Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Amberley Green

At the Candidate's Forum hosted by the Amberley Women's Forum, council candidates were asked the question "do you support multi-family housing?"  My answer then, and now, is that, with the proper zoning, developer and plan, multi-family housing on Amberley Green would be a good amenity to our current and future residents. We are a community with an aging population who have made it known that they would be very interested in luxury condos or lifestyle homes on Amberley Green. Also, the same kind of housing would appeal to young professionals. Built in the context of the mixed-use development recommended by the Amberley Long Range Planning Committee  and as part of a larger development that is safe and walkable, we would be adding value to our community by providing more choices for living.

This evening I attended a meeting of the First Suburbs Consortium, which I wrote about in an earlier post. The topic of housing happened to be addressed. One thing that the majority of older, built suburbs, such as Amberley, have in common, is a lack of available housing for our aging population. The advantage that Amberley has, over Blue Ash (where this is the MAIN issue of concern), is that we have available land for rectifying this situation. Luxury condos, lifestyle homes, or apartments featuring universal design features might be just what Amberley needs in order to attract new residents and keep empty-nesters in our community. At the request of the attendees, this issue will continue to be addressed and meetings are open to everyone. If you would like to be notified of the next meeting of First Suburbs, please let me know and I'll be happy to get you the information.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Keeping Tabs on Me

This upcoming election, I am fortunate that I am running without an opponent. Hopefully that means that residents are satisfied, or, at least, not dissatisfied, with my job performance over the last two years. I have tried to communicate with as many of you as I can about things in Amberley that I am working on or that I think residents should be made aware of. I could probably update this blog more often, but then I might run the risk of becoming more spam in your inbox.

The question was raised recently about why I am putting up campaign signs and communicating with voters during election season when I am running unopposed. The answer is simple: I cannot expect voters to vote for me simply because I don't have an opponent. In my opinion, I still have to earn your vote, and to earn your vote, I need to prove that I am still working hard for Amberley. In fact, I have to work harder than ever because given the current makeup of council, and probably into the near future, I will still be a "lone wolf" when it comes to pressing for improvements that would positively impact the quality of life for residents.

My priorities haven't changed in the two years I've served on council. For example, even though the Village has paid off Amberley Green, economic development is as important today as it was when I first took office. Fortunately, our ownership of this beautiful piece of property gives us the luxury of dictating what can be built there. Safe streets for pedestrians is also of high importance. Nothing happens overnight, but it is silly not to plan for future possibilities. I will continue to search for grants to pay for future planning, like the grant opportunity I brought to committee last week from Interact for Health. There was no support for applying for the grant, but part of being on council is to continue to bring forth issues that are of importance to residents whether there is support for them at this time or not. Trends change, opinions change. It's important to stay educated to trends and make sure Amberley does not become a dinosaur because it's much easier and less risky to ignore them.

I've always believed that the way a candidate runs their campaign tells voters a lot about the way they will serve. A candidate who works hard for your vote, communicates a well-thought out platform, engages their constituents, and takes advantage of public outreach opportunities like the League of Women Voters Smart Voter, The Cincinnati Enquirer, or ICRC, is a candidate who has researched the issues and wants the voters to know their positions.

The Amberley Village Women's Forum is conducting a candidate's forum at the home of Stacy Lefton this Wednesday, October 16th, from 7-9 PM. Please look for more information on Nextdoor where you can also find Stacy's contact information to RSVP.
Paid for by Wolf for Council, 600 Vine St. Cincinnati, OH 45202

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Panhandle Lots

A panhandle lot is a lot that is set back from the street, behind other houses, and only accessable via a long narrow drive. Imagine the main lot with a house, is the pan, and the long drive is the panhandle. In an predominantly built area, like Amberley, where some homeowners own large lots, panhandle lots may be the only area in which to build a new house. Typically, they are created when an existing homeowner sells a large lot and the new owner decides to subdivide the lot into two or more lots. Panhandle lots allow a developer to put an additional lot onto an exisiting property without building a new road. Panhandle lots can consist of one single lot with a single home or a series of new lots and homes, essentially creating a new street or drive behind the original street. Each new house would share one long driveway and the address, typically, is on the main street.

Earlier this year, The Board of Zoning Appeals heard applications from two developers over the course of nearly as many months who each wanted permission to create panhandle lots on property they had just purchased. Each property was in excess of two acres, thus meeting the minimum requirement for one acre housing lots in property zoned Residence "A." Both properties were located in deadend or cul-de-sac streets, and both were heavily wooded in the rear. Neither property owner presented a detailed plan to the BZA for the yet-to-be-built homes. Both applications were contested by existing neighbors and homeowners who stated that they did not desire the extra traffic from construction vehicles, additional curb cuts to create a drive, and a new house to be built in their backyards. Yet, each case was decided differently, primarily due to Amberley's current Zoning Code which does not provide any guidance for deciding on these type of lots. 

The trend for older communities is to restrict panhandle lots, allowing them only when detailed plans are presented to the BZA. This protects existing homeowners who were not expecting to have to share their backyard with a new homeowner's front yard. It also protects the integrity of older neighborhoods and the rural ambiance that comes from living in an area with larger lots and mature trees. Additionally, it puts potential buyers on notice that they may not be able to subdivide their property if it will result in a panhandle lot without first having their detailed plans scrutinized by the BZA. 

Amberley's Planning Commission has been examing new legislation that addresses this issue and will be presenting it to Council in the coming months. Please subscribe to our Village webpage at AmberleyVillage.org if you want to be notified of the public hearing for this ordinance.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Amberley is not an Island

One thing I like to keep in mind when I think about Amberley and my responsiblitity to the village as a council member, is how Amberley can remain a vibrant community, given the challenges that all local municipalities are facing, including elimination of estate tax, local government funds, and tangible personal property tax,  since most of our state revenue has been cut or eliminated. Where does Amberley Village fit within the structure of Hamilton County and who is looking out for us, besides our Amberley officials? Fortunately, we are not alone, but as a small community, it is important for us to shout a little louder and be a little more visible, so as not to be neglected.

One of the organizations that Amberley participates in is the First Suburbs Consortium of Southwest Ohio. First Suburbs are those suburbs that are generally located near core cities and were established prior to 1960. First suburbs share many common concerns -- older housing stock, shrinking tax base, and competition from the newer, outer exurbs for economic development. As the name suggests, the First Suburbs Consortium can generate the power of collaborative interests to influence policy -- as it is doing right now regarding HB5 and changes to how Ohio collects municipal tax.

Representatives to the First Suburbs Consortium are appointed by council. I was appointed in 2011 as an "alternate" representative. In February of this year, I learned that our appointed representative was not attending meetings, thereby leaving Amberley unrepresented and without a voice. In March, I attended my first First Suburbs general membership meeting where the Mill Creek Watershed was discussed, as well as updates regarding HB5 and other state legislative news. I have subsequently been appointed to serve on the executive committee of the Consortium.

Amberley is facing many challenges ahead, as we are forced to contend with a shrinking budget yet residents expect the same level of service they are used to. It is important for us to realize that we, as a community, share many of the same issues with our neighboring communities and that we are stronger when we harness our collective resources and ideas. The First Suburbs Consortium is just one way Amberley can have a louder voice at the state level.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

French Park

Have you been to French Park recently? This 275 acre Cincinnati park in the heart of Amberley Village is one of our most beautiful amenities, if not the most beautiful feature of Amberley. The park is the second largest park run by the Cincinnati Park Board, and we are very fortunate to live within such close proximity to its ever-changing scenery.

The trails in French Park can't be beat. With the addition of the new Amberley Trail built by the Israel Scouts and Mayor Mallory's Teen Summer Greanleaf Program, it's possible to run or walk five miles without every seeing the same scenery. It's impossible to get lost, because all trails lead down to the creek, which leads to the parking lot.

The Amberley Creek, a tributary of the Mill Creek, is a great place for fossil hunters or hikers who just want to escape the summer heat. There are plenty of surprises in the park too. Have you seen Mr. French's pet cemetary? I ran the trails this morning, and I was surprised by a new park improvement -- new stalls in the bathroom!

If it's been a while since you've visited the park, I suggest a visit this week. The wildflowers are in full bloom and are simply stunning!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Water Management

My nephew, Tyler, an environmental engineering major at OSU, has become increasingly interested in water conservation since visiting a kibbutz in Israel last winter where significant inroads on water management and conservation are being made by evironmental engineers. This week, he installed a couple of rain barrels for me. I can't tell you how happy I am to have them, just from a financial perspective, since our summer water bills tend to lean toward the side of high to outrageously high. I like plants and plants need water. But from a practical and environmental perspective, many of us in Amberley have been dealing with the question of what to do with too much water for years. While the Amberley Creek and its subsidiaries provide us with a lovely ambiance, when it rains that beautiful babbling brook can become a raging menace -- overflowing its banks and flooding our yards. Yes, the water comes from the rain falling directly from the clouds, but it also comes fast and furiously from the gutters and downspouts on our homes.

Amberley: Before Rain Garden Installed
Installing rain barrels to collect the water from our downspouts have many benefits. First, it prevents the runoff from our gutters from entering our already overloaded storm sewers. Second, rain barrels help to prevent ponding and flooding of water in our yards; third, it prevents flooding of stormwater into our streets; fourth, rain barrels provide free water for our gardens.

 Rain gardens are another practical measure homeowners can take to harvest and control some of the excess water flooding their property. In fact, Amberley Village has examples of both a rain barrel and a rain garden at Village Hall.  Before installing the Village Hall rain garden, the south end of the field was prone to flooding. By installing a rain garden, not only has the flooding been curbed, but the area is now more beautiful with the addition of deep-rooted native plants and grasses, and is a habitat for butterflies and birds.
Rain Garden in 2008

Amberley's website has plenty of information about rain barrels and rain gardens. More information can also be found at Rain Garden Network, as well as guides for installation.
Rain Garden in 2013

Amberley Rain Garden in 2013
The Hamilton County Storm Water and Conservation District has published a manual for use in properly constructing a rain garden. It can be downloaded here:http://www.hcswcd.org/uploads/1/5/4/8/15484824/raingardenmanual.pdf

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Electric Aggregation

Are you getting your electricity from Dayton Power & Light (DP&L), Amberley's electric aggregator? If you are not, is it because you are currently under contract with another energy supplier (not Duke Energy) and don't want to pay an early cancellation fee? Without boring you with the details of my own experience of trying to join with other Amberley residents and get the much lower aggregated rate (.045/kwh), I will simply clear up some misconceptions and provide some information that is not currently on our website:

1. DP&L will pay any other provider's early termination fee of up to $150. If you are staying with another electric provider because you don't want to be charged a cancellation fee, call DP&L and explain this to them. They are difficult to get a hold of, but they will call you back. If you send them an email, you will hear back within 24 hours. Their email address is DPLEnergyCare@DPLinc.com.

2. Amberley's contracted rate until May, 2014 is 0.0445 cents per kilowat hour. (My current rate with First Energy is 0.063 cents per kwh and changes with each reading. I would have saved much more money by switching last year, had I known DP&L would pay the early termination charge).

3. If you never contracted with another supplier, you are already benefitting from Amberley's contract with DP&L, even though your bills still come from Duke Energy.

4. You must fill out the form on the website and email or fax it to DP&L to get the Amberley Village rate. The rate for regular customers is currently 0.053 kwh, which is not as good a deal as Amberley's negotiated rate.

Start saving money on your electric bill!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Complete Streets

Pedestrian shoulder Ridge Rd.
According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, "Providing safe places for people to walk is an essential responsiblility of government entities involved in constructing or regulating the construction of public rights-of-way." This seems so obvious, but Amberley has been wrestling with this issue for decades. By not moving forward with long-range planning to make Amberley more pedestrian friendly, housing and livablity trends are passing us by as the Millenial generation is seeking out living spaces that provide multiple options for transportation, which include more public transportion options as well as safe pathways.

It is time for Amberley Village officials to recognize that, although we do not have a central business district within our own community, a majority of our residents live within walking distance of business districts in either Pleasant Ridge, to the south, and Dillonvale, to the north. Safe access to these areas and to our own amentities within the Village will increase our property values thus benefitting the financial forcast for our community

In her presentation, "Designing Communities for All: The role of complete streets in improving accessibility and enhancing economic competitiveness," Kerstin Carr of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (morpc), indicates that "every one-point increase in the 100-point Walk Score scale is associated with an increase in home value of $500-$3,000." From a health standpoint, she cites another study that found that "43% of people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of home met recommended activity levels. Among individuals without safe places to walk, just 27% were active enough." Amberley has great places to walk -- French Park, Amberley Green, the Amberley Walking Path, the JCC --  but we lack a safe way to get there on foot.

The Health, Education, & Welfare committee of Council held a meeting yesterday on the issue of pedestrian safety. The issue encompasses more than just providing a safe shoulder of the road upon which to walk. Our intersections can be made safer by installing crosswalks. Streets can be identified that are routinely used as cut-through thoroughfares and traffic calming measures can be examined. The city council of Westerville, Ohio, passed a Resolution last year expressing support of the Complete Streets Initiative. By so doing, they are expressing their committment to remember pedestrians when the time comes to budget for street maintenance and improvements.
Amberley should do the same. In fact, at Monday's council meeting, we supported the introduction of a Long Range Financial Plan, the partial mission of which includes this question: "What are (we) doing as... government officials to ensure that our community and ...property value is not only maintained but enhanced ten years from now and beyond?" (Emphasis mine).  An important question, and not one to be ignored when budgeting for the maintenance and future of our community.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Amberley's Neighborhood School

When my husband was growing up in Amberley, he attended his neighborhood school for elementary school, which, at the time, was Losantiville School. I attended my own neighborhood schools while growing up in Finneytown. In fact, for most of us, the neighborhood school was our school, unless our parents made a different choice -- say to send the kids to parochial school. In recent decades, here in Cincinnati, the neighborhood school has been replaced by the magnet school. Parents stand in line for days, often in inclement weather, to enroll their children in select schools of choice, because of the perception, often based in reality, that the neighborhood school is unable to adequately meet the educational needs of their children.

When my family moved to Amberley in 1997, I could not tell you what our neighborhood school was. Amberley didn't have its own school and as far as I could tell, where I sent my child to public school depended on what quadrant I lived in. Although Amberley only comprises 3.5 square miles, our children could go to any one of three "neighborhood" schools. Most Amberley parents did as we did and sent their kids to private school.

Things have changed since 1997. The former Pleasant Ridge Elementary School, a neighborhood school in CPS for over 100 years, was rebuilt and re-opened as PRM (Pleasant Ridge Montessori). A very dedicated  group of parents and community volunteers have been working tirelessly since 2006 to make this school a top-performing neighborhood school for Pleasant Ridge, Golf Manor, and Amberley Village. Through the very active involvement of educators, community leaders, parents, and Xavier University, PRM has seen its academic performance indicators rise and its socio-economic makeup become more diverse and more closely resemble the neighborhood where it is located.

Last night I attended a community meeting at PRM where the focus was on the next steps for the school. From my estimation, over 200 community members were in attendance. Most were parents of PRM students, but additonally there were local elected officials from all three communities served by the school, representatives from social service agencies and other interested community members.  This is an extremely involved parent body!  For a community like Amberley, which has not had a neighborhood school to call its own since it was incorporated, we are very lucky to have this rising star of Cincinnati Public Schools as our neighborhood school. The best part is, parents of Amberley kids can enroll their kids in a school where the parents and teachers are as involved as any private or magnet school for free and without camping out for a week.

If you are a PRM parent and Amberley resident, please leave a comment about PRM in the comment section of this post. I'd love to hear your thoughts on PRM. If you are interested in the next steps for PRM, there is another community meeting on May 22nd at 5:30 at the school itself.


Sunday, April 21, 2013


Running on Amberley Green
When I was campaigning for council, I was derided a couple of times for my green signs. Although the signs, in my mind, depicted how I felt about Amberley -- green, rolling hills -- they were seen as being an indicator of another kind of "green." The green of someone who cares about the environment. Did this interpretation of  a one dimensional yard sign hurt my feelings? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I welcomed it, and if I happened to lose those two votes (I did), I hope that the passage of time has proven that green is a sign of foresight and progressiveness when it comes to economic development and the future of Amberley and Cincinnati.

Recently, Amberley Village Council voted in favor of an agreement that would give The Walnut Group the exclusive right to conduct a due diligence investigation into the feasiblity of developing Amberley Green consistent with Amberley's Long Range Plan. The agreement, Resolution 2013-09, requires that The Walnut Group develop detailed site plans, including street and utility diagrams, street layouts, specific designs, as well as possible tenants, timing, and economics. Because the concept plan of The Walnut Group is consistent with Amberley's published Long Range Plan, it includes strong references to Amberley's Vision Pillars that require sustainable and ecological practices as well as connectivity.

Which brings me back to "green." According to this morning's Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati is ten years ahead of other municipalities in terms of sustainablility. Last week, I wrote about our recycling program. We have been gardening at Amberley Green for a year. Tomorrow at 6:00PM, Amberley is celebrating nine years of being a Tree City, USA community. Next month, on May 19th, we will be hosting "One Stop Drop," a large-scale recycling event at Amberley Green where residents can bring documents for shredding, small electric appliances for recycling, and any kind of shoe to give to foundations that will reuse them.

A strong componant of building a greener community is the ability of residents to commute within the area without the use of cars. Cycle trails, sidewalks, and walking paths make a community more friendly and, from an economic standpoint, a more desirable area in which to buy a house and raise a family. The Walnut Group's concept plan includes a town square, Univeral Design housing, a corporate tenant, plenty of green space and walking paths. It is up to us, the citizens of Amberley Village, to insist on a safe means to connect to Amberley Green, French Park, and our other myriad amenities, without needing to resort to our cars.

If you haven't yet connected with your neighbors on Amberley Village Nextdoor, please accept my invitation to do so now. Stay informed! CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fill Up That Bin!

Ok, so you've got your new 65 gallon recycle bin. Have you filled it up yet? I mean, have you really filled it up? Are you maximizing the recycle potential of your trash?

The most recent issue of Hamilton County Solid Waste & Recycling's newsletter "WasteLine" has Amberley Village falling out of the top 10 municipalities for recycling. The truth is, our recycling rate stayed almost the same, but our solid waste output increased.

As I drive around Amberley on Friday's, I notice a lot of recyclable items stacked at the curb alongside the bins. Cardboard boxes, for example, are recyclable if you break them down and put them in the new, larger bin. In my household, I've become a super recycler -- empty toilet paper, paper towel, or gift wrap tubes go into the bin. Empty tissue boxes also go into the bin. In fact, I've been guilty of pulling recyclable items out of the trash and putting them where they belong -- in the recycle bin. If you're not sure what can be recycled, clicke HERE for a list.

 Now I'll get off my (recyclable, cardboard) soapbox and talk about something else. Trash in the streets. This usually occurs just after trash day, but I have a favor to ask. We all need to take care of our community. If you see that something from your garbage has blown out of the can, or for some reason not made it into the truck, please pick it up and dispose of it. If you see someone has thrown a beer can into your yard over the night, please pick it up and recycle it. I always ask myself, if I don't pick it up, who will?  All of us working collectively can resolve this issue and go far to keeping Amberley the beautiful community that we love. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mill Creek Watershed

From its headwaters in Liberty Township and running South/Southwest for 28 miles, the Mill Creek and its tributaries provided the lifeblood for development of Cincinnati over two hundred years ago. Within 100 years of being renamed the "Mill Creek" from the Native American name "Macetewa," the Mill Creek was nearly destroyed due to the very industrial development that put Cincinnati on the map. I, like many of our Amberley residents, have lived within Mill Creek watershed our whole lives. Many local communities count on the Mill Creek to provide their local drinking water. The Mill Creek Watershed Council of Communities was established to protect and enhance the value of the Mill Creek.

Amberley Creek, which runs through French Park and provides a natural and attractive water feature to many of our residents, is a tributary of the Mill Creek. Perhaps you have seen these signs and wondered about the water flowing nearby. The tributaries of the Mill Creek expand the reach of the watershed to encompass areas as far east as Deer Park and Silverton within Hamilton County, and as far west as Groesbeck and Mt. Airy. The Mill Creek itself dumps into the Ohio River in Western Cincinnati near 9th and Gest Streets.

There is plenty to do to enjoy the Mill Creek, which is slowly regaining its health and providing a home to wildlife and a place to recreate. Like to paddle? You can explore the Mill Creek by canoe. Five different sections of the creek are open to paddlers. If you are looking for an outdoor activity this Saturday, March 16th, the Mill Creek Watershed Council is looking for volunteers to help remove invasive plant species from Twin Creek Preserve in Sharonville from 9:00-12:00 PM.

Why should we care about the Mill Creek Watershed? Amberley Creek is a valuable asset! Like access to walking trails and bike paths, current statistics show that homeowners will pay a premium to live near daylighted water sources, like open, running creeks. Let's acknowledge, protect, and enhance our natural assets for the future of Amberley.

MillCreekWatershed's Mill Creek photos album on Photobucket

Thursday, February 14, 2013

It's like this:

I've been somewhat disingenuous with my posts, as the subtitle of this blog is "the musings of the only female elected official in Amberley Village." This video will give you an idea of how things actually are. This was a publicly televised council meeting. Imagine the message this sends to the female staff of the village.


Click on "Guest Speaker." "Streets" and "New Business."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Ohio law requires all elected officials, either individually or through an appointed representative, to attend Sunshine Law Training regarding Ohio Public Records and Open Meetings laws. On January 24, Tom Muething and myself along with Council Clerk, Nicole Browder (appointed on behalf of the remainder of Council), attended the training presented by the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

This is just one of many training workshops for government officials that is either required, or made available, to elected officials. When we’re elected to serve on Council, we are often inexperienced in public service and the plethora of government agencies available to assist our communities.  When I was elected to Council last November, I made a concerted effort to attend as many training workshops as I could since I, like most of council, was new to public service. Some workshops were presented by WeTHRIVE!, some by the Hamilton County Public Health District, The HC Planning Partnership, as well as the Cincinnati Bar Association. The information I learn from training makes me a better council person, as well as enables me to spread the great news from Amberley Village to the rest of the County.  

I encourage all of Amberley's elected officials to make it a practice to attend these workshops, which are offered throughout the year, encompassing topics such as planning and zoning, Public Records, local government law, and meeting management.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Professional Services

One of the things you learn pretty quickly as a council person is that you can't be an expert at everything. Running a village takes many layers of expertise from management to maintenance to legal to surveying to engineering studies. In this post, I am going to write briefly about the role of our Village Engineering service, CDS Associates, Inc.

The Village has contracted for professional services with CDS for 27 years. Unlike contracts for capital improvements, professional services for the village are not competitively bid, but are based on expertise and the needs of the village. Just like you would hire the best attorney for the job, the same holds true for engineering services. CDS provides engineering services for many Cincinnati jurisdictions including the Cities of Blue Ash and Cincinnati, Villages of Glendale and Amelia, Deerfield Township and many more. Jurisdictions rely on the expertise of their engineer for  everything from preliminary feasibility studies to post-construction services. Amberley's infrastructure needs are as complicated and diverse as any size jurisdiction. Our roads and bridges are aging and council relies upon the recommendations of the engineer to advise us on whether these assets are in need of repair or replacement.

Because of  CDS Associates and our Village Engineer, John Eisenman's long association with Amberley, the knowledge they bring with regard to our infrastructure is invaluable. The relationship predates the acquisition of Amberley Green, for example, and they are able to advise council on the condition of the dam that is not up to ODNR standards and provide several options for bringing it up to code in a timely manner that will potentially save the village hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. CDS advises and provides planning for bridges, roads, traffic lights and systems, crosswalks -- essentially all of the things that keep our roads and operations running safely and smoothly.

CDS has not raised their consulting rates since 2009, and only just this month brought us a new rate sheet which detailed rate increases that on average are not more than 3.4%. Council, in light of  the history and knowledge that CDS brings to Amberley, as well as the expertise and high rating by the Ohio Dept. of Transportation, its reputation among the over 25 other jurisdictions it represents, its ease of accessibility to village staff, and satisfaction with prior service, voted at last night's council meeting to approve the rate increases.