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Covington Approves Neighborhood Development Code, Ditches Old Zoning Ordinance

The Covington city commission last week approved a new Neighborhood Development Code (NDC) to replace the previous zoning ordinance.

The vote Tuesday night followed nearly two years of public engagement about to overhaul the way the city regulates land use and development.

It's a fundamental change in philosophy and approach whose impact will be felt in every project, ranging from a homeowner adding a porch to a developer building a subdivision to an entrepreneur locating a new business, a news release said.

City leaders described the former zoning ordinance as rigid and frustrating.

"This is a bold change that will lead to a brighter future for Covington," said Christopher Myers, the city's historic preservation officer. "It will mean easier access, clearer standards, less red tape, and an appreciation for each of our diverse blocks, businesses, and neighborhoods - from the office towers overlooking the Ohio River to the more rural-looking areas of South Covington and everywhere between."

The NDC will become effective Oct. 15, according to the Commission's vote.

In the weeks ahead, the city will publish articles detailing the code and how developers, rehabbers and others can expect to interact with it, as well as it new governing infrastructure.

Mayor Joe Meyer is expected to name the new members of a newly created board at the next commission meeting on Tuesday night. That board will be known as the board of architectural review and development. The seven members have not yet been publicly named.

Meyer said the public should expect a break-in period.

"When you have changes this big, there will always be adjustments that are required, so we'll keep track of all this over the next several months, and after we've had some experiences, we will make any necessary changes," Meyer said.

Right now, the NDC can be found on the project website, here.

The City of Covington contracted with Texas-based Kendig Keast Collaborative in November 2018 to guide the comprehensive rewrite.

The consulting firm worked with city staff, a 16-member steering committee, and residents during hearings, open houses, and "charette" sessions.

"I challenged Kendig Keast to help us create the 'most user-friendly code in America,'" Covington Economic Development Director Tom West said. "They might just have helped us earn that title."

The "outgoing" Zoning Ordinance, adopted in 2006 and changed numerous times, separated Covington into parcels of land based on single, allowed "uses." The new "form-based" or "character-based" development code focuses on how structures relate to the surrounding public realm like the "character" of the neighborhood.

City Zoning Administrator Dalton Belcher said he began to see first-hand the flaws and unworkability of the old ordinance from the day he arrived in Covington a year ago, and said its restrictive approach worked against the city.

"The old ordinance renders some parts of Covington technically illegal and wraps red tape around the kinds of investment everyone wants to see: a homeowner adding a sensible addition, a legally established business adding cool signage, a novel business idea bringing jobs into Covington," Belcher said. "We feel relief and pride knowing not only that this journey is nearing its culmination but also that we've been able to craft a code that will better serve the community and the city itself."

-Staff report

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