Covington, Kentucky

Controversial Walgreen's Development to Appeal to City Commission

The planned Walgreen's that would be built on the site where a nineteenth century mansion currenntly sits will be an issue before the Covington City Commission Tuesday. Anchor Properties, the Covington-based firm developing the Walgreen's on land owned by the Diocese of Covington, is appealing several rejections of the plans handed down by the city's urban design review board.

After ninety minutes of debate at an unusually long UDRB meeting in September, Anchor Properties saw half of their requests for design waivers rejected by the board. Several members of the UDRB had expressed concern over the destruction of the old building, commonly referred to as the Bishop's Mansion, but also found legitimate bases within the city's code for denying the waivers. (SEE: Proposed Walgreen's in Limbo Again but Bishop's Mansion Could Still Go

In October, the Walgreen's project also went before the Board of Adjustments where Anchor Properties sought zoning variances. All but one of those requests were granted. (SEE: Proposed Walgreen's Scores Zoning Variances from the City)

The City Commission will now weigh in on whether to reverse the UDRB's decisions. "Staff will recommend that we do approve the commission waiving that, allowing (Walgreen's) to move forward," said Covington City Manager Larry Klein. "They've made substantial progress in the last year and have been working on it for the last two years."

"It's not what everybody wanted. It does require the building there to be taken down."

The development has long been opposed by preservationists, some of whom worked with Anchor Properties on achieving what they view as a more desirable design, once it started to look as though the Bishop's Mansion would inevitable be razed.

One of the many concerns expressed by some members of the UDRB was that the Walgreen's development is the first major commercial project in the vicinity of one of the city's most famous landmarks, the Saint Mary's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption. The reconstruction of Martin Luther King Boulevard/Twelfth Street has poised the area for development, but the concern is that the road could end up looking to suburban.  "Early on (Anchor Properties) moved the Walgreen's further south to allow more greenspace between the store and the Cathedral," Klein said. "They're going to have green space there and a viewing area for the Cathedrals. They've made a lot of accommodations. It's going to be an attractive Walgreen's, useful to residents."

The Cathedral sits at one of Covington's most important intersections, where MLK hits Madison Avenue and the Walgreen's development would be directly to the south of the landmark. To the west of the Cathedral, the Diocese is repurposing the former Lyceum to house its offices which are currently based at the former Saint Elizabeth Hospital building, now known as Providence Pavillion. 

During the race for Covington City Commission, the Walgreen's development came up as an issue at the candidate forum held in Latonia. Steve Frank, the only incumbent who sought reelection to the commission, expressed mixed feelings on the project. "My family has been intimately involved in preserving a lot of what's great in Covington," Frank said at the time, arguing that his uncle was a key figure in preventing the destruction of the Licking Riverside Historic District. "My heart is in preservation, but this is going to end up in court and the true decision is going to end up in front of a judge. It's not for the city commission to rule on." Frank also added that he is concerned with the logic behind the sale, saying that he believes the Diocese is selling the property to gain cash for its planned renovations to the Lyceum building across from the Cathedral where the Diocese will move its administrative offices. "If they stayed at St. E., they could save the property." (SEE: Wide-Ranging Issues Covered at City Commission Debate)

The site sits in what is known as the Mixed-Use Commercial Overlay (MUCO) zone which seeks more pedestrian-friendly buildings. One issue is that the buildings are required to be at least two stories, and the proposed Walgreen's is only one, though the developers have worked to creare a false second story. "I think they did try to accommodate the city," Klein said, also noting that the developers added a second entrance on the Madison Avenue side in addition to the original entrance planned on the MLK side. 

Written by Michael Monks, Editor & Publisher of The River City News

PHOTO: Bishop's Mansion/RCN file