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Parking Concerns Persist as Bellevue Considers Apartments in Old Warehouse

It was a meeting that lasted nearly two and a half hours and concluded with a vote to continue the meeting next week.

At stake is the proposed redevelopment of the old Kent Manufacturing building on Grandview Avenue in Bellevue. Covington-based Orleans Development wants to transform the sprawling structure - one of Bellevue's largest - into 66 high-end residential units. The offerings would include studios, as well as 1 and 2-bedroom units, some with lofts. 

The industrial design would incorporate much of the building's rugged qualities, and would resemble the aesthetics of other nearby properties such as the American Can Lofts and the Baldwin in Cincinnati, two projects cited as examples of successful adaptive reuse.

But with the redevelopment of the property would also come at least sixty-six new residents - and maybe as many as a hundred or more.

And then, there's their cars.

And that's what concerned some of the neighbors of surrounding streets who decried the project as intruding on their limited on-street parking spaces.

Tony Kreutzjans, the force behind Orleans Development, explained in his presentation that there would be sixty-six parking spaces built into the project, located on the first level. Additionally, he said, there would be a nearby parcel incorporated into the project for another 22 spaces available to the new tenants of what is being called the Kent Lofts.

In total, that's 88 parking spaces created solely for the project.

Despite reinforcing that message multiple times, Kreutzjans was asked repeatedly by skeptical neighbors about how he would address their parking concerns. Tenants would inevitably have guests over for events who would take up parking on the streets that surround the Grandview Avenue property, they worried. 

Already Kreutzjans appeared at a meeting earlier this month to address these concerns, and before any formal meeting was even scheduled, had to join the City of Bellevue in pushing back against the false notion that the project would be designed for low-income or section-8 tenants.

What the project is, as evidenced by Kreutzjans's presentation, could set a new standard for the apartment inventory within the River City renaissance. There are no other properties in Northern Kentucky's River Cities quite like it.

The word cloud associated with his planning process, he said, included contemporary, industrial, chic, spacious, eclectic, lofty, fluid, warm, and vibrant. The millennial crowd would likely be the target tenant, he said. 

Orleans would capitalize on the Kent's walls of glass and exposed trusses, and the nearly 15-ft. floor-to-ceiling areas. "In those areas, I want to build lofts with a bedroom above a kitchen area," Kreutzjans said. "It would be a pretty dynamic view looking down into this industrial warehouse space with a wall of glass. They'll be really nice units."

But the meeting at the Callahan Center on Monday night was not about the quality of the project, but rather the quantity. Local businessman David Hosea, the current owner of the Kent Building - which at its height, was where medicine cabinets were made, filed a request for a text amendment related to the zoning. Currently, the building is located within Bellevue's T5 zone, which would allow for a residential project there, but with a maximum of 22 units.

Kreutzjans wants to build 66.

Bellevue zoning administrator Scott Enns, in a nearly one-hour long professorial explanation of why the planning commission was convened and what it could consider, said, in short, that in order to construct more than 22 units, the zone would need to be changed to T5.5. That would allow for unlimited unit density on a site.

The six citizen members of the planning commission who were present listened to supporters and opponents state their case. Most of the opposition was related to parking with some light rumblings about section-8 housing (Kreutzjans reiterated that he has never worked on a low-income residential project and that the Kent Lofts would also not be section-8).

"This is a fantastic opportunity to improve and bring additional residents to a city already full of great people and is a great community," said John Gibson. He added that it would improve the impression of Bellevue for visitors who enter from the south side of town. "This may be some's first taste of Bellevue."

"This doesn't come around often. It's a great building and a great opportunity," said resident Joe Nickol, who said that before moving to Bellevue, he lived in the American Lofts. Additionally, Nickol works in Covington, he said, near where Kreutzjans's previous projects have transformed the Madison Avenue and Pike Street corridor. "He has had an amazing impact on the trajectory of that town.

"I would hate for Bellevue to miss out on the great opportunity to possibly impact a place that I'm proud to call home."

City Administrator Keith Spoelker also spoke in favor of the project. He said that the city's goals include the promotion of residential development along the Donnermeyer corridor. "This type of development specifically supports that type of objective," he said. "We have parking issues to deal with but the developer says he can get them all in the building."

Neighbor Tammy Nolan, who lives across the street from the building, said that the impact of just two to three employees of a nearby business parking their vehicles on the street is already significant. She said that she supports development in the city but is very concerned about the parking situation that could result from the new project.

Property owner Debra Guthrie discounted Kreutzjans's claims that the target demographic for the units will include many who don't have cars. "I rent to a lot of millennials," she said, "and not one of them has just one car. At a minimum, it's two, if I'm lucky."

But will the improvements outweigh the parking concerns, valid or not?

Resident Kevin Wright called the building an eyesore, as it is. "At night, it's very dark on this corner. It's one of the few areas of Bellevue I probably would not walk in the evening," he said.

The Kent Lofts would be Kreutzjans's first project in Bellevue but he has become one of the region's most prolific developers, focusing on historic properties, mainly in Covington. He has won twelve historic preservation awards and completed twenty historic tax credit projects (which he believes the 1930s Kent Building would also qualify for). Some of his most lauded projects include the Boone Block Lofts and the bioLOGIC life sciences incubator building.
 
The projects are credited as a catalyst for subsequent development projects in downtown Covington, including the in-progress Duveneck Square mixed-use project. "These catalyze other developments," Kreutzjans said. "I would think I set the stage for the Duveneck project by redeveloping those buildings on Pike Street. My intent is to get that character of the historic style and get that character that people want to live in and move to."
 
Because of the length of the meeting and of Enns's staff report provided to the planning commission members, the commission voted to convene again next Monday night at 7. There will be no more public comments at that meeting, though emails or letters would be accepted. The members are expected to make their decision then.
 
That won't put the project in the clear. The Kent Lofts plan may yet face further scrutiny, even related to parking, once a development plan is presented for consideration.
 
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
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