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Large Development in Villa Hills Meets Opposition from Neighbors

Eighty-five acres overlooking the Ohio River near Amsterdam Road in Villa Hills, site of the peaceful St. Walburg Monastery where the Benedictine Sisters live, will soon be home to a sprawling mixed-use development slated to include single-family homes, high-end apartment units, and commercial opportunities such as restaurants.

The City of Villa Hills has sought to beef up its commercial offerings, so when the nuns entered into a contract to sell the property to Edgewood-based Ashley Commercial Group, the news was well-received at the city building.

Mayor Butch Callery said at the time that the city was ready to work with the developer and was excited about what the development means for the future of Villa Hills.

But some neighbors have not been enthusiastic.

Recently, campaign signs calling for residents to "Defend Villa Hills" have emerged in yards across the city, particularly near where the development is slated to go. 

Henry Mitchell, who lives on Carpenter's Trace, which snakes around the southern edge of the monastery property, said that he and some neighbors had been concerned since the beginning, but when the plan was fully released on December 11 - ahead of a date next week with the Kenton County Planning Commission - things got more serious.

"The concerns are the commercialization of Villa Hills, building three- and four-story buildings that really aren't consistent with anything in Villa Hills," Mitchell told The River City News. A 4-story apartment building with 187 units will also have a parking lot that may be visible from some of the homes on Carpenter's Trace. A 3-story commercial building is also expected to come online, with offices and retail space, and possibly additional apartments.

With the additional residential units - single family homes, town houses, and apartments - Mitchell said that neighbors are worried about traffic, too, as well as possible over-crowding of River Ridge School and strains on police and fire services.

A roundabout could eventually be added on Amsterdam Road at Collins Road. "If there is a constant flow of traffic now, how does anyone cross that street? It's already dangerous now," Mitchell said. 

"Typically, these developments are built first and the traffic is dealt with later."

Mayor Callery is still positive that the development is in the best interest of the city. The city has posted to its Facebook page a series of information pieces about the property and the project, noting that the 450 to 493 residential units will be made up of 190-plus single family homes in the price range of more than $500,000, 35 town houses at a price of $350,000 and up, 25 to 75 senior cottages between $250,000 and $350,000, and rental units that will be leased at $1,200 to $1,600 per month. The project also calls for a fifth of the acreage to be used as green space with walking trails and an overlook open to the public.

"It's eight to ten years, it's going to be taking a while to get everything done in the plans," Callery told The River City News. "My concern was for the sisters because they served the community for almost one hundred years. There wouldn't be a Villa Madonna if it weren't for the nuns. There wouldn't be a St. Walburg. The sisters have done a lot for the community. They are still doing things. They needed to sell the land for the retirement fund."

The amount of the sale, which is not yet complete, is not yet known publicly.

Callery said that city administrator/city clerk Craig Bohman looked at the number of rental units currently in Villa Hills and found that the city was at 12.43 percent rental, a number that would increase to 16.6 percent with the new project. Callery said that Ft. Mitchell is at 47 percent rental and that only Edgewood, at 10.5 percent, has a lower number. "These are going to be luxury apartments. We don't think they'll cause much of a problem."

Mitchell disagrees. He said his neighbors will be dealing with car noise and parking lot lights in an area that is currently a field of green. Though the city has argued in the past that more tax revenue is needed to maintain city services, and that a boost in commercial taxes would be desired, Mitchell said that he would be willing to pay more taxes instead of allowing a commercial development to move forward. 

"Villa Hills is a pretty affluent neighborhood and that's why we moved here. We want to keep it that way," he said. "If there are going to be taxes to address (services), we feel the residents of Villa Hills would support those tax increases as opposed to altering the face of Villa Hills forever."

"If we wanted to live in Crescent Springs," Mitchell said, "we would have bought down there. There are twenty-five fast food restaurants off the highway. We don't need that here."

Callery said the development would include, ideally, "a real nice restaurant", a wine bar, and/or a coffee shop, with professional offices for accountants and doctors. The commercial portion of the project comes later.

But if a commercial tone is struck by the new development, there are another thirty-two acres directly adjacent to the monastery property that are also poised for development. The property, which houses broadcast towers for some of iHeart Media's local radio stations, recently hit the market separately. Mitchell said that neighbors are also concerned that that site could be used for commercial opportunities.

Ashley Commercial Group's Bill Kreutzjans said that his business has looked at that property, too, but is not currently pursuing it. Instead, he is focused on the monastery project, one that he says follows the extensive 74-page small-area study produced after thirteen months of public comment. The city's official position, according to its Facebook page, is that the proposed Ashley development "appears to substantially meet the guidelines of the amendments as approved by the Kenton County Planning Commission."

"We tried to follow the Villa Hills study that was done," Kreutzjans said. "We were following that as a blueprint."

He said he is open to meeting with the concerned neighbors again. "I think they are going to have ample opportunity to express their thoughts and opinions on it," he said. 

If that happens, Mitchell said that he and his neighbors would call for a residential-only neighborhood with different sized buildings and parking lots. "That lot is set up to house three hundred cars," he said. "At 5 p.m. on any night of the week, where do all those headlights go? All the car doors opening and closing. They're going to have to have large flood lights on the lot."

But, Kreutzjans plans to address those concerns by leveling the site, with a 15-ft. drop from the corner lot at Carpenter's Trace to the new parking lot, which would be located more than 50-feet away from the rear property line of the existing homes. There would also be a tree buffer, and a requirement that glare from any parking lot lights be directed away from neighboring properties.

When the project goes before the planning commission in a special meeting on Tuesday, January 9, Callery expects the approval to change the zoning from institutional to planned urban development to be passed without problem since the small-area study received unanimous approval.

Kreutzjans is also optimistic about the project.

"I think it's unique and I think it's going to be great," Kreutzjans said. "There's a reason why they put so much energy and effort in coming up with a plan like they did. We are thinking it's going to be a positive for everybody around there and when they see the final project, we think everyone is going to be real pleased with it."

Mitchell isn't so sure. 

"We want city council to look out for the best long-term interest of Villa Hills and not the best interests of an outside developer," he said. "What has the city signed on for?"

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher