By Rabbi Andrew Kaplan
What started out as a somewhat tense opening to a special council meeting of Amberley Village Monday, June 24, eventually dissolved into one of cool-headed consideration.
This special council meeting was called to discuss plans for the Mayerson Jewish Community Center’s proposed use of Amberley Green. Having kicked off the meeting by setting out with a mission of using the time to “work through the comments,” Mayor Tom Muething said, “I want to have clarity out of today as to how to go forward.”
Four residents then voiced their concerns about the plans the JCC and Amberley Village were putting together, including one resident who requested that council members disclose if they were JCC members.
Following the concerns, all of the written comments that had been submitted to Amberley were shared, having yielded more than 80 comments that came in via email, written comments, and online submissions. This provided an opportunity for all of the people in the room, especially the council members to consider the concerns that residents shared.
Village Manager Scot Lahrmer, and his staff had categorized the comments and concerns into eight areas, most of which concerned either the benefits and amenities of Amberley Green for the residents, or the possibility of leveraging Amberley Green for sufficient and worthwhile revenue generation for the village.
One area, however, that was important was the desire for more information, which was “no surprise to the staff,” said Lahrmer, as “residents recognize they need more information. … I think these comments surface a lot of things that people like and don’t like.”
Following on the heels of Lahrmer’s sharing of the data, each council member provided their input. Rich Bardach identified the need to manage the conflict between dog people, who want to keep Amberley Green as it is, and camp people, who would like to be able to put Amberley Green to use for their children. Bardach also articulated that “future maintenance costs needs to be fleshed out for Amberley Green.”
“The value, overwhelmingly, is that people want to use the land as they are already using it,” said council member Elida Kamine. “We have a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of work ahead of us.”
On the heels of his fellow council members’ comments, Muething went through a list of information, thoughts, and comments of his own, including mentioning that the demand for the land is not as high as it had been when the village acquired it.
“It is the right thing to work this deal,” he said. “The JCC and the Jewish community are critical to Amberley Village. … The JCC has been one of the best things to happen to Amberley Village.”
While there had been some ideas of a master plan years ago, people have been “reluctant to do a master plan,” Lahrmer said, as it has developed to become sort of fluid over the years. Lahrmer urged some movement on these plans: “If we are interested, we need to move forward, otherwise, we will still be sitting here in five years with this land.”
Lahrmer also identified the JCC as a good business partner and that Amberley Village should be willing to work with the JCC in moving forward. Otherwise, this analysis paralysis could be detrimental to both the village’s future plans with Amberley Green and to its finances.
With some significant questions still left to answer concerning both Amberley Green, financial commitments and considerations, as well as specifics of any potential deals with the JCC, there is much left that will need to happen before any deals will be made. Clear results of the special council meeting are that Amberley Village still has much to consider before going forward with any deals with the JCC, and that it plans on making sure it communicates to its residents about this information.