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Board Gives OK to Raze Historic Buildings, Build Townhomes

A proposed townhouse development in Mainstrasse Village finally got the OK to proceed after months of back-and-forth at the City of Covington's urban design review board, and years of requesting permission to tear down the historic buildings on the site.

Sparen Properties and owner Joe Stevie argued repeatedly that the homes were not salvageable and that the construction of three new townhouses would better suit the land.

On Monday, the UDRB finally saw it his way and voted to give permission to tear down the properties, to build the new construction, and to allow the homes to stand at 38-feet tall, 25 feet higher than the zoning code allows in the historic preservation overlay zone that covers this block of Pershing Street.

318-322 Pershing was first brought to the UDRB in 2013 when a previous owner sought permission to tear them down.

In the years since, the properties have only deteriorated.

Last year, Stevie sought permission to raze the buildings but was denied.

Earlier this year, a new request for demolition was also rejected, a decision upheld upon appeal by the city commission.

Properties on Pershing Street now slated for demolition (RCN file)

In the weeks since that July decision, the City of Covington brought in an outside structural engineer who did not say that the buildings were an imminent collapse threat, but conceded that the properties were not far from irreparable damage.

One bad snowfall, and the roof on one of the buildings could collapse, the engineer said, according to city attorney Michael Bartlett. 

Architect Tyler Watkins, of WORK Architecture, also altered his design to make it more appealing to members of the UDRB. The three townhomes are to be connected, but in the updated design, Watkins set back the middle home and changed some of the colors.

"I think the artistic rendering gave them the impression that there was enough of a setback to appreciate the scale and density of the street," Watkins told The River City News.

An earlier rendering of the proposed townhouses

One issue still looms, however, for the two existing buildings and vacant lot. At last month's UDRB meeting, where the townhouse project was tabled to gather more information on the updated design and to hear from a structural engineer, neighboring property owner Joe Boone told the board that he had no interest in granting an easement to Stevie so that access to the rear of the buildings could be granted for vehicles.

"We will not provide the easement," Boone said, adding that he also believed the properties were an eyesore and needed to be torn down. "It's a parking lot we purchased and paid more than a fair price for. With the parking situation in Mainstrasse, we're not about to give that up. We have plans to make use of that parking lot for some other business we have in mind. We may also want to build on that property at some point ourselves."

Boone is an owner of 608 Main Street, which houses Julie's Consignment directly to the west of the Pershing properties.

Stevie was not present at Monday's meeting but Watkins said that Boone's comments were a surprise and that the developer would continue to try to negotiate an easement.

If an easement is not attained, Watkins said that he could alter his design to shrink each of the three homes by eighteen inches to allow for access to the rear without encroaching on any neighboring property.

Prior to the permission granted Monday, city staff and members of the UDRB argued that the design for the townhouses was not consistent with the rest of the street, that the buildings were too tall, and the features did not match the historic character of the working-class street developed in the late 19th century.

Now, with the changes to the design and the engineer's report, the board changed its tune.

"Everybody feels great," Watkins said. "It's been a dark shadow for two years now and it will be fun and exciting to see something happen on that street in tune with the rest of what's happening in Mainstrasse."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher