Covington Delays Action on Possible Westside Development
The Covington city commission on Tuesday night postponed action on a proposed development agreement with Covington-based Orleans Development and the Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington with plans for new housing on eleven parcels of vacant land and one vacant building in the city's Westside neighborhood.
After pushback from neighbors on social media and at Tuesday night's meeting, City Commissioner Shannon Smith said that she would need at least a day to process the information.
Mayor Joe Meyer explained that by officially "passing over" the issue on Tuesday, that it may be revisited again in the future.
The price for the proposed sale is $150,000 and the plan would be to construct ten rowhouses and one custom home, with no current plan for one of the parcels (310 Berry St.).
The rowhouses and custom home would be built on the 1000 block of Jackson St., the 1100 block of Locust St., and the 300 block of Orchard St. Orleans and the Center were selected from what Covington Neighborhood Services Director and interim City Manager Ken Smith characterized as "five very good proposals" and that the proposed $300,000 price range for the new homes "was not the highest price point" submitted by other proposals.
A property at 1038 Jackson St. would be kept and renovated into a home office, as part of the Orleans-Center plan.
But the plan was not without controversy as some in the neighborhood had grown to love the current use of part of the land. An urban farm/garden with some chickens has been present there for years, and the commission was met with protest from neighbors.
"I think the proposal for a bunch of rowhouses in the $300,000 range is quite inappropriate for the city to be supporting," said Thurman Wenzel. "That's not the price range that the city commission needs to be supporting."
"I'm not against change. I really hope you build around the park and treat the park as an asset," said Chris McFarland. "I've met my neighbors because of this park. I think we are going to remember who supports the neighborhood and realizes this neighborhood is great because of the park."
Other residents expressed similar sentiments.
But the city maintains that the plan all along was eventually to develop the site.
"There was never any intention to have a community garden or a park or a greenspace or anything like that," interim City Manager and Neighborhood Services Director Ken Smith said at last week's caucus meeting where the plans were first revealed. "This entire site was blight removal."
Smith explained that the city allowed local residents to use a portion of the property for agriculture-related uses. "The agreement was so specific, we could get it back with thirty days notice," he said. "It was not our intention to have it remain."
Smith added that the city would explore possibly using part of the area as an official city park down the road. In the meantime, during last week's meeting, Smith shared a slide that showed the proximity of other public green spaces, such as John G. Carlisle School, Annie Hargraves Park, Basil Lewis Park, and others.
Orleans has developed a multitude of high-profile downtown Covington projects and has played a significant role in the city's current renaissance. Those projects include the Boone Block Lofts, the Market Lofts, the Bradford Building, and the Kent Lofts in Bellevue.
The Center has decades of experience in bringing new and renovated homes online, and has spearheaded countless placemaking initiatives in the city. It is also based in the Westside neighborhood.
The properties on the Westside were generally acquired by the City of Covington in the early 2000s. Several buildings in particularly bad shape were razed. Redevelopment goals held by the city were hampered by the Great Recession.
There are five additional properties consisting of individual two-story buildings that are poised for development. It was indicated last week that the city has one developer in mind for those properties after evaluating proposals that were received, but that developer does not want to commit until the city commission approves the Orleans/Center development plan, or some other plan. Those properties are on the 300 block of Orchard St., the 300 block of Berry St., and the 1100 block of Locust St.
It is possible that those plans will be discussed at the August 3 city commission caucus meeting, Covington spokesperson Dan Hassert told RCN, though that statement came before the city commission passed over the Orleans-Center plan.
-Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Photo: Orchard Park (RCN file)