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Smoothie King Future Uncertain, but Ft. Wright Looking to Make it Work

A proposed Smoothie King location between near the Planet Fitness and Texas Roadhouse was discussed at last week's Ft. Wright city council meeting.

The project received an unfavorable recommendation from the staff at Planning & Development Services of Kenton County and the Kenton County Planning Commission.

As previously reported by The River City News, Texas Roadhouse Holdings, LLC, which would operate the Smoothie King, had sought permission to proceed even though it lacks adequate off-street parking. The plans presented at the planning commission last month indicated that there would be only eight spaces, well below the suggested twenty-five.

Ft. Wright's zoning law allows parking to be shared among neighboring businesses, but Smoothie King's entrance would be roughly 850-feet away from the nearby Planet Fitness, more than the allowed 500-feet. That parking lot would also be separated by a 15- to 20-ft. retaining wall at Smoothie King.

Smoothie King project manager Todd Reyling and Mario Nocero, senior vice president of operations at Mason, Oh.-based Smoothie King Midwest appealed to city council for help.

PDS staff member Andrew Videkovich explained why the project was rejected at the planning commission. He said it came down to off-street parking.

The Smoothie King project saw its drawings revised with seventeen parking spaces. Videkovich said that if the city wanted approval, it would have to approve a text amendment to its zoning law by bringing the issue to the board of adjustments.

Councilman Bernie Wessels asked whether the actual floor space at the Smoothie King is equal to the space that customers would use, and was told, no. The Smoothie King would mostly operate as a drive-thru, with most of the interior space occupied by machines and countertops. 

Nocero said that this location in Ft. Wright would be a beverage-only store, and would only offer pre-bagged snacks. 70 percent of the company's business, he said, comes from drive-thru service between 2 and 6 p.m. each day. 

The planning commission's denial would be set in stone 90 days after the decision, but city council wants to see the business work. 

Smoothie King reps seemed amenable to the request of capping indoor seating. Council would have to have a special meeting in two weeks, and if a favorable decision is reached, an text amendment could be drafted for the zoning ordinance.

RCN will continue to follow.

In other news, the city's annual audit was presented by accountant John Chamberlin from the firm VanGorder, Walker.

He told council there were no material weaknesses, but two significant deficiencies. One has to do with segregation of duties, which he acknowledged is a problem with all small cities. He said the city clerk has the responsibility for cash, receipts, record-keeping, and reconciliation, which is a high risk for fraud.

The other is a lack of control for financial reporting, compensated absence schedules, pension obligations, accruals, and no fixed asset depreciation. Chamberlain said when his company has to do the work, it violates their independent status.

He also said there were seven management comments regarding controls, but the city has already fixed five of them, and he knows they will have them all fixed shortly.

Mayor Dave Hatter noted that City Administrator Jill Bailey came from Taylor Mill and started asking questions about how Ft. Wright conducts business, and implemented some changes to be more in line with traditional audit methods. 

The city has hired a part-time bookkeeper who is a certified public accountant, and who comes in once a month. A full-time hire is expected in the near future.

Chamberlin added that Ft. Wright has about twenty months worth of cash on hand, a strong position.

The city has no long-term debt, but owes $7.7 million in pension benefits.

The City of Ft. Wright previously sued the Kentucky Retirement Systems as costs for cities continue to rise.

"That makes me sick," said Councilman Mike Hoerlein, and Mayor Hatter agreed, saying at this point that every Kentuckian owes $12,000, which he termed "utterly ludicrous."

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor