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Villa Hills Development Hearing Postponed Due to Large Crowd

A hearing scheduled for Tuesday at the Kenton County Planning Commission was postponed because of the large crowd that showed up.

A project at the St. Walberg Monastery property that would turn those 85 acres into a brand new neighborhood with hundreds of new single-family homes, townhouses, and apartment units, as well as commercial buildings, is proposed by Edgewood-based Ashley Commercial Group, which entered a contract to purchase the site from the Benedictine Sisters.

The nuns sought a buyer and developer for the project to boost their retirement fund. 

The City of Villa Hills conducted a small-area study facilitated by Planning & Development Services, and proponents of the project argue that it meets the criteria laid out in the study, and city leaders have argued that it would help create a new commercial revenue stream for a city that doesn't have much in the way of that.

However, neighbors on nearby streets launched a Defend Villa Hills movement, featuring campaign yard signs, urging the city to block the project as proposed. Too many of them showed up Tuesday night for the special meeting of the planning commission, so chairman Paul Darpel agreed to cancel it, and reschedule it for a larger venue. The room only holds 128 people.

"I have done this for fourteen years and I have never seen anything like this," Darpel said.

SEE PREVIOUSLY: Large development planned for Villa Hills meets opposition from neighbors

Three of the four items on the agenda had to do with the Villa Hills property, which would be re-zoned from institutional use to a single-family use with a planned unit development overlay.

Attorney Todd McMurtry is representing the opponents of the project. He asked for a continuance to accommodate the large crowd at a later date, and also so that he could better prepare since his firm had only been hired on Saturday.

Darpel agreed to continue the three items on the agenda until next Tuesday, January 16, at 6:15 p.m. at the Lakeside Christian Church, next to the post office on Buttermilk Pike. Darpel said there is room there for 900 people, though he hoped there wouldn't be 900 people.

The sale of the property is contingent upon the zone change.

But the development plan, particularly as it relates to apartment parking, commercial building heights, and traffic, is opposed by residents, which formed Defend Villa Hills. Steve Schletker was tapped to speak on their behalf.

"One of the problems is the four-story building that will house 187 units," Schletker said. "It will have a parking lot with three hundred spaces, roughly the size of the Remke parking lot, and it is only 50 feet away from the Carpenter Trace subdivision. This is a non-starter for us. I wouldn't care if the Royal Family lived there, it is just huge, it is a monstrosity. The other problem is the traffic on Amsterdam Road. The road itself is a major connector, and not only does River Ridge Elementary empty onto it, but so does St. Joseph and Villa Madonna. River Ridge is one of the biggest elementary schools in the state."

Traffic studies have been conducted and Mayor Butch Callery stated that each found the current roads to be adequate for handling the extra 2,000 or so additional cars estimated to be added by the development. Four recommendations produced by the studies are: a stop sign at Niewahner Drive, a roundabout at Collins and Amsterdam Roads, new timing for the traffic lights at Collins Road and Buttermilk Pike, and a the addition of an arrow signaling right turns to Buttermilk.

Callery said that the state has applied for grants to fund all or part of the estimated $900,000 cost of the proposed roundabout.

"You see, this whole thing is an 8- to 10-year project," Callery said.

But Schletker is concerned about the population boom and the commercialization in Villa Hills.

"The real problem seems to be the PUD, or planned urban development overlay," said Schletker. "The four-story building alone takes up 4.53 acres. Then after this, there are another 32 acres that will be developed."

Those 32 acres adjacent to the monastery site recently hit the market at a price tag of $3.2 million and is promoted as prime for development. It is not part of the Ashley project and Ashley president Bill Kreutzjans told The River City News that his company is not currently pursuing a purchase. The site currently houses iHeart Media radio towers.

Meanwhile, Callery said that Ashley has already lowered the height of its planned four-story buidling and it will only rise 34-feet. A tree line will also block the view of the building from Carpenter's Trace subdivision, he said. The parking situation should also be alleviated by a drop-down and other light and noise mitigation efforts, he said.

McMurtry has originally asked for a 45-day delay in the hearing, but the meeting will happen next Tuesday.

"Our clients, as well as hundred of other Villa Hills residents, strongly oppose the Ashley proposal," McMurtry said in a letter to Matthew Smith, attorney for Ashley. "In its current form, the proposal promises significant traffic and infrastructure problems that will negatively affect every Villa Hills resident."

Mayor Callery said that everyone will have to wait to see what the planning commission's decision will be next week.

"Whatever the decision, it will come back to council," he said. "Council could just let it go and let the decision stand, but I have talked to council and they want to vote on it. Now, if it is a tie, I can't by law vote on zoning issues, so I can't break the tie. But it will definitely come back to council."

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor
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