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Covington Asks Ft. Wright to Consider Neighbors in New Development

A proposed development in Ft. Wright near that city's eastern edge where it borders the Latonia neighborhood caught scorn at Covington City Hall on Tuesday night. Nearby residents on the Latonia side pleaded for help from the City of Covington, whose board of commissioners unanimously passed a resolution urging Ft. Wright's city council to oppose the proposed zoning text amendment needed for the project to move forward.

The issue was first raised earlier this month at Ft. Wright's city council meeting where city leaders voiced support for the project, led by Kent Wessels, whose father is Ft. Wright city councilman Bernie Wessels, who abstained from discussion at the council meeting. The property, owned by the Bonnie Ellison Trust, is found at 2809 Howard Litzler Road in Ft. Wright. 

According to the application submitted by Wessels and KWI Properties, the development plan includes demolition of the multi-family units on the 6.21-acre site, and construction of a 40,000 sq. ft. single-story office and warehouse building. There would be landscape buffering and a privacy fence, and 69 parking spaces.

The area is currently zoned as residential, but a development proposal requests that it be changed to industrial.

The Kenton County Planning Commission accepted the recommendation from Planning & Development Services staff and denied the request for a zone change.

On the other side of the property rests a section of West Latonia that has seen an uptick in homeownership and house rehabs. The neighborhood is also leery of more industry nearby after battling for years with a plastics company and its intrusive odors.

"I know there's not much of anything you can do about it, but every little bit helps us," said Ray Tanner, who owns a home on West 33rd Street in Latonia. He expressed concerns about the proposed development's drawings and where water would drain from the site. "Basically, what it boils down to is, this isn't going to help Covington at all. We need to stop it. We've had enough trouble out at the chemical factories, and if they go through and put in an industrial park like they want, who knows what else can move in there?"

The Covington City Commission shared Tanner's concerns. 

"For the past 40 years, the people of Latonia have had their quality of life reduced," said Commissioner Bill Wells. "It's time for the commission of Covington to stand in favor of the residents and do everything we can to support the quality of life for the residents of Latonia." He suggested that Ft. Wright should be asked to be good neighbors and to abide by the recommendation to deny the request.

Ultimately, the Ft. Wright City Council can decide whether to change the city's zoning code or allow the text amendment so that the project could move forward. While Covington Mayor Joe Meyer expressed optimism that there could be improvements to the site plan, Ft. Wright Mayor Dave Hatter said that he was elected to look out for the people of Ft. Wright. 

"My take on it is really simple. When something is entirely within the city of Ft. Wright, I'm not overly concerned of what people outside Ft. Wright think about it," Hatter told The River City News on Wednesday. He said that he would like for better relations between the two cities, saying that that has not always been the case but that he and Mayor Meyer have a good relationship. "Joe has been fairly reasonable. I think the developer is willing to try to make some concessions that would make it potentially more palatable for the folks that live there."

Residents Julie Plageman and Casey Bray spoke against the project along, with each arguing that it would be detrimental to the neighborhood's upswing.

"I chose to live there. I commute nearly 45 minutes to work every day because I like where I live," Bray, a 33rd Street resident, said. "I moved out of a rather rough area of Cincinnati and chose that street because it is a lovely, quiet, dead-end street."

Amy Able, who co-owns a home with her sister on 33rd Street, argued that industrial does not seem to be the best use for the site and that the zoning code's call for a 75-ft. buffer between industrial sites and residential areas is being ignored.
Hatter expects the development, in some form, to move forward.
"The bottom line for me is, compared to what's there now, this would be an improvement," the Ft. Wright mayor said. "Anytime we can bring in a quality business to Ft. Wright, we're going to do that.
"I would be very surprised, especially if the developer were willing to make changes or improvements based on feedback, that our council would shoot it down."
"We hope to have a new spirit of cooperation with Covington. (Meyer) has been nothing but friendly and receptive. He has tried to reach out to us. I am hopeful that regardless of how this particular situation plays out, we will have a better situation," Hatter said.
The issue is expected to be on the agenda for the Ft. Wright city council meeting on Wednesday, April 5. While the city attorney advised the council that public comment should not be accepted further on the matter, Mayor Hatter said that he would open the floor to the public, even Covington residents.
"There is no way I'm not going to allow someone not to speak. I just don't operate that way," Hatter said. "If people want to come and say their piece, we'll see what happens, but I'm fairly confident that if council sees this as being in the best interest of the people of Ft. Wright, and if the developer is willing to make concessions, I would be shocked if it was not passed in some form."
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
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