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Park Hills Not Warm to Rental Business

The opening of a third location for Steffen's Rental was part of a short agenda at a special meeting of the Park Hills City Council on Thursday.
Members discussed the idea of a text amendment to the city's zoning code that would allow Steffen's to operate a new location at 1450 Dixie Highway, formerly the location of an appliance shop. Owner Arden Steffen spoke to council earlier this week about her intention to purchase the building and open another location there. Steffen's currently has a location in Florence, and one in downtown Covington that has been closed since part of the building collapsed on a group of students and chaperones on a field trip, leaving one woman unable to walk.
The aesthetics of the business is of concern to city leaders since it would require some outdoor storage.
"I have two basic questions," said Councilman Karl Oberjohn. "What do we want the Dixie Highway corridor to look like, what businesses do we want to see there, and what kind of business owners do we want there?"
Councilman Greg Claypole said that the building has been up for sale for awhile, and his concern is the outside storage.
Councilman Steve Elkins said he was torn as to which way to go, because he didn't want to see an empty storefront but he, like Oberjohn, had a lot of respect for the business and Arden Steffen, so neither wanted to leave her hanging since she was under time constraints, since a tax issue related to capital gains was involved.
Councilman Jason Reser pointed out that whoever will develop the former Gateway Community & Technical College site in the city will probably put in high density housing, and that developer might want to see something very different on Dixie Highway. He cited Newport, where he owns a business, and that city's Monmouth Row apartment development which is only 1.7 acres and is now worth, he said, $10 million. The area along Dixie in Park Hills, he estimated, could be worth $69 million as a development.
"It is not a crazy idea," he said.
Oberjohn agreed, arguing that while Steffen suggested that the business would make improvements to the property, there was a ceiling to what those improvements could accomplish aesthetically. He told council that agreeing to the text amendment would commit the city to an industrial look along the corridor for years. However, he said the "bird in the hand" analogy was good, and that if council did not move forward with a text amendment, it could be years before the property is used. He also said he didn't like the idea of making a quick decision.
"It is gambling," he said.
Mayor Matt Mattone boiled the issue down to three options: Council could work with Steffen and tweak the text amendment to make it palatable for both parties; council could say they are not interested in working with Steffen; and council could say that it needs have to be discussed further and a commitment could not be made now.
No action could be taken on the matter, but an informal vote was taken of the five council members present. Both Zembrodt and Claypole said that they would support discussion with Steffen. Reser said that he was not for it. Oberjohn said that the timing was unfortunate, but that he thought the city needed more time, so he could not support it at this time. Elkins was concerned with the visual aspect, so he also felt the city needed more time, too, and he could not support it at this time.
Councilwoman Pam Spoor was not present.
Mattone said that he would let Steffen know that council wants more time to work out a plan for the corridor, and that residents would be consulted.
In other business, council voted to go with a Verizon phone system to replace the antiquated system currently in place in the city, including the police department and the fire department. Police Chief Cody Stanley researched the issue because he is the most frustrated with the phone system.
"When something goes wrong with our system, I don't even call anymore because I know they can't fix it," he said. "Our phone guy blames it on our provider, Time Warner, or Spectrum now, but I know that isn't true. This new system from Verizon will cost us about $200 more a month."
Stanley had pointed out in the past how dysfunctional the current system is, and said that it was unprofessional not to have a separate line for the police chief and the fire chief. The new system gives a phone line for Stanley and Lieutenant Richard Webster. Fire Chief John Scott Rigney said that his firefighters can't get any service while the vehicles are inside the building, and that they have to be outside the firehouse to get any calls. With the new system, that won't happen anymore.
Council asked Stanley to list the top three reasons why they should go with the Verizon option, instead of any other.   
"It gives us what we want,  we already have a working relationship with Verizon because Kenton County uses them, and it gives us two extra lines with apps," Stanley said.
Councilwoman Kathy Zembrodt said it sounded like the current system couldn't be compared to the new system, because even if the new system is $200 more a month, the old system simply did not work effectively.
In the end council voted unanimously to go with the new system.
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor