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Park Hills Considers Departure from Regional Planning to Block Housing Development

The plan to bring more than two dozen single family homes to a nearly 13-acre lot in Park Hills drew a large, angry crowd to the city council meeting on Monday night.
Due to the large crowd, the meeting was moved from the city building to the Griffin Center at Covington Catholic High School. 
For the past couple months, residents near the forthcoming development and members of the council have protested the plan brought by developer Jim Berling.
"What can we do to stop it?," asked one resident angrily.
Another resident stated that the project was being rammed down their throats.
Some members of council claimed that they did not know about the development plan. Berling has owned the 12.87 acres of land since 1973, but had no good way to access the land until this year when he bought property at 1219 Audubon, where he plans to demolish the house and build three houses and an access road. He has already submitted a preliminary plan to Planning & Development Services (PDS), which was approved. Berling plans to build 25 houses on the land he owns, in accordance with existing zoning laws, which eliminates the necessity of coming to the city council for approval.
A resident asked Mayor Mattone whether he was for or against the project and Mattone said that he didn't think the proposed design was sympathetic to the context of the existing houses in Park Hills, to which the resident stated plainer language would be preferred, as would concrete ideas on how to stop the building. The audience reacted with applause.
One option that the city government explored to halt the development was the adoption of an ordinance related to trees. It would force a developer to maintain the presence of some of a mature tree canopy. After two and a half hours, city council went into an executive session to discuss the proposed ordinance - and spent an additional hour on that. When council returned to face the public, they heard a first reading of the ordinance.
A second reading will be required before it becomes law.
Council also approved a 4-month extension allowing themselves to serve as the city's board of adjustment.
Mayor Mattone had suggested before the executive session that passing the ordinance might amount to changing the rules of the game after the game was started, a move that could inspire Berling to sue the city, but Councilwoman Pam Spoor said it wasn't an unreasonable law, and that it would apply to everyone. City Attorney Todd McMurtry cautioned against the regulatory taking of a property, or anything that looked like it because Berling could sue. A lawsuit would not be in the best interest of the city, Mattone and McMurtry said.
After the special council meeting last month, a group of residents and members of council, including the mayor, went to meet with Berling, and a representative from Drees, which has the contract to build the 25 houses. The meeting was held at PDS and official minutes were kept. Kevin Theissen reported on the meeting, giving the details on the houses, said to be worth between $375,000 to $500,000, and telling the audience that clearing was scheduled to begin in December, road construction in the spring, and the first house could be started by June 1 of next year.  As to any concessions, there didn't appear to be any that came from the meeting.
Tony Berling, who was at the PDS meeting, thought the meeting with the representatives went very well. "Everyone was respectful, and we explained what was going to go in and when, and everyone seemed fine," he said when contacted after the council meeting. "We thought we put the whole thing to bed. I don't know why they are still so upset. I guess they don't want to see change."
Berling said that he was under the impression that there were more empty-nesters in the neighborhood, and when Theissen told them there were a lot of little children who play on the street, he and his dad said that they would be sure that everyone was aware, and that they would take more care driving on the street. With the recent approval from PDS, the Berlings are only waiting on two more approvals, which include infrastructure concerns, and they hope to start clearing in December, and are planning to have roads in by June 1 of next year.
"We want to get along with everybody," Berling said. "We have had people who live in Park Hills now wanting to move into the subdivision, so it is not all negative feedback from Park Hills."
But the residents of Audubon are not happy about the subdivision.
"You are saying we need to slow the process down," said Mayor Mattone. "We've got to protect the integrity of Park Hills. But nothing has teeth enough to slow it down."
Councilman Steve Elkins agreed, saying they needed leverage.
A plan of action seemed to develop, including passing the tree ordinance, leaving PDS and bringing planning back to the city, and declaring a moratorium on demolition within the historic part of the city. A suggestion from a resident to council was to hire a lawyer who specializes in this type of problem, and council kicked that idea around a little. Spoor asked McMurtry to investigate the consequences of getting out of PDS, and how much authority the city would get from taking the power back and how long that would take. She also wanted him to investigate the impact fees for the ordinances the city might enact, and how to prevent damage to the roads, as well as the damage from burning the trees and noise.
Finally she wanted him to consult experts in the field on feedback on the moratorium on demolition.
Mattone said he was meeting with city officials in Ludlow later this week since any water runoff from Park Hills would go straight to Ludlow. It was suggested that residents might want to go to the Sanitation District 1 board meeting next Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. to protest the development, since the approval has not been finally extended from that utility yet. Residents also encouraged other residents to write Kenton County Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann and the fiscal court to let them know they are against the project.
Other notes:
In other business, second readings were held on ordinances, one to amend the Park Hills Zoning map for a 9.1 acre site  around the old Park Hills school near the old Gateway Community & Technical College property from R-1 EE and HC to R-1 EE with a PUD, or planned Unit Development, overlay, and the second one to change the text in the ordinance to allow a PUD overlay. Both passed unanimously.
A proposal was raised to deed all of the old trolley property to the people whose property directly abuts it, and Greg Johnson brought a petition to council signed by everyone concerned to deed the individual parcels to the residents. Pam Spoor made a motion to advance the investigation of conditions to deed the property, with restrictions, and everyone voted yes except for Councilman Monty O'Hara, who had reservations about the idea, and thought it might be something the city would regret down the line.
A first reading was held for an ordinance to designate the section of Old State Road between its eastern end and the western boundary of property located at 1030 Old State road as a one-way street, with traffic flow only permitted in a westerly direction. The city will also erect a barrier at the eastern end of Old State Road. 
Another ordinance was read for the first time to amend the 2016-2017 budget for the purchase of a police cruiser for $55,000, and a new digital sign for $5,000.
Kenton County Administrator Joe Shriver, Executive Director of Emergency Communications Tommy Thompson, and Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Steve Hensley came to Park Hills to give an update on the progress of the new radio and communications system. Shriver said the RFP went out last week for the basic infrastructure of the system, and bids should be in by the end of January of next year. He told everyone that the RFP for the individual radios should go out in February of 2017, and would be due in mid 2017. Council members seemed a little surprised by the list price amount for their city, which would come in at around $110,000, but since the county has been keeping them apprised of things, they have been saving for the cost.  
The audience had a few questions, and Shriver said Hensley was looking into grants to help the cities with their portion of the cost. The county hopes to have the system turned on in the fall of 2018, and the system will allow all police and fire in the entire Northern Kentucky area to communicate with each other, and with Cincinnati and cities in Indiana.
Trick or treat hours were set for October 31, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the city, and the Park Hills Civic Association will hold a pumpkin Parade and Hay ride on October 30 at 2 p.m.
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor