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Planning Commission Gives OK to Villa Hills Development

A special meeting of the Kenton County Planning Commission lasted five hours Tuesday night - days later than originally scheduled because last week's meeting was postponed due to the large crowd that showed up.

At issue is a proposed zone change for 86 acres that belong to the St. Walburg Monastery off Amsterdam Road in Villa Hills, which the St. Benedictine Sisters wish to sell to Edgewood-based Ashley Commercial Group and where hundreds of single-family and town houses, along with apartment units and commercial spaces, would be constructed if approved.

The deal is contingent upon changing the zone from institutional use to planned unit development and would fund the nuns' retirement.

The planning commission voted to support the change.

The proposed development met with heavy opposition from some neighbors in Villa Hills who are concerned about building heights, traffic, light & noise, and other issues related to the project.

Too many people showed up last week at the Planning & Development Services (PDS) office in Ft. Mitchell, forcing a delay and venue change. On Tuesday night, at Lakeside Christian Church, more than two hundred people turned out for the meeting, which took place after Kenton County Circuit Judge Kathleen Lape denied a request for an injunction from opponents of the project.

The planning commission concluded that the project's details are in compliance with the comprehensive plan developed by the City of Villa Hills last year, a process that included multiple public meetings and opportunities for input.

The request was approved with additional notes that traffic be allocated through the encroachment permit process as long as adequate flows are met.

While many at the meeting said they were OK with the development of the property, they questioned the need for the commercial space in an isolated area, and mainly voiced concerns over increased traffic on an already congested Amsterdam Road.

“We think that there is one critical issue, and that is the traffic impact study,” said a representative of the group Defend Villa Hills, which was created in response when the proposed development was announced in December. (The RCN reporter at Tuesday's meeting was unable to get the speaker's name before he left. This story will be updated when it is confirmed.)

He argued that the road would never be addressed due to continuous budget shortfalls at the state level. He said that according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s report, the changes that would have to be made at Amsterdam Road would cost $10.5 million to handle the traffic.

However, it was addressed later in the meeting that in order for Ashley Commercial Group to move forward with each building phase of their project, the roads will have to meet the level of service that will be needed, so no new housing could be built until the roads are equipped to handle the increased population.

Adam Kirk, an engineer at PDS, said in his staff report that there would have to be increased control, such as a roundabout or stop light, placed at Amsterdam and Collins Roads to help ease increased traffic to the new neighborhood and business area.

Ashley Commercial Group plans to buy the property from St. Walburg Monastery and the Benedictine Sisters, if the Villa Hills city council approves the zoning changes. If the changes are approved, the 86-acre lot will become a neighborhood of up to 496 homes and a small commercial center, primarily serving as offices and local shops, with the upper floors becoming apartments available for rent.

The Benedictine Sisters, who currently own the land and support the developer's plans, have intended to sell the land for years to help fund their retirement, and worked closely over the last year with the City of Villa Hills to determine the proper use for the land if it’s sold. Several public meetings were held to decide what the city would like to see be done with the property, and once a list was created, Ashley Commercial Group created a plan to meet those desires.

If developed, the new community will feature a variety of attached and detached single family houses, townhouse, apartments, and a 43,000 sq. ft. commercial area, totaling less than one percent of the developed area. Twenty percent of the area will also feature several multi-purpose green spaces that will be available to all residents of Villa Hills.

The City of Villa Hills still has to accept the planning commission's recommendations for the zoning changes to be official. The issue will be up for vote at the Feb. 21 council meeting.

Written by Carrie Crotzer, RCN contributor