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Debate Over Future of Green Space in Park Hills Continues with New Council

The Park Hills City Council meeting continues to draw a large crowd of residents, even as the meeting location has changed from the city building to Notre Dame High School.
 
The issue on Monday night was a familiar one: a proposed conservancy that the previous council created an ordinance for in December. It intends to keep land formerly used by the old trolley service from becoming part of any recreational trail. 
 
Mayor Matt Mattone allowed each member of the public two minutes to speak on the issue.
 
Former Councilman Mark Cooper spoke first and stated that the conservancy was intended to preserve the green space, including the land used by the old trolley, and the six acres given to the city in an agreement with developer James Berling during talks over the Audubon Forest project. He claimed that two requests to the mayor to send out notices to residents were ignored. He ended by saying that he did not like the idea that Park Hills could be governed by the social media of Mayor Mattone and Councilman Jason Reser, who was elected in November.
 
Cooper Ambjorn questioned the legality of the ordinance and what she called the lack of public openness. Council member Pam Spoor's husband, Dick Spoor, is the attorney that drafted the conservancy details.
 
"I am asking Ms. Spoor to recuse herself from voting on anything to do with this conservancy," she said. Spoor said she would be happy to do this. "I understand leasing is a viable option." Ambjordn aid she was glad it was not going to be voted on at this meeting.
 
Joan Hackett also had a few words against the conservancy. "I am alarmed that city council would like to turn over the property to a few private citizens," she told council. "All control of property should remain with council and the citizens."
 
Stella Snowden suggested that the city handle the situation somewhat like Villa Hills is handling the property that the sisters of Villa Madonna have put up for sale. She told council they should have a task force, which would include citizens of Park Hills, and have a calendar and a schedule of who is doing what, and have it all be above board with public meetings.
 
Stuart Morrison said he really didn't care what happens to the land, that it was not in his backyard.
 
"What disturbs me is the deeply flawed, myopic plan to take the land out of the hands of the city and put it into the hands of five men appointed by Dick Spoor," he said spiritedly. "This is a land grab, in perpetuity, to the will of a few people."
 
Gretchen Stevenson, a small business owner, paid tribute to the fact that so many citizens want their voices heard, calling it democracy at work.
 
"I think everyone should take a deep breath, and listen to us," she told council. "I have studied the records of the meetings, and I have seen some knee-jerk, emotional decisions. We need to create a vision. You have motivated constituents; use us to help."
 
Kevin Theissen was happy to see all the new faces brought out by the debate, and suggested that maybe people didn't realize that the conservancy was initially set up for the six acres donated by Berling. He also said it was a different situation when the property is in your own backyard.
 
Sheila Dane said they have all the time in the world to decide what to do.
 
Liz St. Onge, the new president of the Civic Association, said that if the land was in the conservancy that might mean that her organization had to overcome more obstacles to decide if they could occasionally use the land, and she doesn't want more hurdles.
 
Lu Ann Holmes was grateful that the emergency status was removed from the ordinance, and said she was disappointed that the ordinance wasn't tabled entirely.
 
When it came time to read the ordinance for the second time, Attorney Todd McMurtry read the ordinance, there was a motion and a second, some significant discussion by council, and then the ordinance was tabled. Pam Spoor tried to clarify her position which is to preserve green space exactly as it is today. New Councilman Karl Oberjohn said that he understood the appeal of the conservancy, but he also understood that it seemed like council was designing the city as it goes. He said the city doesn't have a comprehensive plan so it doesn't seem to have a direction, and that can be addressed. Councilwoman Kathy Zembrodt told the audience the turmoil with the Berling project brought them to this point, and they made decisions because the citizens were begging council to help them.
 
The result of everything, after research and discussion with one of the citizens, McMurtry changed the tabling of the ordinance, and had council postpone discussion indefinitely instead of tabling it.
 
Other notes:
*Council passed an amendment to an ordinance to add a definition for Block front, and to amend variances for front and side yards in residential zones.
*A first reading was held to change Aberdeen to a one-way street in a westerly direction, but the second reading may or may not be in February.
*Another first reading repeals the vacant property ordinance because with the same ordinance adopted by the county the city's ordinance is redundant and no longer needed.
*An emergency reading of an ordinance changing the location of the meetings from 1106 Amsterdam road to 1601 Dixie Highway (Notre Dame Academy) was read and passed.
*Police Chief Cody Stanley told council about the two estimates he received for a new phone system to replace the city's antiquated system. One system from Norcom costs $13,000 to hard wire into the building, with payment required up front. The other estimate is from Verizon for $1,226, for essentially a wireless system, but using the desk phones that the city already has. Fire Chief John Rigney said in order to get a signal in the firehouse they had to pull the fire trucks out of the house into the driveway. He was skeptical about a wireless system, but after consultation with Verizon and an agreement to have a signal booster, Rigney was comfortable with the system, and the only thing undecided was to determine the fee from Spectrum for the line. Stanley promised to have the information at the caucus meeting in two weeks.
*Stanley also told council about the county's radio system to bring all of Northern Kentucky into compliance with a more modern communication system. He said he has to talk to Tommy Thompson, but he is of the opinion Park Hills might not need the car radios that the county was recommending because the city doesn't have the topographic issues other cities have. He said he thought they could just go with portable units, which would save the city over a third of the $45,000 estimate of what the county estimated the city would have to pay. 
*Chief Rigney told council the number of calls for his department for last year was 492, which was the busiest on record. He said it was a general increase in calls and not attributable to any one circumstance.
*Council made a motion to accept the tentative dates of the Civic Association for events.
*Council also approved a Municipal Order reappointing Richard Lange as the cluster representative for the Telecommunications Board of Northern Kentucky for a two-year term. Mayor Mattone said they also need an alternate, and asked if anyone wanted to volunteer they could call the city building.
 
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor
Photo: Liz St. Onge addresses Park Hills City Council (RCN)