Pepper Pike, Woodmere mayors meet with U.S. senators in Washington (2023)

PEPPER PIKE, Ohio – Pepper Pike Mayor Richard Bain and Woodmere Mayor Ben Holbert participated in meetings and discussions with Ohio’s U.S. senators last week in Washington, D.C.

They spoke about their time spent with Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Cleveland, and Sen. JD Vance, a Republican from Cincinnati, during the Orange Board of Education’s semiannual meeting with the mayors Thursday (March 9) at the Pepper Pike Learning Center.

Mayors from the five primary municipalities served by the Orange School District provided updates about their communities.

“It was really outstanding,” Holbert said.

“They introduced a bipartisan rail safety bill (related to the Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine). That was based on conversations with local mayors.”

Holbert said there was also a conversation about workforce issues and “why that’s important.”

“With the talent we have here in Northeast Ohio – kids graduating from high school and going off to college – we’re going to see if there’s a way to bring them back so we won’t suffer the brain drain,” he said.

The mayors also toured the White House and attended a special reception for Ohio’s birthday celebration. Ohio became a state on March 1, 1803.

Bain said a major reason he wanted to go on the trip was to gain more information about money available via an infrastructure bill that could help supplement the cost of sanitary sewers.

Bain said Pepper Pike has a large sanitary sewer project under way on Shaker Boulevard, in which about 85 homes along the boulevard will be connected to sanitary sewers and will no longer depend on septic systems.

“We met with the (U.S.) Departments of Commerce and Transportation,” he said. “The infrastructure bill that was adopted is so enormous, it’s hard to understand how you get into that bill and find the available funds.

“I needed to go to learn more about that and make the right connections with the departments.”

Bain said the sanitary sewer project seems to be going well.

“It’s the next step in our efforts to convert our septic systems to sanitary (sewers),” he said. “About one-half of the city is on septic systems.

“The initiative for the past several years has been working with the (Northeast Ohio) Regional Sewer District with a unique grant program that they organized to provide funding that supplements and reduces the amount of the assessment to the homeowners.”

Bain said the project will likely continue until May.

In addition, Bain said the city’s annual virtual food drive for Harvest for Hunger is under way. He said it’s been “a wonderful thing for Pepper Pike.”

“The (Greater Cleveland) Food Bank does all the work,” he said. “They provide the link to their website and set it up on behalf of your community, and it’s a way for your residents to dial in on their computers and make donations.

“We’ve already gotten a nice response in one day. It’s pretty easy, and I really recommend the program.”

Bain said the city will kick off its annual community events soon, including Movies in the Park and Music in the Park.

The city’s popular Taste of Pepper Pike is set to return June 25, and the city will partner with Ursuline College for its Juneteenth celebration June 17 on the Ursuline campus.

Good and bad news in Woodmere

The Woodmere Village Police Department acquired an electric motorcycle in November, after receiving a grant from Cuyahoga County, Holbert said.

“It’s going to be used primarily as a PR (public relations) tool, but there’s no gasoline, no smell and very minimal sound, so we’ll also be able to use it for traffic enforcement,” he said.

“It’s a powerful piece of machinery. It’s about 600 pounds and it moves out real quick.”

Holbert said the fire department was able to able to purchase a “demo fire truck” for about $675,000.

“Our new fire chief, Gina DeVito-Staub, went to a program in Wisconsin,” he said. “She talked with a sales guy there about a demo fire truck.

“We took delivery on it in December. We were very fortunate to get it so quickly.”

In November, Woodmere had a digital sign installed in front of Village Hall. A $46,000 Cuyahoga County block grant covered more than 90 percent of the cost, Holbert said.

“We were using the sign for all kinds of things to promote things going on with the school district and in the community,” he said.

“Unfortunately, on Feb. 9, a gentleman was driving, and we don’t know how he did it, but he turned and ran right into it. So the sign is basically totaled.”

The village was in the process of working with the driver’s insurance agent until learning that his insurance had lapsed, Holbert said.

“So we have to figure out a way to get it replaced, but we think we’ll be able to do it,” he said. “Our prosecutor and law director are working on it.

“We worked years to try to get that sign, and to have it knocked down in a couple (months) is sort of frustrating.”

Last year, Woodmere introduced a designated outdoor refreshment area (DORA) on Eton Chagrin Boulevard, and it’s going into full force this spring, Holbert said.

A DORA is a mapped-out district in which patrons 21 and over may purchase alcoholic beverages from approved restaurants and carry them outside and within the DORA boundaries.

“If you go to Paladar or Mitchell’s, you can get yourself an adult beverage and walk around the premises during shopping hours (via the DORA),” he said.

“We think that’s going to be an opportunity to bring more people in, so we’re pretty excited about that.”

In addition, Holbert said the widening of Chagrin Boulevard – from the Speedway station at Chagrin and Brainard Road to the Woodmere-Beachwood corporate line – appears to be on schedule.

“We know there are pinch points there, where the cars are stacked up, so we hope that expanding the street 8 feet on the north side will be enough to start making traffic move along a lot better,” he said.

Holbert said the construction will create another lane of traffic. He’s hopeful that the project will be completed by the end of next year.

Finally, the village is excited about its second official Juneteenth celebration, set for June 16, Holbert said.

The event will have a baseball theme, he noted. “42,” a biographical film about Jackie Robinson breaking major league baseball’s color barrier, will be shown on a mobile screen in the area of the gazebo at Eton Chagrin.

Last year’s Juneteenth celebration drew nearly 1,000 people to the village, Holbert said.

“Our population in Woodmere is 641 people, so to have almost 1,000 people attending one of your events, hopefully we’re doing something right,” he said. “We’re just trying to be good community partners.”

Orange safety levy may be off the table

Todd Puster, treasurer of the Orange Schools, made a presentation to the mayors about the 1.5-mill permanent improvement levy that the school board intends to place on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The board has taken no official action yet, but at a work session March 3, board members agreed with Puster that the levy is needed and that a 1.5-mill request of voters is reasonable.

Puster noted the district has a 2.2-mill debt service levy that will come off the tax duplicate at the end of this year. So with that debt being retired, and the district’s capital improvement needs being what they are, the board felt it could ask taxpayers to “redeploy all or part of those resources,” Puster said.

Orange Mayor Kathy U. Mulcahy said she believes what the board is doing is “completely understandable,” but its decision puts her in a quandary because the village had been considering placing a safety forces levy on the Nov. 7 ballot, as well.

“With the decision by the school board, I’m not sure what our plan will be,” she said. “I don’t know how it’s going to affect Orange, but it will.”

Last July, Mulcahy said the village’s administration was working toward placing a safety forces levy on the November ballot due to a significant increase in violent crime in the village since January 2020 and increased needs for the police and fire departments. Most of the crime is in the commercial district on Orange Place, she said.

But in January, Mulcahy said she was not sure if the levy will be necessary. She said the administration is trying to determine how much a renovation of Village Hall would cost and how much the village can afford to pay toward that without putting a levy on the ballot.

In the past year, Mulcahy noted, Orange has embarked on a “big beef-up-our-security initiative.”

“We are going to have a lot of cameras throughout the village for safety purposes,” she said. “I think it’s good for people to know we’re going to have it and to know not to come into Orange to commit any crimes, because we will catch them if they do.

“Our police officers have just started for the first time to wear body cameras,” she added. “We have all new (police) cars and dash (cameras), so we are taking a very aggressive effort to get on top of the crime.”

Mulcahy said the latest proposal for the residential project next to Pinecrest has 360 units in two apartment buildings. It would be located on about 25 acres between Silverspot Cinema at Pinecrest and Chagrin Boulevard.

“I think it’s going to be a little challenging,” she said. “I think the problem is if it’s not economically feasible, there’s so much money out there now for HUD (housing and urban development) and Section 8 housing, and that’s what we’d end up with.”

Mulcahy added Orange’s summer activities will include its second annual Party in the Park, slated for July 22 at Community Park.

Moreland Hills pavilion a success

Moreland Hills Mayor Daniel Fritz said the Lang Pavilion, which opened last year at Village Park in the 143-acre Forest Ridge Preserve, had a very successful first summer.

“We have sort of a mini-Blossom (Music Center) back there,” he said. “We had live music, and we’re always looking for cheap talent.

“I know (the Orange Schools) is flush with amazing singers and instrumentalists, so if any of these children would like to hold a mini-concert out there this summer, they would be welcome.”

Fritz also provided an update on the Moreland Commons housing development, off Chagrin Boulevard between Lander Circle and Ohio 91. He said a total of 59 homes are being built there, including 41 single-style family homes and 18 villas.

In addition, Fritz said the Moreland Hills Police Department has acquired a Harley Davidson motorcycle and recently ordered two new ones.

“They’re getting upfitted now, so look for more of a motorcycle presence at events at the schools or in the community late this spring,” he said.

Hunting Valley doing fiber-optic review

Hunting Valley Mayor Bruce Mavec, who joined the meeting remotely, said the village is working on a fiber-optic internet review “to see how we might install that.”

“We’d like to share the information with other communities once we have something specific,” he said.

Mavec noted Hunting Valley plans to widen Chagrin River Road this year and is bidding out the project.

“It will be a foot wider on each side,” he said, adding there won’t be enough space available to put in bike lanes.

“We have quite a few houses under construction, so over the next year or so, that will start to come online and benefit tax revenues,” he said.

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