin. Also, all those receipts in your wallet and purse are recyclable too.

Don't throw away those old computers and televisions. They are recyclable! Hazardous household waste products can be taken to 4600 Spring Grove Avenue . I am certain with a little more thought and a bigger household bin, Amberley can become an elite community of recyclers and bring in a little more revenue to the Village as well.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


A two lane rural road is made safer by adding a bike lane.
It's no secret that my vision for Amberley is a community that is not only accessible to pedestrians and cyclists, but also a community where the places we go to meet our friends, shop, and relax over a glass of wine, are right here in our own neighborhood. To that end, I have been attending sessions devoted to the concept of "Complete Streets" and "Form Based Codes" given by the Hamilton County Planning Partnership and the City of Cincinnati. Briefly, Form Based Codes require a community to decide what they want their built community to look like. Mixed use is more desirable than, say, platting a zone to be either strictly residential or strictly business. Parking lots are not determined by square footage of office or store, but by accessibility and how best to encourage shoppers to enter the facility. In the City of Cincinnati, the focus is on revitalizing and re-imagining neighborhoods that have been built over the years in conformance with out-of-date zoning codes and in deference to the automobile. Streets have become too wide and speed limits too fast to encourage drivers to slow down, stop, and get out of their cars to shop. Giant offices, warehouses, and high rise apartments have been built in once historic and unique neighborhoods with no consideration to the overall look and feel of the neighborhood. In Amberley, many of our neighborhoods are isolated platted subdivisions offering only one way in and out, with no easy access to main roads other than by car.  Under Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls leadership, the City of Cincinnati is trying to change the look and feel of its neighborhoods with the adoption of Form Based Codes in place of traditional zoning.

Last week, I attended a seminar at the Cincinnati Bar Association focusing on Local Government law. Topics included zoning and fair housing, but most interesting to me was that one of the topics was Form Based Codes. I asked Vice Mayor Qualls specifically about Amberley Village and Amberley Green in particular. Could Form Based Codes be used to plan a large, currently undeveloped property? In fact, we are in an ideal position to be proactive in terms of what we want the Amberley of the future to be and look like. An Amberley resident and fellow attorney sitting in front of me turned around and said, "I want three restaurants, a bar, and an ice cream parlour." This resident is a young mom and is representative of what young families want -- walkablity and complete streets. An opinion piece in today's New York Times confirmed that this is the trend throughout the country. Previously, home values in strictly suburban communities like Amberley have been higher than urban counterparts. But the trend has shifted dramatically, around the country and in Amberley Village.   According to Rick Hall, president of Hall Planning & Engineering, complete streets which include access to transportation options and safe, walkable convenient communities are happier communities. The time is now, when the need for new revenue is of paramount importance,  for Amberley to be thinking about and planning for the future of Amberley Green and Amberley Village.

Be sure to stay informed: subscribe to news from Amberley Village at

Friday, April 27, 2012

Don't Be a Nuisance

Lots of (cold) excited gardeners!
Amberley Women's Forum, Property Maintenance, Backyard Chickens 

The Amberley Women's Forum met again this week. Every month, for the past four months, Amberley women have been gathering at different homes to discuss various topics of interest to the residents of Amberley. There are no requirements or impediments to joining, other than being a woman. Past topics have included Amberley updates, police block watch and neighborhood safety, and Pleasant Ridge Montessori School. There are some "regulars" in attendance, but the group is fluid, with new people joining us whenever they are free on the night we meet. The best part is we drink wine and no book-reading is required! That is not to say that we will never read a book, but if a book club sprouts from this group all the better. The idea is to make connections to our fellow Amberley neighbors. While we love our 1 acre lots, we still miss the camaraderie that comes from getting to know each other on a casual basis. Already, as a direct result of this group, the women of Amberley can join the Amberley Women's Tennis league that will be playing regularly on our community tennis courts. Please send me an email if you want more information about this group because you will be warmly welcomed.

Will Jackson presents his Eagle Scout project
One of the topics of Wednesday's discussion, which was themed "current Amberley affairs" was the upcoming Public Hearing on the Ordinance Allowing Domesticated Chickens.  One resident was concerned because there were properties in her neighborhood that were already not being maintained in accordance with Amberley's Property Maintenance Code and that allowing these neighbors to raise chickens would add to the property infractions that are already in place.  This is a very real concern, but it was pointed out that there are already provisions in place to deal with such infractions. The important thing is that residents must be willing to bring such code violations to the attention of Village Hall. Once Village Hall is made aware of the unkempt or unsightly property, an investigation can be made into zoning violations. If violations are noted, the resident can be given fair warning, or even fined. Please do not be hesitant in calling the Village to report continued nuisances.

 With regard to chickens, it is important to note that the Chicken Ordinance clearly states that:

§ 154.54 CHICKENS.
(A)  Notwithstanding other provisions in the Village Code of Ordinances, 
chickens may be kept within the Village in any residential district subject to the following 
rules and conditions.

So, to address concerns about chickens that become a nuisance, or trespass on your neighbor's property, one needs only to look to the zoning code which already has provisions in place to ticket or fine such infractions. You are not allowed to let your dog, cat, or other animal trespass, nor are you allowed to let your chickens be trespassers on your neighbor's property. 

There was also a question about whether the chickens would be "free-range," and whether chickens would wander onto various household properties. Again, Amberley already has laws against that sort of thing, 


   No person owning, harboring or having the care of any dog, cat, fowl or other animal, shall permit the same to run at large so as to trespass upon the property of another in a manner as to do damage to gardens, lawns, shrubbery or other property of another.

Additionally, the Chicken Ordinance itself requires that:

(D) Habitat.

(1)  Chickens may only be maintained outdoors in a predator-proof 
chicken house, coop, or other structure that is thoroughly ventilated, of sufficient 
size to permit free movement of the animals, designed to be easily accessed, 
cleaned, and maintained by the owner, and at least two square feet in size for each 

Any suggestion that the proposed ordinance allows chickens to be "free-range" in the sense that they not be confined at all is strictly rumor. Further, since we live in an area with an abundance of hawks, vultures, and other predatory wildlife, it would be imprudent to let your chickens run free, lest they become a meal for one of Amberley's true "free-range" animals.

The Women's Forum was very positive about allowing chickens, and were especially excited to take home some freshly-laid eggs.  The Public Hearing on the Ordinance will be at the May 14th Council meeting and I encourage residents who have any interest or questions to come. By passing an ordinance permitting backyard chickens, Amberley joins the multitude of Cincinnati and Hamilton County communities that are already allowing their residents to raise chickens for eggs. 

Amberley Green Garden

Mary Lennard shows the garden plot layout
Last Monday, the first meeting of gardeners was held at the site which will be the location of the Amberley Green Garden. There is space for 40 gardeners to each cultivate their own 9'x15' garden plot. Next Monday, May 7th, representatives of the Environmental Stewardship Committee will ask the Board of Zoning Appeals for a variance to construct a 7 1/2 foot high deer fence. Residents can begin gardening as soon as the fence is erected (or sooner, but at their own risk). Those gardening will use organic practices under the helpful advice of residents David Dyke, OSU extension agent, and Kathy Wise, who along with her husband Rabbi Irv Wise, have been growing vegetables organically for years. The Amberley Green Garden brings to fruition months of diligent work by both residents and council members with the financial backing of a grant from We Thrive! No Village funds were used on any We Thrive! project, and we are proud to use the funding for projects that will 1) create a community meeting place as well as a means of learning about growing food, 2) create walking paths for our residents while forming partnerships with the Cincinnati Park Board and local and Israeli scouting troops, 3) provide access to public transportation to people who must come and go to and from Amberley for work. Amberley Village is a leader among Hamilton County communities in its commitment to the health and well-being of our residents. For more information on joining the Amberley Green Garden, request a "Welcome Packet" from
Council Member Tom Muething explains the rainwater collection

Continuing Education

Finally, as  I've mentioned in other blog posts, being a member of council gives me access to a number of educational workshops and seminars designed to educate elected officials about current trends in government and cities. Today I had the opportunity to attend a workshop given by the Hamilton County Planning Commission which focused on economic development and sustainable communities. One thing that I took away was that it is vitally important to invest in our own community in order to attract business and development to Amberley. Transit access, walking and cycling paths, access to green space are all sought-after amenities by businesses looking to grow or relocate. We have to ask ourselves what we are doing as a community to make ourselves attractive to development. Tomorrow I am attending a forum on "Form Based Codes" which ask what we want our community to look like as we develop it. These are questions that are always on my mind as we make our Village a more livable community for all ages.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


About a year ago, I attended my first meeting of the Environmental Stewardship Committee where the topic was supposed to be the creation of a proposed farmer's market in Amberley Village.  I was very interested in this as I try to do most of my shopping at local farmers' markets. Like many, I prefer to know where my food comes from, whether it's milk, vegetables, eggs, or meat products. I'm an avid baker and I prefer to use only natural ingredients, even if it means spending up to $4 for a dozen eggs. I believe that food tastes better and is better for you when it is used in its freshest and most natural state.

Well, to date, that farmers' market is nothing more than a dream for Amberley's future, but a question that arose at that meeting set me on a quest to find an answer. The question was "are we allowed to raise our own chickens for eggs in Amberley?" Such a simple question should have a simple answer, right? After all, I have heard for years that Amberley prides itself on its "rural" atmosphere. Heck, I was chastised for calling a "walking path" by the more pedestrian name of "sidewalk" while I was campaigning in favor of safer routes for pedestrians in our Village! Such a small distinction means the world to many of our residents. As for the raising of chickens, however, it seems that Amberley's zoning code hearkened back to a time when suburbanites were trying to shed their rural associations.  In our current Code, chickens likely fall under the definition of "farm animals" and farm animals are prohibited on properties of less than ten acres.  In today's world, chickens are more likely to take their place among the family's pets, have names, and be used to provide their owners with eggs. Section 154.25. Also see Section 154.02 for definitions.

After discussion with the Village manager, Scot Lahrmer, and the Village solicitor, Kevin Frank, I was advised that the way to make any changes to the Village Zoning Code was by bringing legislation to the Planning Commission. The Village Planning Commission is an independent entity consisting of residents who are appointed by Council to serve for four year terms. It's important to note that their terms outlast the  two year election cycle for candidates in Amberley so that the members of the Planning Commission (also the Board of Zoning Appeals) are not influenced by the whims of Council. The Planning Commission is established by the Village Charter and is tasked with hearing appeals to the zoning code and providing equitable relief from hardship, as well as drafting and approving legislation and making recommendations to Council. They hold hearings, call witnesses, and vote as a Board. Since I was asking for a change to the zoning code, I was advised that the Planning Commission was the appropriate committee, not, as I had initially proposed, the Health Education & Welfare committee or the Law Committee, two committees on which I either serve or chair.

The Ordinance that was voted on by 5-0 vote and recommended by the Planning Commission will allow residents to keep up to six chickens (hens only; no roosters) in a well-maintained coop, with liberal setback provisions. Chickens may not be slaughtered -- again, this is an ordinance to allow residents to raise eggs for their own consumption -- and other nuisance laws apply. Consistent with the zoning code, violation of the ordinance is a minor misdemeanor punishable by a $150 fine. A permit must be requested from the Village manager. The proposed Ordinance Section 154.54 can be read by clicking on the link. Unfortunately, if you, like me, live in a neighborhood that is governed by a set of restrictive covenants, like Rollman Estates, you cannot have domesticated chickens, even if Amberley Village passes this ordinance.

On May 14th, residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinion on the proposed change to the zoning code. Please come to the Council meeting and you will be permitted to speak. In the meantime, I invite you to read this beautiful article in 513eats online magazine. It is written by Amberley resident and local food aficionado and chef, Ilene Ross, with photographs by Gina Weathersby.  The New York Times has been reporting on the rise of backyard chickens for several years. Closer to home, the City of Montgomery has a Facebook page dedicated to Chickens for Montgomery. Much of Amberley's ordinance was based upon information gathered from Montgomery, where chickens have been allowed by ordinance since 2009 with no complaints.

Please make sure you are subscribed to notices and the Village e-news on Amberley's website,

Friday, March 16, 2012

Garbage IN

One of the first things I did upon being elected to Amberley Village Council is establish a new email address for council-related business. It's a good thing I did too, since my inbox is already up to 548 emails, with very little spam. In fact, I just checked and there are only 2 spam emails in the spam filter. Don't let that give you any ideas, however! I get enough interesting email already...

So, where do these emails come from and what are they about? Most are actually Village business or from residents. But, as a council member, I have the opportunity to attend seminars and network. As well, I think as a council member, my name just gets added to lists of organizations that Amberley participants in as a member, as well as other interesting things. Today, in fact, I received an email from the Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services. It was the Spring 2012 newsletter "WasteLine" and I found every single article of interest to me and I think the information will be of interest to you as an Amberley Village resident.

For example, the higher a community's recycling rate, the more dollars per ton they receive as an incentive. Out of the 48 Hamilton County communities that recycle, Amberley's recycling rate is the eighth highest. At 22.41%, our recycling rate is well above the county's average rate of 13.04%. Because of all of our efforts, Amberley received $11,230.00 just for recycling! There are ways of boosting our rate even higher. Last year, you may have taken advantage of Amberley's community wide shredding event. Tonnage recycled at community shredding events counts toward a community's recycling rate. Because this is also a very valuable service to our residents, look for another community-wide shred event this Spring.

Also of interest, both to gardeners and others interested in reducing the amount of garbage they bring to the curb (or perhaps extending the life of the garbage disposal), the Hamilton County Waste and Recycling District is sponsoring composting seminars. The closest to Amberley is the seminar to be held in Deer Park on April 26th at 6:00 PM. With the Amberley Green Garden opening in April, anyone interested in gardening on the Green is encouraged to attend. Space is limited, so call Susan Schumacher at 946-7734 to register.

Look for these yard signs indicating a We THRIVE! project coming soon.
Speaking of Amberley's Community Garden, we are about a month away from rolling out the carpet on this fully-funded initiative made possible by Hamilton County Public Health's We THRIVE! grant. The flyer is available HERE and we hope to see you growing some fresh veggies this summer. Plots are 9'x15' and will rent for $50. Families who do not think they can handle an entire plot are encouraged to find another family to share with. The entire garden will be fenced with 7.5' high deer fencing that is practically invisible to the eye until you are upon it. The bottom will be reinforced with chicken wire in order to keep out burrowing animals. We will provide the water, hoses, and garden carts. This is a great opportunity to get to know each other in a fun and productive setting and I hope you will join the Wolf family in this gardening adventure. We will be using organic practices, in keeping with current trends in healthy food practices. Check out the Amberley Village We THRIVE! page on the Watch Us Thrive website.

There is always something going on in the Village, but I try to keep these posts as brief as possible and I also try to keep my imposition on YOUR email inbox as minimal as possible. Don't forget to subscribe to the Village e-news at

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Gathering Place

I saw this article in today's Cincinnati Enquirer. It's about Wyoming and the spirit of volunteerism that pervades the community. Not only volunteerism, but neighborliness that stems from a sense of place and pride in that place. I believe we have that in Amberley, but what really struck me as a significant difference between the two communities (and I'm not talking about our lack of a business district or neighborhood school), was the photo of  residents having a cup of coffee and a chat at the Wyoming Pastry Shop. 

Where do we go in Amberley when we want to relax and chat with our neighbors -- about our community, our families, our lives...? A gathering place is a central part of a community. To see our neighbors and elected officials in a relaxed setting in the community can ease suspicion and strengthen our ties to the community. We don't even have a restaurant in our own community to call our own. Or do we?

In the last few months I've realized that we actually do have a restaurant in Amberley Village. This realization came about through the process of filling out required forms for the We THRIVE! grant. At a meeting of the grant working group, JCC Executive Director Jeff Baden was in attendance.Discussion turned to the nutritional components of Amberley's food outlets -- of which there is only one: the JCC.  The cafe offers healthy food options to all who go -- not just members of the J. Since then, I've been going to the J-Cafe whenever my thoughts or discussions will be concerning Amberley. I met Council member, Bill Doering, at the J-Cafe for lunch. Resident Ilene Ross met me there to discuss how to persuade Amberley residents to embrace the J-Cafe as their local restaurant. State Representative Denise Driehaus met me at the J-Cafe when she wanted to chat about Amberley and our community's needs. 

In the coming months, I intend to meet with representatives of the JCC to discuss how to market the J-Cafe to Amberley residents, but in the meantime, I would like to invite you to make the J-Cafe YOUR local gathering spot. Like those other coffee shops in other communities, the J-Cafe offers a full range of coffee drinks, as well as pastries, soups and sandwiches. And since it is in our neighborhood, the odds are good that you will run into your Amberley neighbors there. You might even run into me, and if you do, feel free to stop and chat about Amberley. 

Isn't it great to have our own place to call home?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Spring in My Step

Is it really March already? Whatever happened to winter? Pretty soon the grass will be turning green and I haven't done anything about contracting to have it mowed this year. Whoops. But, while I may have neglected my own lawn, lots of cool things are in store for Amberley residents beginning this spring.

First of all, let's start with the new Ordinance allowing egg-laying chickens to be raised by residents in their own backyard. Consistent with the trend toward locally produced food and home gardening, it shouldn't come as a surprise that homeowners are desiring to raise their own chickens for their eggs. I have studied the current zoning in Amberley Village, and although it is my belief that our zoning did not prohibit backyard chickens, our solicitor, Kevin Frank, felt it was better if the Village had a separate ordinance pertaining to keeping chickens. I agree, as this way, there is no question as to whether residents can or cannot have chickens, and there are restrictions as to number of hens, and setbacks. Currently, Amberley -- with its large lots and bucolic atmosphere -- is one of very, very few local communities that don't allow chickens. Several residents have asked over the past few years if chickens were permitted, but were never given a definitive answer. I think that is because the zoning code was not clear on the issue. With the passage of this Ordinance, the answer will be very clear. Additionally, allowing backyard chickens allows our residents who so desire to follow the most current and healthy food trends as well as reducing their own carbon footprint and providing their families and friends with the experience of producing their own food. If you would like to read more about the history of prohibiting chickens in suburban communities, a wonderful resource can be found at Chickens for Montgomery, where the zoning code was revised in 2009 to specifically allow for chickens to be raised by residents. The first reading of Amberley's new chicken ordinance will be Monday, March 12th at the regularly scheduled Council meeting. By-the-way,  residents who live in neighborhoods with restrictive covenants, such as Rollman Estates, will not be permitted to have chickens in their yards, even with the passage of this ordinance, if their HOA specifically prohibits them.

Another sign of spring is that the new community garden at Amberley Green is staked out and ready to plow. The Amberley Green Garden will consist of garden plots that are 9x15' in size. Up to thirty-six plots can be accommodated and will rent at $50 per growing season (April to November). The entire garden will be fenced with 7 1/2 foot high deer fencing and water will be available as well as a garden cart and experienced gardeners willing to share their knowledge.  The garden will be an organic garden and there is already interest from some of our local non-profit neighbors in renting plots for educational and philanthropic purposes. The Amberley Green Garden committee will sponsor social events at the garden as well as educational presentations related to everything garden. Please be on the lookout for a flyer in your email that will be headlined "Amberley Green Garden." You will then be directed to instructions for applying for a plot and a welcome packet for gardeners. The garden is made possible from a grant from We THRIVE! which is an important initiative of the Hamilton County Dept. of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control. The purpose of We THRIVE! is to make the healthy choice the easy choice, thereby decreasing incidences of obesity and related diseases, as well as reducing smoking and increasing physical activity. It all begins at the local level, which is why grant funding was provided to a total of 12 local Cincinnati communities who are at the forefront of this movement.
Garden location "before" plowing and staking

Finally, Amberley will be championing a new, cutting-edge, initiative by Jewish Family Service of Cincinnati which is called "Community for a Lifetime." According to the most recent census, 22% of Amberley's residents are age 65 or older and the population of residents aged 50 and older is 49% higher than the national average. Due to the demographic of our community, care of our elderly population sometimes requires our police and fire department to assist our seniors in their day-to-day tasks. I recently attended the annual meeting of the Hamilton County Health District, and learned of a new and very vital and useful program called AHEAD. From this data, you can see that injuries from falls that require hospitalization among seniors in Amberley aged 65 and older are among the highest in the health district, with our neighbor, Deer Park, being even higher. Community for a Lifetime aims to take some of the pressure off our police and fire department by establishing a concierge service with our seniors so that they can form relationships with JFS social workers and, in addition, receive referrals for services they otherwise might resort to calling the police to assist with.

Don't forget to subscribe to the Village e-news at E-mail is Amberley's primary means of communicating Village news to the residents. You can also sign up for meeting notices at the same time. Look for "subscriptions" on the left-side of the Village website. Also, the easiest way to read this blog is to subscribe by email and have the content delivered directly to your inbox.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Latin Lesson

It seems that I should say a few words about the ad hoc advisory committee that was appointed by the former Council and tasked with reviewing the budget and making recommendations to council. But before I do, I want to acknowledge that we are fortunate, in Amberley, to have as many talented and interested residents as we do. As with the prior Ad Hoc Advisory Committee for Amberley Green, the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee to the Budget was dedicated and hardworking. They are to be commended for the many hours of work they devoted to this task. I am looking forward to their report to Council and the opportunity to examine their recommendations.
First of all, what is an ad hoc committee? defines an ad hoc committee as:

a committee formed for a specific task or objective,
and dissolved after the completion of the task or achievement
of the objective.

The ad hoc budget advisory committee met for four months and thoroughly reviewed Amberley's budget going back to 2006. They have prepared a Report, which is now published on, and they, as well as I, have talked about their ongoing work publicly. I have been emailed a copy of the Report,  though I have not studied it thoroughly. Nor has it been formally presented to Council, which is the completion of the task the committee set out to do. Council does not meet as a full body other than at Council meetings, which are held on the second Monday of every month. Every meeting is published on the Village calendar and in other publications and the dates are established by Amberley's Charter. The next full meeting of Council will be on March 12th. At that time, I predict that the ad hoc advisory committee will present their findings to Council and Council will have the opportunity to publicly thank them for their hard work and refer the recommendations to one of Council's standing committees -- most likely the finance committee -- but other issues may be discussed in the Long Range Planning committee, or Compensation & Benefits. There is also a Land Development committee, which may be tasked with examining one or more of the ad hoc committee's recommendations.
It would be inappropriate, in my opinion, for me to comment on any particular one of the Committee's recommendations without first having the opportunity to listen to the ad hoc committee's presentation of their Report to Council. Having seen the Report, it appears on the surface that there are some items that I can get behind and some to which I have questions. It is unfair to the committee, which is comprised of members of our community, for Council to publicly either vet or criticize any component of the Report before it is formally presented to us. Righting Amberley's budget is not going to happen overnight. If the Police Levy passes, it is merely one piece of the puzzle and represents the beginning of a lot of hard work and changes to come. Many changes have already occurred and they have been discussed here as well as in public venues with Police Chief Wallace and Manager Scot Lahrmer. 
We value our resident committees -- whether standing committees or ad hoc committees such as this one or the Amberley Green committee -- and do not want to jeopardize the willingness of our residents to serve on committees by undermining their work before they have made it official. 
As always, I invite you to attend committee meetings and learn more about the inner workings of your Village. Every meeting is publicized on You can subscribe to meeting notices in any area that particularly interests you and your input at meetings is always valued. Residents who attend meetings are never required to sit silently and watch, but are invited to share their input and expertise. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Community Building - AV Women's Forum

The Amberley Village Women's Forum met again last evening at Jayme Klosterman's house and we were joined by Officer Mike Koenig and Chief Rich Wallace for an informative presentation about keeping ourselves safe at home and forming neighborhood block watch groups. We were given several tips for being safe at home, which really are so obvious, but I'm embarrassed to say that I am a huge offender of many of them.
Officer Koenig tells us to be observant.

Chief Wallace introduces the discussion of safety
First of all, if you have an alarm system don't forget to use it. It's so easy to get into the habit of not turning it on  because "we'll only be gone for a short while" or fear that we will set it off by accident and be embarrassed when the police show up at our door. The perpetrators of burglaries in and around Amberley Village are primarily looking for easy targets to feed a heroin habit. They don't want to be confronted by pesky burglar alarms. So, if you have an alarm, turn it on. We learned that many break ins occur by the burglar breaking a rear window to enter the house and then exiting through a door. So, even if you don't have a glass break sensor, the alarm will be triggered when the burglars exit your home. IF you set it!

Dogs and other animals are a great deterrent, as are cars in the driveway and leaving the radio or TV turned on. Whatever you do, don't make it easy for the would-be burglar. Lock your car doors, lock your house doors, and close your garage door. The best deterrent, however, is keeping an eye out for anything unusual in your neighborhood. This is where the Watch Groups come in.
Crime map of Amberley Village
While the police can come by your house and do an inspection a few times a day while you are on vacation, nothing beats the watchful eyes of your own neighbors. I am planning on implementing a group in my own neighborhood, and what a great way to get to know each other. If my neighbors know that I'm going on vacation, then they can be alert to strange cars parked in my driveway -- or better yet -- if someone pulls up with a van and starts loading it up with my possessions, they will know to call the police rather than assume that it is AmVets or the Salvation Army.
I really should take that camera class... I know how to turn off the "auto" settings.

We will be continuing this discussion on home and personal safety and invite all Amberley women to join us once a month at the Amberley Women's Forum. There is always ample time to socialize and as an outgrowth of the meeting, a women's tennis league is now forming. If you are interested in joining our mailing list (or playing tennis), please email  We look forward to meeting you at our next meeting.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What's Gone Down and What's Coming Up

It's never a dull moment for the Lone Wolf. Here's a quick recap of some of the things I've been doing and some things that are coming up. Fortunately, Scott gave me a new camera for Hanukkah so I can document the places I go, otherwise I would forget for sure. As my friend Leslie used to say: My brain is like a steel sieve...

Pleasant Ridge Library Dedication
State Senator Eric Kearney
On Monday, February 13th, I accompanied former Council Member, Peg Conway, to the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly accessible Pleasant Ridge Library.  The library, which is located just down the street on Montgomery Rd., is within walking distance of three local elementary schools -- Pleasant Ridge Montessori, Nativity Elementary, and TCP World Academy. Kindergartners from PRM and Nativity provided adorable entertainment for those gathered for the dedication. 
Nativity Kindergartners sing "Grand Ol' Flag"

Energy Aggregation Update:
Many residents have been asking when they will be able to take advantage of the lower rates that will be made available due to electric aggregation. At Monday's Council meeting, Resolution 2012-26 was passed which authorized the Village Manager to enter into a contract with DPL Energy Resources.During the year 2011, our residents saved $269,000 during the 10 months Amberley was in the opt-in program. The new supplier rate will lower bills based on prior aggregation rates by 6.6%. Residents will expect to save $175 annually from the current Duke Energy rate. Residents who are a current customer of Duke do not need to do anything to be included as this is an "opt-out" program. If you, like me, are currently signed up with another supplier and wish to participate in the Village's program, you will need to contact DP&L Energy Resources, and request to be enrolled. First though, residents should check to see what, if any, cancellation charges may apply for leaving your current supplier. 

Tennis Key Cards 
As a We THRIVE! community, Amberley was required to enter into shared-use agreements in order to promote physical activity. One way to achieve this goal, is to allow non-residents to utilize our assets. In this case, Amberley has tennis courts that are often empty. For a fee of $70 per year for one year, up to twenty-five non-residents are now permitted to purchase key cards to be used on the lower, tennis courts located on the south side of Village Hall. Resolution 2012-27.

Is it a Policy, System, or Environmental Change
On Tuesday, former Mayor Merrie Stillpass, accompanied me to the wrap-up event for the We THRIVE! grant. It was great to get together with representatives from the first nine grant recipient communities as well as the three new ones (including our neighbor Roselawn). It's incredible how much a community can do with a little bit of money. For example, in addition to the new community garden that will be installed at Amberley Green, residents can look forward to a new Amberley Trail near the Section/Ridge corner of French Park so that we can run or walk around our Village Hall walking track and then extend that walk across the street and safely enter French Park from a trail. The grant will pay for a foot bridge as well as signage. We hope to recruit scouts to do the volunteer construction. Also, after a conversation with Metro, Amberley will be included in a comprehensive transportation study that may result in a new bus stop being located in Amberley near the JCC. This will enable employees and senior users of the JCC to access the facility by bus. Additionally, seniors who come to the JCC from Cedar Village via the Cedar Village bus, will be able to get to a grocery store or do personal errands via the Metro bus. The We THRIVE! grant will be used to pay for a bus stop bench. 

Don't Forget the Police Levy
Last, but by no means least, please don't forget about the Police Levy that is on the March 6th ballot. Nearly 50% of the Village budget is consumed by our police services. If this levy doesn't pass, expect to see a significant negative impact on our police service as well as all other services in the Village.  You can expect the police to operate on a response basis only instead of in crime-prevention mode as they do now. If you have not attended any of Chief Wallace's presentations at Village Hall or the previous Town Hall meeting at the JCC, you have another opportunity on Tuesday, February 21st at 6:30 PM. It is important that all of us have an understanding of how our operations function and the current associated costs. 

I recently heard a resident say that he doesn't care if his house burns down. Seriously -- a resident actually said that. Well, maybe his house is merely bricks and mortar, but my house includes memories of a lifetime that are irreplaceable by any insurance company. Family photos can never be replaced, not to mention objects to which we've attached special significance. Chief Wallace gave me a tour of the police station yesterday and I was able to get a look at the dispatch service as well as one of the many neighborhood mapping tools used by the police. I was able to easily see my own house and noted three stickers affixed to it. Those stickers indicated that there was one 911 call from from our residence in the last year, as well as two misdemeanor arrests (on the property -- not my immediate family). There are lots of stickers on that map! 

Example of how the Police Dept. is being restructured.
At the most recent Council meeting, residents spoke in favor of the levy, and I addressed what I see as the "intangible" elements that bring people to Amberley Village. I identified eight reasons people choose to buy a home in Amberley and listed them randomly: nostalgia, large lots, access to synagogues, access to Cincinnati Public Schools, convenience, proximity to parks and green space, architectural uniqueness, and services. You can read the entire address by clicking HERE

I'll leave you with an example of one of those beautiful "Amberley" homes I refer to in my Address to Council. This home sits on a beautiful, large wooded lot and is replete with the charm and craftsmanship that we associate with Amberley. You can request a blue sign for your own yard by visiting