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Christ Hospital Plans Get OK from Planning Commission

Developers of a new mixed-use project that is expected to include a Christ Hospital-operated surgical center and medical office building won approval Thursday night on multiple requests before the Kenton County Planning Commission.

Bellevue-based Brandicorp is leading the development for Cincinnati-based Christ Hospital on the site of the former Drawbridge Inn, a piece of land about 40 acres large nestled between Buttermilk Pike and Interstate 75.

Last month, the Ft. Mitchell city council agreed to send the development's zoning requests to the planning commission. Those requests, three out of four of which won approval Thursday night, will now go back for consideration by the Ft. Mitchll city council.

The site has its own designated zoning, titled mixed business land use, or MBLU.

As part of what was approved on Thursday, Ft. Mitchell city administrator Sharmili Reddy will now have authority to make a final recommendation on a stage two development plan when that time comes. That authority previously only existed in the county at Covington, Edgewood, Erlanger, and Ft. Wright. The city and staff at Planning & Development Services of Kenton County (PDS) believe that this change will streamline the development process by removing an additional appearance for consideration before city council.

The development also won approval to include an emergency room as a permitted use at the site and a reduction in parking requirements.

There was also a request to remove the requirement that residential housing only be permitted above commercial spaces, PDS staff recommended against the change, and Reddy told the planning commission that even the city did not want that change, and only included it in the request so that it could be examined fully by PDS staff. The planning commission agreed with staff and voted not to allow that change.

City council will have the final say on these zoning proposals.

This is a key hurdle now cleared for a project now four years in the making. An ongoing legal battle about whether Northern Kentucky needs another surgical center, amid a challenge brought by Christ rival St. Elizabeth Healthcare, appears to no longer be in the way of plans to move forward.

What the project, dubbed the Fort Mitchell Gateway, will ultimately look like is not fully certain. But in January, a rendering of a possible site plan was produced showing the presence of a surgical center, a medical office building, apartments, restaurants, and a hotel.

Based on the recommendation of the planning commission and the apparent position of the City of Ft. Mitchell, the residences will still need to be placed above commercial spaces. "We are in support of the decision and discussion," said Michael Doty, director of construction at Brandicorp, on Thursday. The challenge is finding commercial tenants. "We are working feverishly in the market to try to land those tenants and make that successful. To date, it's been a very difficult challenge."

Justin Hartfiel, director of real estate at Christ Hospital, also spoke to quell concerns about ambulance noises associated with the presence of an emergency room.

Last year, Christ opened a similar center in Liberty Township, Oh., and Hartfiel said that ambulance runs to that site amount to less than 5 percent of all patient trips there. For Ft. Mitchell, he predicted that the statistic would be even lower.

"We have every expectation that those patients in need of the highest levels of care or in the sickest conditions would be transferred or taken by ambulance to another emergency room in the region, or possibly admitted to a hospital facility," he said.

Thursday's vote was the latest sign that the project, long hoped-for by Christ, is closer to fruition.
 
"Ft. Mitchell has had a lot of challenges with this area,' said Jeff Bethell, a Ft. Mitchell representative on the planning commission, noting that members of the commission drive right past the empty site each time they come to PDS offices for the monthly meeting. "These requests that are before us here give the people of Ft. Mitchell and the city a little bit more flexibility, if you will, so that they can go ahead and get moving on this project while still maintaining the type of projects we would want in the City of Ft. Mitchell."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher