Building inspectors end fiscal year 2017 on a very busy note

Posted on July 27, 2017

Fiscal Year 2017 was very busy for those involved with construction in the county. Permits from PDS’ building department were up 12 percent over those issued during FY16. PDS issued roughly 3,900 building permits and logged over 5,500 inspections between July 2016 and June 2017.

“This was a very busy year for us… one of the busiest we’ve ever had,” said Brian Sims, CBO, PDS’ chief building official. “We have six inspectors trying to keep up with the workload while also paying special attention to the level of service we provide to our customers.”

PDS building codes staff worked hard during FY17 to keep permit turn-around time to a minimum and to get to each requested inspection within a 24-hour window of request. For the most part, they succeeded.

With an increased workload and the new vacant foreclosed properties registration, PDS filled an administrative staff position recently that had been vacant since the early days of the Great Recession. Staff is also reviewing all workflow procedures to expedite processes as best possible without losing any aspect of service they provide to their customers.

“Besides following all statutory requirements, providing a great level of service is one of our top priorities here at PDS,” according to Sims.

If construction activity continues, PDS may need to fill an inspector position that was also a casualty of the recession. Staff will monitor the activity levels over the next month or so and make an assessment later in the year.


Planners begin public outreach for new bicycle/pedestrian plan

Posted on July 27, 2017

Kenton Connects, an update to Kenton County’s bicycle (1999) and pedestrian (2001) plans, is underway. Staff has begun its work with a public outreach effort to gather input for the upcoming study. The completed plan will include an analysis of existing bicycle and pedestrian issues and provide recommendations on how to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety in Kenton County.

The project’s website, KentonConnects.org, provides information about the study and offers options for input including an online survey and an opportunity to register to receive additional information and meeting notices about the plan. The survey is intended to help assess bicycle and pedestrian conditions in Kenton County as the study begins.

“We encourage everyone to visit the website and complete the survey,” said Chris Schneider, AICP, a PDS principal planner and project manager of the study. “The results of the survey will help guide the initial phases of the study.”

Current outreach efforts also include three bicycle and pedestrian public service announcements which have been airing on local cable television. PDS was awarded a Paula Nye Grant from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to create three bicycle and pedestrian public service announcements. These 30-second commercials focus on bicycle and pedestrian safety education and engage viewers in the Kenton Connects study.

“Bicycle and pedestrian modes of transportation have never been more popular,” says Schneider. “A big part of Kenton Connects will be helping people learn how to bike and walk safely.”

Kenton Connects will also establish benchmark goals which can be reviewed in future updates to the plan. One benchmark goal includes reviewing existing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and identifying gaps in the current network.

Another benchmark goal is to identify bicycle and pedestrian crash locations and work towards reducing those numbers each year. The existing conditions benchmark information will be reviewed for comparison in future years as bicycle and pedestrian issues become more prevalent.

Visit KentonConnects.org to learn more, get involved and to take the survey. Contact Chris Schneider to learn more.


Staff completes review of new street construction standards

Posted on July 27, 2017
Staff completed a progress report recently to present findings on the first two years of implementing the second-generation Kenton County Subdivision Regulations. Those regulations were adopted by the Kenton County Planning Commission in March 2015.

“Two years seemed an appropriate length of time to evaluate how the new regulations were working,” said Scott Hiles, CPC, Director of Infrastructure Engineering. “We’ve seen a lot of subdivision activity in the two years since their adoption.”

When the planning commission adopted the new regulations, it established a grace period during which developers could continue using the old regulations, under certain conditions. This grace period initially limited the number of subdivisions that were required to utilize the new regulations. In fact, in 2015 only one subdivision was required to utilize the new regulations.

But in 2016 there were 12 additional developments submitted that were required to comply with the new regulations. Of the 13 total developments submitted since the adoption of the document, nine moved forward and saw construction of improvements that were required to comply with the new regulations.

The progress report focuses primarily on these nine subdivisions, highlights the successes encountered, documents the challenges faced, and draws conclusions on issues that staff has experienced during this two-year period.

“The good news is that we’ve seen many more successes than challenges,” said Hiles. “There were some issues to overcome early in the process but overall the new regulations are working well. Most importantly we’ve been able to document specific examples in the report where our communities are getting better streets because of these new regulations.”

The report has been distributed to the Kenton County Planning Commission, the Building Industries Association, and Kenton County’s elected officials. A copy of the report is available by contacting PDS staff.

GIS story map provides focus for state legislative hearing

Posted on July 27, 2017

Recent Northern Kentucky mapLAB products were a focal point during the June 7th meeting of the General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Tourism, Small Business, and Information Technology. The electronic story map and accompanying poster product highlight the 11.5-mile-long Riverfront Commons trail in Northern Kentucky.

“We worked carefully with Southbank Partners and Strategic Advisors to create and release this project by the end of March, between the awarding of construction bids and the start of on-ground trail improvements,” said Louis Hill, GISP, AICP, Geospatial Data Analyst with PDS. “The legislative forum provided an opportunity to use mapLAB products to build support among state legislators for future funding from state agencies.”

The public legislative forum was held at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington. NKYmapLAB projects delve into new subjects each month, exposing audiences to geo-based analyses that inform and engage their audiences.

Riverfront Commons is an 11.5-mile uninterrupted walking, running, and biking trail that links Northern Kentucky’s six river cities – Ludlow, Covington, Newport, Bellevue, Dayton, and Fort Thomas – to the City of Cincinnati and other regional trail systems. It is the signature project of Southbank Partners, a community and economic development organization that supports these river cities.

The Riverfront Commons story map provides a resource-rich interactive map that shows users which portion of the trail has been completed, which is being built this year, and which is planned for the future. There are numerous images, links, points-of-interest, reports, and design documents available through the story map.

When finished, Riverfront Commons will seamlessly connect Northern Kentucky’s six river cities with the City of Cincinnati via the Purple People Bridge, the pedestrian-only bridge spanning the Ohio River.

The trail also will connect with other local trails systems such as Licking River Greenway along the Licking River in Covington and the Devou Park Backcountry Trails in that city, the Tower Park Trails in Fort Thomas, and the Ohio River Bike Trail, which will ultimately connect with the Little Miami Scenic Trail that runs through five counties in southwestern Ohio.

For additional information about this or other story maps, contact Louis Hill. NKYmapLAB is available online and on Twitter @NKYmapLAB.

Questions about the Riverfront Commons trail, estimated completions dates, Manhattan Harbour, future trail locations, and project financing should be directed to Southbank Partners.

 


Annual work program, budget chart new course for FY2018

Posted on July 27, 2017

Transparency is the hallmark of PDS’ annual work program and budget for the fiscal year that began the first of this month. As approved on a unanimous vote of the PDS Council and adopted on a unanimous vote of the PDS Management Board, the new document includes a number of initiatives—both written and inherent—that take the agency into new territory.

The most noticeable change to the work program and budget, at least to those familiar with past documents, is the budget format change. Where past budgets were created around revenues and expenditures by the agency’s five departments—Administration, Building Codes, GIS, Infrastructure Engineering, and Planning and Zoning—the FY18 budget is focused on PDS’ four programming areas. Those are community planning services, general governmental services, GIS, and One Stop Shop codes administration services.

“Our budgets have always been inward-looking, meaning they relied on a basic understanding of the organization to facilitate their review,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, Executive Director. “And, while we made them available to anyone who wanted to understand our operations, if you didn’t understand PDS’ programs, you could get lost in departmental details.”

Gordon says the new programming budget uses terms that more people know and understand. They include: small area studies; infrastructure inspections; economic development technical support; websites; zoning text/map amendments; public engagement; planning commission support; codes enforcement; building permits; and, rental inspections to name a few.

The new budget format parallels that used by most Kenton County local governments. Gordon says this fact facilitated the review process staff pursues each spring with members of the PDS Council and Management Board. “The format just felt more comfortable to them.”

One objective found in the organization’s work program ties directly to its goal of financial transparency, according to Gordon. It calls on the staff to pursue publishing financial records online using the same OpenGov software used by many local governments across Northern Kentucky. January 1st is included as the goal for this objective to be operational.

The FY18 annual work program includes a number of other objectives that “take the agency into new territory.” Included among those objectives are:

  • publishing an annual report that includes among other things numbers from the now-institutionalized ‘PDS by the Numbers’ initiative—a regular reporting of PDS analytics;
  • pursuing the Z21 (Zoning for the 21st Century) initiative, reviewing and updating as necessary the zoning ordinances that serve many of Kenton County’s 20 local governments;
  • crafting a replacement to Kenton County’s near-twenty-years-old bicycle and pedestrian plans;
  • implementing electronic plan reviews for the land subdivision process, engineering plan submittals, zoning application reviews, and building plan reviews;
  • preparing for the 2020 US Census;
  • ramping up PDS’ public outreach program to keep Kenton County’s citizens up to date on planning efforts of interest; and
  • beginning to plan for the agency’s move to the new Kenton County Administration Building in Covington.

Gordon says these and other objectives are to be funded with a ‘compensating tax rate,’ meaning the same amount of money as the agency used this past fiscal year.

“We know it’ll be a challenge to get this list completed,” said Gordon. “But, if we don’t set our sights high, we’ll never know what we’re capable of achieving.”

PDS’ annual work program and budget are subject to annual review by the county’s elected and appointed officials. The Management Board—an appointed group charged with daily oversight—helps staff create the document for review by the PDS Council—a 20-member group with one elected official from each of Kenton County’s local governments as members. This group is responsible for oversight of setting the tax rate, its members being elected officials. Once these members have approved the work program, budget, and proposed tax rate, the document is sent to the Management Board and staff for implementation.

The FY18 Annual Work Program and Budget will be uploaded soon to the PDS website. Questions about it or other facets of PDS’ operations should be directed to Gordon.


GIS data being merged with Minecraft—yes THAT Minecraft

Posted on June 30, 2017

Fifty-five million people a month play the video game sensation Minecraft. Created and designed by Swedish game designer Notch Persson, and later fully developed and published by Mojang, its creative and building aspects enable players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D-generated world. Soon, players will be able to use Kenton County as a base for their creative talents.

With guidance from GIS staff, Ethan Paff, a recent graduate of Scott High School and Kenton County Academies’ Bio Medical program, created a block-by-block Minecraft replica of Kenton County that will be available to the public soon.

“Ethan suggested building Kenton County in Minecraft shortly after he arrived last fall,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, Executive Director of PDS. “He’d spent time with our GIS staff and recognized quickly that he could create Kenton County within the digital world of Minecraft. As we discussed what benefits we’d realize from his efforts, we quickly came to the conclusion that the video game would help children understand the value of GIS.”

Gordon says it took Paff most of the school year to merge GIS data into the Minecraft realm, working several hours a week on it. He’s working part-time this summer on the project, attempting to complete the Kenton County base before he heads for Brown University this fall.

In recent years Minecraft has been used to teach children math, environmental science, and programming. Paff’s project will help the public understand how to view their county, how they can work to alter their surroundings, and how to plan better communities.

Minecraft is an open world sandbox video game where players can build, create, and change the world around them. It’s played by people of all ages with a core demographic under 21. With over 100 million registered users worldwide, it is the second bestselling video game of all time, falling behind only to Tetris.

Staff expects the full version of Minecraft/Kenton County to be released by the end of this summer. For more information on this project contact Ryan Hermann at rhermann@pdskc.org.

New subdivisions springing up in “built-out” communities

Posted on June 30, 2017
Fort Mitchell, Lakeside Park, and Park Hills—three communities that most would agree are “built out”—have joined Independence as locations for new residential development. Over the course of the last 12 months PDS staff has seen developers propose subdivisions in those cities to meet demand for locations in more established areas.

“The majority of new subdivision development that we see occurs in the City of Independence,” said Scott Hiles, CPC, Director of Infrastructure Engineering. “On average, we see about one-half to two-thirds of all subdivision development occur in Independence on large acreage tracts that were generally farm or pasture land. The bulk of the remaining subdivisions occur in Erlanger, Taylor Mill, and South Covington.”

During the past year, however, staff has reviewed three developments proposed in unlikely cities.

“Staff saw new subdivisions proposed in Fort Mitchell, Lakeside Park, and Park Hills,” said Hiles. “The new subdivision in Fort Mitchell was very recent. In fact, we’ve just had an initial meeting with the developer and we’re told that the plans are currently being drawn to submit to staff. The new subdivision in Lakeside Park was approved in June of 2016 and the one in Park Hills was approved in October of 2016.”

Since these are in-fill developments, they tend to occur on smaller tracts of land as opposed to those staff sees normally. Hiles says a typical development in the cities in which subdivisions routinely occur may be as many as 50 acres at a time. But the largest of the recent in-fill developments is ten acres and the smallest is just over four acres in size.

The eight-acre subdivision in Park Hills called Audubon Forest is along Audubon Road and has been approved for 25 single-family lots. The four-acre subdivision in Lakeside Park called Saint James Place is along Turkeyfoot Road and has been approved for seven single-family lots.

“Because Saint James Place was a relatively small subdivision, all of the infrastructure and lot creation was completed by the end of 2016. Homes are ready to be built along this new street in Lakeside Park today,” said Hiles.

Staff noted that the exact details for the new subdivision in Fort Mitchell aren’t available since the formal development plan hasn’t been submitted, but the subdivision will likely not exceed ten new home sites.

“Of the three communities where these in-fill developments are occurring, there hasn’t been a new development in well over a decade,” said Hiles. “In the case of one of the communities, it’s been 20 years since that community has seen a new subdivision.”

For a list of approved, ongoing subdivisions as well as the status of their progress—including how many lots have been approved and created—visit the LINK-GIS website.

Summer interns and co-op students help get the work done

Posted on June 30, 2017
When you think of summer you think of going to the beach, swimming, picnics and eating al fresco. But if you’re a high school or college student you think about summer jobs or internships. PDS is supporting students this summer with employment for four special student interns.

Two of PDS’ interns have joined staff for a second time. Aileen Lawson is a student from the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning who is again working with the PDS’ planning staff. She says, “The Planning and Zoning department here serves such a wide variety of work, from small area studies to Kenton County Planning Commission issues to day-to-day services for all of Kenton County’s jurisdictions. My experience here has been so diverse; I’ve gotten a richer experience that will serve me well when I enter the workforce after graduation.”

Also returning is Mitchell Masarik, a recent graduate from the University of Louisville’s GIS program. He said, "When I first started at PDS last summer I was nervous and anxious as I began my first few days in the office. However, after meeting and getting to know staff members, I immediately felt at home and that I was truly part of something bigger than myself, a team, striving to give the best products and services to the customers that we serve.”

He goes on to say, “I can honestly say that thanks to PDS and its amazing staff I’m constantly putting my skills to the test in new scenarios and never feeling left out of the overall conversation of success that our team tries to deliver on a daily basis."

The other two interns are first timers to PDS. Dillion Rhodus, a GIS intern, attends Virginia Tech and is trying Cincinnati on for size with thoughts of relocating here after graduation. Many say that Cincinnati is a “hungry” city for new talent, according to Rhodus.

"I’m very excited to be working with LINK-GIS this summer. I’m eager to not only apply my skills that I've learned at Virginia Tech but also to see what I can contribute to the team and how I can grow as an individual through this opportunity,” states Dillon about his internship with PDS.

Ethan Paff, a recent graduate from Scott High School and Kenton County Academies’ Bio Medical program, is pursuing his first paid internship out of school in GIS. Ethan will be heading to Brown University in the fall. Paff said, "Having an internship means having the ability to experiment with one's own future, to walk several paths before deciding on one."

The real work and résumé builders that PDS interns are pursuing consists of many projects; addressing, land use inventories, small area studies, rights-of-way and easements, and economic development to name a few. “Having interns is essential for PDS to help us learn how to bridge our demographic gaps in reaching our audience,” said Trisha Brush, GISP, Director of GIS Administration.

While working closely with our staff, interns receive on-the-job training and knowledge. In turn, PDS gains different perspectives and fresh ideas that help bridge the generational gaps.

All in all, having interns join staff offers new energy and awareness as PDS does its share to contribute to the workforce readiness movement.

Kenton County’s new CodeRED™ program built atop GIS data

Posted on June 30, 2017

Until recently, the only ways local governments had to warn their citizens of emergencies were through radio and television stations and local sirens. Kenton County residents are now also able to receive those warnings via telephone, text message, or email through the CodeRED™ program, a recent addition approved and implemented by Kenton Fiscal Court.

CodeRED™ is an emergency notification system tailored to address-specific locations. When emergency situations arise, notices are sent to those in the area who might be affected. Kenton County’s GIS data, which is managed by PDS, provides the basis for these notifications.

At the request of Tommy Thompson, Executive Director of Kenton County Emergency Communications, LINK-GIS has provided address points, road centerlines, and county boundary information to be used in this emergency notification system, a joint effort between Kenton and Boone Counties. PDS will maintain the address database from which the Kenton County system operates.

Here’s how it works –

Citizens sign up for the free service by providing the address of their residence and/or place of business, phone number(s) and email address(es). When there is an emergency near those address, notifications are sent. Some situations which might trigger notifications include:

• fires;
• floods;
• amber alerts;
• boil water notices;
• shelter-in-place warnings; and
• evacuations.

Accurate notifications can only happen if you keep your information current. As Kenton County Homeland Security & Emergency Management Director Steve Hensley stated, “We need all residents to take the time to update their information. The success of this system is dependent upon citizens entering their information. The more accurate contacts we have, the better we can notify county residents of emergencies.”

Those who want to learn more can find it on Kenton County’s website. To update contact information, use this link and follow the given instructions.

Take time to protect yourself and your loved ones today!


Z21; it’s all about bringing zoning codes into the 21st Century

Posted on June 30, 2017

You’re the owner of a retail business created 30 years ago. You’ve operated continuously—and successfully—under the same business plan since you first opened your doors. But, because retail today is different than back in 1987, your business is: (1) losing out on growth opportunities; (2) having difficulties in addressing new trends; and (3) finding that new fixes are only good enough to address the current problem at hand. The world has changed but you haven’t. What do you do?

Now, consider you’re an elected leader of a community. You’ve operated under a zoning ordinance that was adopted 30 years ago to guide the growth of your city. But, because citizen expectations today are different than back in 1987, your community is: (1) experiencing a surge in residential remodeling and updating in place of constructing new bigger homes; (2) receiving increasing requests for “unique and different places;” and (3) facing new calls for flexibility and efficiencies in your development review processes from businesses and developers who want to meet these new demands. The world has changed but your community hasn’t. What do you do?

The obvious answer in both scenarios is to update your plans and ways of doing business.

The second scenario is reality in most Kenton County jurisdictions. And just like in the retail business scenario, growth and development/redevelopment is sometimes hampered by outdated regulations.

PDS staff is embarking on a much-needed multi-year project to review and update many of Kenton County’s zoning ordinances. Most have served as regulatory infrastructure for nearly 40 years. And, like all aging infrastructure, they’re beginning to create problems. Almost everything has changed since the 1980s and the ordinances’ deficiencies are becoming more and more apparent.

As evidence of this point, public discussion leading to Kenton County's comprehensive plan, Direction 2030: Your Voice. Your Choice, included numerous calls for updated regulations. Those calls prompted planners to include the issue within several goals, objectives, and recommendations of that plan.

Like the efforts that created the 1980s model, this initiative will affect the county's future for years.

PDS has contracted with Rundell Ernstberger Associates out of Indianapolis to work with each of the 12 participating  jurisdictions. This collaborative process will review the current zoning ordinances and the degree to which they are meeting each jurisdictions’ development goals and those expressed in Direction 2030. It will also provide individualized reports to each jurisdiction for its review and discussion.

This information and the resulting conclusions can then be used as a guide to inform each jurisdiction where changes and updates need to occur. PDS staff will then work with each to craft tailored regulations.

The principal goal of this project, a purpose that is supported by Direction 2030, is to bring Kenton County’s zoning ordinances into the 21st Century so they can once again meet the expectations of local businesses, residents, and elected officials.


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