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Apartment Project in Ft. Mitchell Gets OK from Planning Commission

Plans to construct three new apartment buildings with up to 106 units won approval from the Kenton County Planning Commission on Thursday, with members voting in favor of the proposal 11-2, even after Planning & Development Services of Kenton County staff offered an unfavorable recommendation and parents within the Beechwood Independent School District objected over fears of overcrowding.

The project, proposed by developers Paul Darpel and David Noll, acting on behalf of the site's current ownership, 260 Grandview, LLC, would land on Grandview Drive if city council gives its approval at the July 1 meeting.

PDS staff, in its report, noted that the proposed project is inconsistent with the comprehensive plan's goals of encouraging a variety of housing within a community to surround communities, and natural systems. It also noted as inconsistent the project's not falling into a variety of housing types throughout the county to meet the needs of all generations and income levels.

Noll projected that rents in the development would be $1.50 to $1.65 per square foot, compared to the regional average of $0.88.

Noll told the planning commission that he and his partner, Darpel, who is also chair of the commission, had first looked at the site thirteen years ago. A previous developer had sought to place more than one hundred office condos on the site, but low demand and a recessed economy stalled those plans, Noll said. 

He and Darpel asked the planning commission to approved a zoning map amendment within the single-family and professional office overlay zones to allow for a multi-family development.

"It will be a highly amenitized apartment community with secure parking," Noll said. "The target market is empty-nesters and young professionals. It's something you don't see in suburban areas of Northern Kentucky. You see it in the urban core and you see it in the Cincinnati suburbs."

Noll stressed that target market repeatedly, trying to cast away fears about overcrowding at Beechwood schools. Parents within the school district have been concerned that families would seize the chance to rent a nice apartment in the city in order to place their children in the coveted school district. At Thursday's hearing at the PDS offices in Ft. Mitchell, some parents talked about how long it took them to find a home to purchase in Ft. Mitchell as they desired sending their kids to Beechwood. 

In its report, PDS staff also cited a potential impact on Beechwood schools. The Kenton County Comprehensive Plan, known as Direction 2030, notes that new residential development should be evaluated as part of the decision-making process. Beechwood Elementary currently has 735 students, with a capacity for 775. The high school has 661 students with a 750 capacity. Using a study by the National Association of Home Builders, PDS staff determined that a new 106-unit apartment community would have ten school-aged children if all the units had one bedroom, or forty-four students with all two-bedrooms. If all the units had three or more bedrooms, the development would likely bring around 104 school-aged children, the analysis concluded.

But Noll said that the study was based on information prior to the developers' settling upon the configuration of the units. He predicts that the development would have 53 one-bedroom units and 53 two-bedroom units. He said he contacted the same person who conducted the study for the National Assocation of Home Builders to apply the method to the proposed project.

The result was an estimated 13.5 students projected to reside in the new apartments.

Noll also said that because the developments will have four stories and lower-level parking spaces, parents would be turned off since families, he said, would prefer first-floor living to allow kids a chance to go outside easily.

Prior to the discussion, an attorney for the planning commission cautioned its members against putting too much weight on the schools issue, since it could be perceived as a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act. Noll agreed with that assessment.

An argument that the site could be used for commercial spaces was also shot down by Noll, as well as the current owners, who said there was office space elsewhere that was more competitive, and that demand for that site was lacking.

Beechwood parent Mick Shoech, speaking to The River City News on Friday, said that he was surprised the planning commission discounted the capacity concerns of Beechwood parents.

"I moved into the district by renting first so we could get our daughter into Beechwood schools, and then rented for two and a half years, and then bought a home," he said. "We love the district and we love the community. It's a great community."

Schoeh said he and other parents are not against new housing or new kids for the schools. "It's a matter of doing it responsibly and allowing the school and the city to prepare for it in a way that's not going to negatively impact the schooling of our children," he said. "If we could do that in a responsible fashion, then we would be all in favor of good, thoughtful development in Ft. Mitchell.

"It's just a matter of finding a right way to do this."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher