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Over Objections from Latonia, Ft. Wright Approves Development Plan

Ft. Wright City Council, by a vote of 4-1, approved a development plan near the Covington border that has concerned residents of nearby Latonia.
Three dozen Covington residents attended Wednesday night's council meeting in Ft. Wright where Mayor Dave Hatter suggested that one resident represent all of those concerned in a ten-minute presentation. Neighbors tapped Sarah Gamel to make their case against the plan to change the residential zone to industrial so that developer Kent Wessels can move forward on construction of a 40,0000-sq. ft. warehouse on the 6.21-acre site.
The plan had already received an unfavorable review from staff at Planning & Development Services of Kenton County (PDS) and an unfavorable vote at the Kenton County Planning Commission. But the final say belongs to city council.
"We ask you to put yourselves in our position," Gamel told council. "We are your neighbors. We would like to have the same consideration as your own residents."
She went on to remind council that the zone change was not in agreement with the county's comprehensive plan, Direction 2030, and in fact was not in compliance with Ft. Wright's own regulations, which specify setbacks of 36-feet, with a 6-ft. wide berm. She pointed out that the PDS staff did not think the 15-ft. proposed setback was enough.
Gamel said the intent of the new building was unclear. She said residents and homeowners were worried about several things, like noise, air pollution, water pollution, light pollution, and water runoff, among other things. Neighbors met with Kent Wessels, and his father, Ft. Wright City Councilman Bernie Wessels, at Covington City Hall on Monday to learn more about the project and to express their concerns directly.
Gamel asked council, would you want to live in such fear and uncertainty? Would you want to subject your family to the health and environmental hazards? She said this project would adversely affect the quality of life for people around the property. She urged council to be good neighbors and said there was no good reason to disregard the disapproval of PDS.
"We are asking you to please vote your conscience," said Gamel. "We thank you for your consideration."
Tim Theissen, attorney for Kent Wessels, was also given ten minutes to speak, and while he presented before Gamel, he reserved some of his allotted ten minutes for a rebuttal.
"The city has every right to overturn the recommendation," he told council. "It was an 11 to 8 vote (at the planning commission). This is your opportunity to make a new decision."
Theissen told council that Howard Litzler Drive, where the property is, is an arterial road, and there are two different interchanges to access without leaving an arterial road. He said the site is fit for industrial development, and has high visibility. He pointed out that the street has no other residential buildings, and that there is a high demand for this kind of development in Kenton County. He addressed the issue of the buffer, saying that the present development doesn't have setbacks, and the regulations don't apply.
Theissen said his client was willing to double the setback to 30 feet, and make the berm 5 feet, so that if the 6-ft. privacy fence is put on top of the berm, it would be 11-feet high on the north side by 33rd Street, near where most of the concerned Latonia residents live. In addition, Wessels would also plant the trees.
Theissen had given council the same evidence at the planning commission meeting but he also told council that PDS staff, in their own report, said that this development is consistent with the comprehensive plan. One of the staff members, Thiessen said, said that the site should be a park, which Theissen said was an unrealistic assessment for the person who owns the property.
He urged council to make an independent decision.
City Attorney Todd McMurtry told council members that they could make a motion to overturn the planning commission's recommendation. He would read the ordinance, adding in the allowances for the setbacks, and if there was a motion and a second, there would be a vote, even though it was technically a first reading. If there was no motion, the planning commission's recommendation would stand, and the development would not go forward as is.
Once the ordinance was read, Councilman Dave Abeln spoke up.
"The responsibility I have is to the residents of Ft. Wright," he said. "Our costs are going up, not down. We are supposed to bring business to Ft. Wright,  and we have been successful in doing so. I will be honest with you, I will make the motion."
After a few moments, Joe Averdick seconded it, forcing a vote.  Abeln and Averdick were joined by Adam Feinauer and Scott Wall in voting in favor of the project, while Mike Hoelein opposed it. Bernie Wessels recused himself since his son is the developer. 
When the Latonia residents left, some left behind their signs that promoted messages against the development.

Other notes:
A resolution approved the execution of a Municipal Aid co-op program contract which allows the city to receive their municipal road aid funds, for next fiscal year totaling $113,071.
Council allowed an application to request a text amendment to the Limited Highway Service in the Ft. Wright zoning ordinance. This will allow an Infinity dealership to occupy the site where Days Inn used to be. City Administrator Ed Butler said the text amendment was similar to the one in Ft. Mitchell when the Mercedes dealership located there.
Bids had been opened for the repair of the Fort Henry Pier Wall Project. CT Consultants had a bid of $21,400 and Scherzinger Drilling had a bid of $168,987.50 for the project. The drilling might have to go down to the bedrock to stop the slippage. Traffic will be partially rerouted for this project.
Finally, Mayor Hatter reminded people of the Clean Up Ft. Wright project scheduled for this Saturday. Gloves and bags will be provided, T-shirts will be given out, and the Ft. Wright Civic club will sponsor a lunch afterward for all participants. Substation II will donate lunch.
Correction: A previous version of this story indicated that Mayor Hatter did not vote because the mayor of Ft. Wright only votes in the case of a tie. On the issue of a zoning change, the mayor does not vote. RCN regrets the error.
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor
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