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Walgreen's Project OK'd by Commission, Old Mansion to Come Down

Another hour of debate was added to the more than six months of discussion about a proposed Walgreen's that would be developed at the intersection of Martin Luther King Bouelvard and Madison Avenue to the direct south of Saint Mary's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption. The Covington City Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to overturn the urban design review board's rejection of seven waivers sought by Anchor Properties, the Covington-based firm developing the Walgreen's on property owned by the Diocese of Covington.

"This location is a unique intersection in the city," said John Flesch of Wallace Woods who opposed the Walgreen's development. "The prominence of this location is not matched in the city. Your decision will stand for a century or more."

"The Cathedral is the most significant building in Covington and a Walgreen's does not enhance the context of the building," said Virginia Kerst of Licking Riverside.

Preservationists have mostly opposed the development from the beginning because it requires the destruction of a sprawling nineteenth century building, commonly referred to as the Bishop's Mansion. The urban design review board opposed the development on technical grounds, arguing that the Walgreen's does not meet the minimum design requirements in the area. "This is not the right project for this site," said architect Chris Meyer, a member of the city's urban design review board. "Requesting seven waivers shows it's not the right project." Meyer contended Tuesday night and during the UDRB meeting in which the waivers were denied, that developments in the mixed-use corridor overlay zone are expected to be pedestrian friendly. "This does not minimize the impact of the auto. It puts it front and center."

The UDRB mostly took exception with the transparency of the facade, cuts made for a drive-thru, and the location of parking spots.

Since the plans for the Walgreen's were unveiled for the first time in a story by The River City News last spring, preservationists argued against the destruction of the building but when the effort seemed hopeless, the developers began to meet with preservation groups and incorporating their suggestions into the design. Regardless of the Bishop's mansion's fate, some residents are still not thrilled with a suburban-style retail chain opeing a location on the newly widened and redesigned MLK Blvd.

"I'm really disappointed about the Walgreen's," said Bennie Doggett of the Eastside. "It took us eighteen years to get Martin Luther King Boulevard and we're really looking for something spectacular, something that would have some historical value. MLK should really have something spectacular going on in that whole area. It just doesn't feel like what we expected for that street."

Some concessions made by Anchor Properties include landscaping all around the property and a subdivided forty-feet wide parcel of land facing the Cathedral that would be created as a small park and viewing area.

The commissioners admitted that the vote was difficult but each supported the destruction of the nineteenth century mansion in favor of the suburban-style Walgreen's next to the city's most recognizable landmark. "I have to follow the intent of the zoning code even though I don't approve of many parts of it," said Commissioner Sherry Carran, who said she connected the developers with Progress With Preservation, a group that lobbied to save the building and then later to incorporate a more suitable design.

"The one project that receives the greatest impact is the Cathedral," said Commissioner Steve Casper. The Diocese of Covington owns three of the four corners at the prominent intersection. "(The Diocese is) obviously in favor of it, they're selling the property. In that spirit, I vote aye."

The commission also heard a first reading of an ordinance that would change a section of Thirteenth Street between Madison Avenue and Wood Street from one-way to two-way traffic to facilitate the movement of traffic for Walgreen's customers. That ordinance will be voted on next week.

Written by Michael Monks, Editor & Publisher of The River City News 

PHOTO: Rendering of proposed Walgreen's/RCN