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In Heated Meeting, Villa Hills OKs Mixed-Use Development

Villa Hills city council gave the OK to a planned development on 86 acres currently owned by the Benedictine Sisters at St. Walburg Monastery.

By a vote of 4-2, council allowed a change in zoning that will permit the Edgewood-based Ashley Commercial Group to move forward with its plan, over the objection of some neighbors who formed a campaign against it called Defend Villa Hills.

The project had already won approval from the Kenton County Planning Commission.

Though there was an overflow crowd for Tuesday's special meeting at River Ridge Elementary, public comments were not accepted.

City attorney Mary Ann Stewart noted that public comments were accepted at previous meetings and that those positions were part of the public record.

The crowd vocally objected, though, when it was revealed that a petition with reportedly 2,000 signatures on it opposing the project would not be included in the public record because it had not been submitted at the planning commission meeting.

Mayor Butch Callery gaveled the meeting back to order.

"I feel that I am being shoved into a voting booth with only one lever marked yes," said Councilman Scott Ringo, voicing an objection to part of the development plan that includes apartment. "This is inconsistent, it is not to scale with any other building in the city. It is like an airport-sized jet hangar dropped in a residential community zone. It is out of place, pure and simple.

"Somewhere in this process, we stopped listening. When the developers did present their plan the people spoke loudly and constantly."

Ringo voted against the plan.

Ashley's development includes dozens of single-family homes and a four-story apartment building, along with some commercial spaces available. 

"It pains me that the developer has not chosen to modify his plan after everything he has heard," Ringo said, "so that the city can enjoy such an incredible opportunity and have the citizens in general embrace and promote this development. I strongly believe that the apartment building is a legal violation of the intent, or more specifically the actual language in the small area (study). The record in this case, along with the enormous outpouring of sentiment against the apartment building leaves me no option. I agree that the original zoning on this property is inappropriate. I agree that the new zoning is appropriate, but that the albatross of the apartment building is inconsistent with the intent of the group and the language in the setting. It does not reflect the structures currently in Villa Hills, and certainly not with any other structures being proposed in the development itself. "

When the vote was called, council members Jennifer Vaden,  Greg Kilburn, Gary Waugaman, and Mary Koenig voted in favor while Ringo and George Bruns voted no.

Kilburn spoke about his vote..

"When you all elected us, we took an oath to uphold the law," Kilburn said, amid a vocal protest from the crowd, gaveled down again by the mayor, who told them to let the council speak. "I just want the chance to say my piece. If you don't like it you'll get your chance in November, and I'm sure you will use it."

"Now let's look at the record," he continued. "The statutes of the Commonwealth of Kentucky require that any amendment in order to be granted has to be in agreement with the comprehensive plan. One of the findings and conclusions of the planning commission by a vote of 17 to 1 and one abstention was that this development was in agreement with the comprehensive plan. Now there was a second finding of the commission by a vote of 17 to 1 and that was that the current zoning is inappropriate. There was a third finding, and that is that the proposed zoning of R-1EEE is appropriate. Now you say I really don't care about that. Well, I'm sorry, I don't have the luxury of thumbing my nose at the KRS. Two well publicized and well attended meetings were held. The sisters were not required to work with us at all, they simply could have sold their land to an institution, and we could have faced something akin to what you see off of I-75. Because the land is zoned institutional use, and as all of you know, has been institutional for several years. Now being the good neighbors that they are, what did the sisters do? When they were approached by an institutional buyer that gave them a good faith offer, they simply said no, we're going to work with the city. Ladies and gentlemen, if any of you, on all  sides of this issue, ever believe that this mayor, that any of us, on this or any other issue, have ever crossed the line, all you have to do is pick up the phone and call the Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney's office and I'm sure they will investigate it. So based on the administrative record that we have before us, and in order to safeguard the legal position of our city, i will be voting in favor of this proposal."

George Bruns also told how he arrived at his decision to vote against the project.

"Most people, if they had 82 acres, they would want the best bang for their buck," he said. "That's typical, that's the human way. I, however, have a problem with this whole process. I don't feel like this process is doing the City of Villa Hills justice. I am not saying anybody did anything underhanded or behind closed doors. I have not been any part of that. I have heard neighborhood scale and I am looking at traditional neighborhood design and I am sorry for the sisters for what you want to do with your property, but in my opinion, neither neighborhood scale or traditional neighborhood design describes a four-acre, four-story building. I have been trying to find in any neighborhood in Villa Hills, another building that size. I would rather not see this size of a building in our city. At the beginning everything is fine, but thirty years from now it has the potential to become something other than what it was intended to be. That's an honest opinion. This is just from my heart, sisters, I love each and every one of you and will continue to love each and every one of you. I just have a problem with this building in our city."

Waugaman also spoke up.

"I have been to every meeting, and I have asked a lot of questions," he said.  

He said that the neither the fire department nor police department would need to add staff to handle the new development's residents and said that Duke Energy, the Northern Kentucky Water District, and Sanitation District 1 had enough power to cover it, too. He also said that the city would not be using eminent domain in the project, contrary to a rumor/

"Did anyone of you bother to verify what you heard or was being told to you to get you to sign the petition? As emails go, I read each and every one of them, even the ones that had threats in them," Waugaman said. "By the way, threats are not the way to get my attention."

"Be careful what you wish for," he said. "This could be a structure like the one on Dolwick Drive (in Erlanger) sitting there. There are legal ramifications if this fails."

Most of the crowd started to leave when the vote ended with four approving the zone change and two opposing it. Departures were not quiet, with one man calling out, "See you all in November!" And another yelled, "Thank you for ruining my city!"  Yet another said the council betrayed their friends their neighbors and the citizens.

Council voted to table a municipal order until March 21 when they will deal with the plan to pay for a roundabout at Collins and Amsterdam roads.

As far as the development goes, Mayor Callery said he thinks it is a great plan for the city. He commented that in ten years or so, people will wonder why other people were so against it. He said today he has received several emails on the positive side, from people saying they were glad he stuck to his guns on the matter.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer
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