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Letter: Planning Commission Failed on Ft. Mitchell Apartment Project

Editor's note: The following letter was received for publication following the approval by the Kenton County Planning Commission of a 106-unit apartment development in Ft. Mitchell. The Ft. Mitchell city council is expected to vote on the matter at its July 1 meeting. KCPC Chairman Paul Darpel is a co-applicant of the project and recused himself from the June 6 KCPC meeting. You can read The River City News's coverage of the matter here.

On June 6th, the Kenton County Planning Commission decided their chairman’s business takes precedence over the welfare of Fort Mitchell’s children. The commissioners recommended approval of a zoning change allowing a 106-unit apartment complex near General Ormsby Mitchel Park. They ignored their own detailed staff recommendation and concerns of Fort Mitchell residents. The zoning change will now go to the Fort Mitchell city council for a final decision.

Paul Darpel, the longtime chairman of the planning commission, applied for a zoning change permitting a 106-unit apartment complex. The commission staff prepared a report bravely recommending against the chairman's application finding it was not consistent with the county comprehensive plan. The staff gave specific reasons why the change should be denied including the potential impact on Beechwood Schools. The commission heard from the developer and the public and voted to disregard the staff’s recommendation and approve the change.

The planning commission failed the people of Kenton County. Public officials appearing to profit from public service at the expense of the community they serve undermines the public’s faith that the process is fair. The public will never know whether Mr. Darpel influenced the other commissioners' decisions, but it appeared some had predetermined their votes and were not interested in challenging the developer’s largely unsupported statements. The commissioners did not question the developer’s assertions that the 106 apartments would be rented primarily to people without children and would have little impact on the schools. Rental properties are in high demand by families due to the excellence of Beechwood. The developer presented nothing to explain why the proposed apartments would be more desirable to young people or retirees. Despite the staff report raising school impact as a reason to deny the zoning change, the commissioners did not ask questions. Would the commissioners have been more inquisitive if Mr. Darpel was not the developer?

Also, the commission’s attorney was unusually supportive of the Darpel application. Before the hearing started and without being asked, the attorney gave a questionable opinion about zoning changes and the Fair Housing Act. The attorney’s legal opinion overstated how the Fair Housing Act restricts local zoning decisions. He preemptively declared it was improper to consider whether families with children would rent the apartments. What prompted the attorney to volunteer this opinion in favor of the development? Would he have done so if Mr. Darpel’s name was not on the application? The county comprehensive plan calls for consideration of the impact on existing schools. The staff recommendation listed potential impact on the Beechwood School District as one reason the proposed zoning change was not consistent with the comprehensive plan. Familial status cannot be the only reason for a zoning decision, but school overcrowding and traffic issues must be considered. It was inappropriate for the attorney to discourage discussion harmful to Chairman Darpel’s application by suggesting the comprehensive plan contained an illegal requirement under Federal law.

The commissioners relied on incomplete information in recommending the change. Darpel’s partner provided a handout showing available office space in Fort Mitchell as proof the existing professional office zoning was inappropriate. The one-page summary did not include the vacancy rate. The commission found the existing zoning was inappropriate based partially on this inadequate report. People left the hearing thinking the commissioners were grasping for some support for their decision, no matter how flimsy.

The planning commission ignored parents’ concerns regarding school overcrowding and additional traffic around the schools. Beechwood parents and Fort Mitchell residents reported certain grades at Beechwood were at capacity and raised concerns about pedestrian safety and traffic. Our public officials’ highest priority should be the well-being and safety of our children. Adding 106 apartments to the Beechwood School District will cause a significant increase in school-age children and vehicle traffic. Increasing student numbers beyond capacity will create a sub-optimal educational environment and eventually, a likely decrease in test scores. Additionally, 106 apartments on top of the planned development of the Drawbridge site will make Beechwood Road and neighboring residential streets more congested and dangerous.

The commission also did not consider that over capacity schools are a problem for all property owners. Property values in Fort Mitchell are significantly higher than surrounding communities thanks to Beechwood Schools. Any decision that harms the schools or public perception of them will reduce demand for housing and lower property values.

The Kenton County Planning Commission blindly accepted representations that the proposed apartment complex would not cause problems for Beechwood Schools. In doing so, the commission disregarded the children and property owners of Fort Mitchell in favor of Chairman Darpel’s personal financial interests. I hope and believe the Fort Mitchell City Council will see things differently. Please let your opinion be heard.

Written by Douglas A. Garner, Ft. Mitchell

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