Entries for 2016

Permit numbers so far leading toward a very busy construction season

Posted on June 07, 2016

Construction activity has significantly increased this year from last year according to a recent report from TRAKiT, PDS’ comprehensive development-tracking software. If these numbers remain steady, 2016 could end as the best construction season since the housing crash in 2007-08.

“Our permit numbers have grown from 1,097 to 1,298 permits for the same time period over last year”, says Brian Sims, CBO, PDS’ chief building official.

These numbers include all permit activity including new structures, additions, renovation/alterations, HVAC, automatic fire suppression systems, manual fire alarm systems, etc. With this trend, inspections will be sure to increase. To date, inspection numbers are roughly 400 more this year than they were this time last year.

The chart below—from builderonline.comdemonstrates housing start and completion numbers.


PDS has seen new housing starts increase from 43 to 52 permits this year to date. New commercial permits have grown from two the previous year to eight this year to date.

“Hopefully, activity will increase and help drive the economy back in Northern Kentucky,” says Sims.

With the workload increasing steadily, PDS needed to hire an additional entry-level inspector to replace one of the positions laid off during 2010. That inspector started in the building department last fall in an effort to get him trained for this building season.

“Our new inspector has come along very well. He is now performing inspections on his own and is really helping out with our current workload,” says Sims.

This brings PDS’ total number of building inspectors to six. This staffing level is expected to hold for now even if permits rise slightly in the future.


NKYmapLAB earns state award for use of technology in planning

Posted on June 07, 2016

Two simple goals drove initiation of PDS’ NKYmapLAB project: to illustrate the robust analytical capabilities of LINK-GIS and to use those capabilities to support Kenton County’s economic development program. As those goals are being realized now 18 months later, NKYmapLAB has also garnered top honors during this year’s awards program of the Kentucky Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA-KY).

The 2016 APA-KY Special Merit Award for Outstanding Use of Technology in Planning was given to NKYmapLAB for the project’s ongoing effort to highlight community issues and educate the public using GIS technology.

“This award is a great recognition for our team,” said Louis Hill, GISP, AICP, geospatial data analyst for PDS and project manager for NKYmapLAB. “I’d like to think that it acknowledges not only our efforts to better use technology and GIS, but also to use it in a meaningful way—one that makes our cities, our county, and our citizens better informed and more proactive.”

In announcing NKYmapLAB’s initiation last January, PDS’ executive director Dennis Gordon said, “We’ll soon celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of LINK-GIS’ founding. That makes it one of the oldest GIS systems in this part of the country. And, because time has a way of translating into data within these systems, LINK-GIS is a veritable treasure trove of intelligence.”

Gordon went on then to say that he was banking that when the community is exposed to ongoing examples of GIS analytics, more people will come to appreciate what PDS and its partners have built for the community. Somewhat prophetically, he also asserted that outside interests would come to recognize NKYmapLAB’s capabilities.

Some of the topics covered to date include issues as diverse as: energy efficiency; landslides; urban tree canopy; and, walkability—topics that are part of Direction 2030, Kenton County’s new cutting-edge comprehensive plan.

“There’s no secret to the fact that a geographic information system (GIS) can be one of the most potent tools a community can have in its arsenal when it comes to economic development,” said Gordon last January. “The ability to provide enormous amounts of geospatial data in short periods of time can mean the difference between winning or losing a prospect.”

LINK-GIS data have been a useful resource for recent economic development discussions being pursued by members of Kenton County Fiscal Court. Future NKYmapLAB products will begin the public awareness phase of Kenton County’s economic development program.

NKYmapLAB products may be accessed here. Contact Hill and Ryan Kent, GISP, Principal Geospatial Analyst, for more information. Suggestions for future analyses are always welcome.

LINK-GIS is an interlocal partnership made up of Kenton County Fiscal Court, SD1, the Northern Kentucky Water District, and PDS. PDS is the managing partner.


Planners pick up national award for Direction 2030 plan

Posted on June 07, 2016

PDS’ planning and zoning director Emi Randall, AICP, RLA, and senior planner James Fausz, AICP, brought home a very special souvenir from the recent National Planning Conference of the American Planning Association (APA): a national award for the county’s recently-adopted comprehensive plan.

Direction 2030: Your Voice. Your Choice—was the 2016 recipient of a national Award of Excellence in the Comprehensive Plan – Large Jurisdiction category. The award was one of several accolades granted to planning projects from across the nation by the American Planning Association (APA), County Planning Division, and its sister organization the National Association of County Planners.

The award was presented April 4 during the APA National Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

“This recognition was a nice surprise,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, executive director of Planning and Development Services of Kenton County (PDS). PDS provides professional staff support to the Kenton County Planning Commission, the board ultimately responsible for crafting and adopting the county’s comprehensive plan.

“The award recognizes the hard work by members of the planning commission, citizens and interest groups from across Kenton County, and of course staff who put in countless months on the project. This plan was truly a collaborative effort,” said Gordon.

The Kenton County Planning Commission adopted the community’s first comprehensive plan in 1972 and incorporated updates every five years thereafter according to Kentucky law. The combined 26.2-pound, 12.5-inch-thick behemoth influenced land use decisions until the Great Recession established a ‘New Normal.’

The diverse group of participants developed its replacement—Direction 2030: Your Voice. Your Choice.—through an aggressive three-year public engagement process. That process accomplished what many thought previously would be impossible: to build consensus among all 20 of the county’s local governments, their 126 elected officials, and their 20 planning commission members.

They grounded the plan in research provided by a national market analyst, most of it from sources bankers use for reviewing development-financing strategies. This established the plan as a unique resource for near-term development proposals and a baseline for state-mandated five-year updates.

Stakeholders played a critical role in crafting a number of its innovative policies. Their opposition to broad recommendations prompted planners to divide the county into four subareas—urban, firstring suburb, suburban, and rural—to reflect the community’s diversity. Policies are based now on the differing lifestyles found across these subareas.

The participants advocated for an easy-to-use final product. Planners responded with an online comprehensive plan (direction2030.org) that documents the plan’s creation, delivers guidance to anyone anywhere 24/7/365, and incorporates GIS technologies to entice users to interact with its contents.

The groups also called for accountability to assure that the plan’s objectives would be implemented. The PDS staff created a second website (action.direction2030.org) to keep participants and stakeholders up to date with information from the various implementation efforts being undertaken by the planning commission and others across the community.

This national award follows an Award of Merit for an Outstanding Comprehensive Plan given last year by the Kentucky Chapter of the American Planning Association.

Each year the American Planning Association’s County Planning Division and the National Association of County Planners gives out County Planning Project Awards. There are two types of awards, Awards of Excellence and Awards of Merit. There are seven categories of awards; Planning Project, Comprehensive Plan – Large Jurisdiction, Comprehensive Plan – Small Jurisdiction, Best Practices, Grass Roots Initiative, Small Area/Special Area Planning, and Special Focus Planning Initiative – Senior Livability.

Only one Award of Excellence and one Award of Merit may be granted per category each year. If the awards jury finds that none of the nominations in a particular category meets the desirable standards, they may withhold the award in that category for that year.

“This recognition, without question, goes ultimately to the countless residents who came out to express their hopes and dreams for Kenton County’s future. Much more than merely a title, Direction 2030: Your Voice. Your Choice. really did represent the ultimate goal for our process and our final product,” concluded Gordon. “We couldn’t be prouder that our collaborative efforts are being held up as a model.”

“Thank you, Kenton County!”


Villa Hills encourages new development through small area study

Posted on June 07, 2016

Adoption of Direction 2030, the county’s award-winning comprehensive plan, didn’t end PDS’ efforts to plan for the county’s future; it focused it on new goals and objectives. The current Villa Hills study is an in-depth analysis of the St. Walburg Monastery property in Villa Hills and a case in point. When complete, the small area plan will provide detailed recommendations for this undeveloped portion of the city and amend the comprehensive plan’s recommended land use map.

PDS staff began the planning effort earlier this year on behalf of the Benedictine Sisters of Covington, Kentucky, Inc. and the City of Villa Hills. The sisters, who have been a presence on the same site in Villa Hills for over 110 years, have recently been contemplating their retirement funding.

While they intend to stay on a large part of their property, they are preparing to sell approximately 80 mostly-vacant acres. They decided early in their deliberations to plan for the future rather than just putting a “for sale” sign out on the street; they want to provide a long-lasting contribution to the community.

“We have a great opportunity right now to do something special for the city and its residents,” explained Sr. Mary Catherine Wenstrup, Prioress of St. Walburg Monastery. “While selling a portion of our property is going to fund our retirement, we want to do so in a way that is beneficial to the city and our neighbors. After all, we’re staying here so whatever happens to the west of us impacts our lives as well.”

PDS staff began in January to research existing conditions on the site and manage the overall study. At the same time, efforts began with two additional studies to research specific aspects of the site. A market consultant was selected to look at the site’s potential for various types of land uses and determine which had the most potential for success in the community.

Likewise, a transportation study was initiated to examine existing conditions of the community’s roadways and plan for potential upgrades that might be needed.

A public meeting was held recently to inform the public of the research conducted to date and converse with attendees regarding their concerns and ideas for the future of the site. The meeting, held on May 9th at River Ridge Elementary School, was attended by approximately 250 people that wanted to learn more about the study.

“We had a great turnout for the meeting,” commented James Fausz, AICP, a PDS senior planner and project manager for the study. “In all my years with PDS we’ve never had the kind of attendance we received for this meeting. We’re very fortunate that so many people care about what’s going on in their community and came out to learn and provide input.”

Currently, staff is working to sort through hundreds of responses provided during the meeting. Those will then be taken to the task force overseeing the project for its consideration as the study moves forward into the recommendations phase. A second public meeting is anticipated later this summer to provide details about the plan’s recommendations.

If you are interested in learning more about the project and getting updates about its progress, visit the project’s website or the city’s website.


Local group presents info and stories about the March 2, 2012 tornado

Posted on April 19, 2016

Direction 2030 comprehensive plan earns national award

Posted on March 24, 2016

Kenton County’s new comprehensive plan—Direction 2030: Your Voice. Your Choiceis the 2016 recipient of a national Award of Excellence in the Comprehensive Plan – Large Jurisdiction category. The award is one of several accolades granted to planning projects from across the nation by the American Planning Association (APA) County Planning Division and its sister organization, the National Association of County Planners. The award will be presented on April 4 during the APA National Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

“This recognition was a nice surprise,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, executive director of Planning and Development Services of Kenton County (PDS). PDS provides professional staff support to the Kenton County Planning Commission, the board ultimately responsible for crafting and adopting the comprehensive plan.

“Being acknowledged with the respect of your peers is outstanding. In this case, though, it recognizes the fact that this plan was the result of hard work by members of the planning commission, citizens and interest groups from across the county, and of course our staff. This plan was truly a collaborative effort,” said Gordon.

Direction 2030: Your Voice. Your Choice. was crafted through an aggressive three-year public engagement process. The plan was grounded in research provided by a national market analyst, most of it from sources bankers use for reviewing development-financing strategies.

Planners and technical experts from PDS’ GIS team then went to work crafting an entirely new concept for content delivery. The final plan (direction2030.org)—there is no printed product—documents its creation, delivers guidance to anyone anywhere 24/7/365, and incorporates GIS technologies to entice users to interact with its contents.

Shortly after the plan’s adoption, PDS planners and GIS professionals created a second website (action.direction2030.org) to keep participants and stakeholders up to date with information from the various implementation efforts being undertaken by the planning commission and others across the community.

This national award follows an Award of Merit for an Outstanding Comprehensive Plan given last year by the Kentucky Chapter of the American Planning Association.

Each year the American Planning Association’s County Planning Division and the National Association of County Planners gives out County Planning Project Awards. Only one Award of Excellence and one Award of Merit may be granted per category each year. If the awards jury finds that none of the nominations in a particular category meets the desirable standards, they may withhold the award in that category for that year.

“This recognition, without question, goes ultimately to the countless residents who came out to express their hopes and dreams for Kenton County’s future. Much more than merely a title, Direction 2030: Your Voice. Your Choice. really did represent the ultimate goal for our process and our final product,” concluded Gordon. “We couldn’t be prouder that our collaborative efforts are being held up as a model.”

“Thank you Kenton County!”


Staff pays to ‘toss the boss’ in Special Olympics’ annual Polar Plunge

Posted on March 04, 2016

It was a frosty Saturday morning earlier this month when five PDS staff members showed up to participate in the annual Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Polar Bear Plunge challenge. One of them, PDS’ executive director Dennis Gordon, FAICP, had never considered doing such a “crazy thing” but joined the group willingly. The goal was to raise money for the Special Olympics and they succeeded.

When approached initially with the idea of participating in the Polar Bear Plunge, Gordon was standing before the staff during an agency-wide staff meeting. As comments grew encouraging him to agree to being tossed, Gordon took the challenge if the staff could raise $1,000 to support Special Olympics. The staff responded affirmatively and the deal was struck. Staff set out immediately to raise the funds.

“When staff first challenged me to join in, I was somewhat hesitant,” said Gordon. “Jumping into frigid water on a winter day had never come close to being included on my bucket list. But then I considered the reason for the challenge—Special Olympics—and decided it was worth whatever discomfort I’d have to endure.”

Donations for the “PDS Plungers” came from all sources, as many were excited to see the boss get tossed! Not only did those who were spearheading the effort contribute, but also staff members and other local officials. By jump day, the team not only met its goal, but exceeded it by raising over $1,300.

Team members besides Gordon were: Gary Forsyth, Associate Building Official; Robyn Woodley, Principal Permit Clerk; Ryan Hermann, Associate GIS Specialist; and, Alex Koppelman, Associate Planner.

The cold winter’s morning finally came and the “PDS Plungers” met at the jump site, Joe’s Crab Shack in Bellevue. Each member represented PDS by sporting their “PDS Plungers” shirt, with the recognizable logo. The temperature was in the upper 30s but the sun shone brightly. Huddled around a small heater, the team laughed and talked about how cold the water must be.

When the time finally came for them to take the plunge, the “PDS Plungers” wished each other well while representatives from Fox 19 News and Cincinnati’s Q102 gave the countdown. “Three… Two… One… JUMP!” SPLASH!

The “PDS Plungers” jumped together and exited the pool in near record time; the water was a skin- and bone- numbing 46 degrees.

When asked about the experience the following Monday morning, Gordon responded. “I still can’t believe how cold that water was… but I’m glad we could raise money for an extremely worthy cause.”

Special Olympics’ mission is to provide year-round sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

This is not the last time you will see the “PDS Plungers,” as the team’s next goal is to double its members and funds raised for the 2016 Cincinnati Walk Now for Autism Speaks. If you are interested, save the date: May 14th at Coney Island.

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

Officials work toward countywide foreclosed property registration

Posted on March 04, 2016

PDS staff, working closely with the Kenton County Attorney’s staff, is proposing a county-wide foreclosed vacant properties registration ordinance. If approved by the Fiscal Court, the ordinance would increase the efficiency and effectiveness of code enforcement throughout Kenton County.

The resulting registry would save tax dollars for Kenton County’s 20 local jurisdictions by requiring properties that are in the foreclosure process to name a responsible party to maintain the vacant property. It would also go a long way toward precluding frustrations felt by owners of properties neighboring foreclosed sites, according to Dennis Gordon, FAICP, PDS’ executive director.

Vacant foreclosed properties drag down property values in otherwise well-kept neighborhoods. An estimated 1,100 properties throughout Kenton County were in foreclosure during 2015. Most of these properties sat vacant and unmaintained through all or part of the foreclosure process. The proposed ordinance provides code enforcement officials with a mechanism to require that these properties be maintained to reasonable standards while in foreclosure.

PDS staff provides code enforcement staff for 16 of Kenton County’s 20 local governments. Although the other four pursue other means for code enforcement within their jurisdictions, they would still benefit from the proposed ordinance since its coverage would be countywide.

Foreclosed vacant properties registration ordinances have been proven a useful tool for other communities both in the metro region and across the country. In developing the proposed ordinance, PDS staff sought information from communities which have adopted vacant property registration programs.

“The benefit at the office level is allowing faster turnaround times for property clean up,” said Joseph Parson, Planning/Building Inspector for the City of Morehead, which enacted a vacant property registration ordinance in 2011.

The City of Cincinnati issued a report two years after adopting that city’s vacant foreclosed property registration which details the changes in code enforcement effectiveness before and after adoption. It states that prior to adoption of the ordinance, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of foreclosed properties degraded in condition during the foreclosure period. Within the first year after adoption, only ten percent of foreclosed properties degraded in condition. That number dropped to 4.5 percent in the second year of enforcement. Those are “compelling numbers” according to Gordon.

The cost of administering the proposed ordinance will fall entirely to the banks and lending institutions responsible for maintenance of these foreclosed properties. Registration will also reduce costs related to code enforcement activities by increasing staff efficiency in dealing with vacant, foreclosed properties.

“Requiring a local contact for these properties will allow us to contact a person who has the authority to address issues such as tall grass or maintenance violations in a timely manner” says Rob Himes, PDS’ codes administrator. “Under the current system, code enforcement officials’ only option is to mail a violation letter to a faraway lending institution, which rarely yield results.” 

At the request of Kenton County Fiscal Court, PDS has reached out to the municipalities to determine if this ordinance would be of benefit to them.

Contact Emi Randall, Director of Planning & Zoning Administration, or Rob Himes, Codes Administrator, at 859.331.8980 for more information.

GIS staffer named to NKY emergency response planning committee

Posted on March 04, 2016

Kathy Stephens GISP, an associate GIS specialist at PDS was appointed a member of the Northern Kentucky Emergency Planning Committee (NKEPC) during the group’s January meeting.

In making the appointment, Rodney Bell, Safety Manager for Sanitation District No.1, stated, “It’s great to have a PDS representative on board. It will provide additional capability and credibility for our three-county region.”

Stephens believes that PDS can be of great support to the organization and its goals. LINK-GIS and the mapping services it provides to both Kenton and Campbell Counties is an invaluable resource to those who must respond when emergencies strike the three-county community. Several services provided include: creation of large wall maps of fire hydrant locations, customized hydrant information based on gallons per minute (GPM) data, map books, crime site maps, analyzed data and installed stand-alone mapping programs within the trucks for several local fire departments.

PDS staff also assist Kenton County emergency services manager Steve Hensley with selecting locations for new emergency warning sirens. In the aftermath of the 2012 tornado that struck southern Kenton County, PDS’ GIS team assisted in the recovery process by providing products to aid in surveying the damaged structures for assessment of the storm severity. 

In support of that role, senior GIS programmer Christy Powell, GISP, is developing a mobile app that will allow inspectors to capture field data and directly link them to a FEMA document for easier submittal processing.

In 1986 Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act also known as the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA Title III). NKEPC was created from that federal legislation as a federally-mandated entity composed of state and local officials, business representatives, and members of the media.

NKEPC members come from local emergency responders, industry, government, education, media, and community groups. The group’s main function is to provide joint emergency planning, training, and public outreach. 

Out of Kentucky’s 120 counties, NKEPC is the only emergency planning group to serve a multi-county area. The other 117 counties in the Commonwealth have individual local emergency planning committees.

The Northern Kentucky Emergency Planning Committee is administered through the Boone County Emergency Management Agency.


NKYmapLAB initiative celebrates first year, expands into new analyses

Posted on March 04, 2016

The Northern Kentucky mapLAB (NKYmapLAB) initiative wrapped up its’ first year of projects last month, producing 11 high-quality poster map displays, and eight Story Maps. Story Maps are online multi-media applications that allow users to interact with maps, images, videos, embedded websites, and other documents (think PDFs).

NKYmapLAB projects help local leaders and citizens better understand issues affecting Kenton County, while highlighting the analytic capabilities of LINK-GIS. The first year’s topics include:

  • Energy Efficient Construction
  • Solar Potential
  • Urban Tree Canopy
  • Parks
  • Current Bridge Conditions
  • Walkability
  • KY 536
  • Baseball Across the Region
  • Plan4Health
  • Buttermilk-Orphanage Road Realignment
  • Linden Grove Cemetery and Arboretum

NKYmapLAB products were presented at the 2015 Fall Kentucky American Planning Association Conference in Frankfort and then again at the 2015 Kentucky GIS Conference in Owensboro. In June NKYmapLAB staff will continue to share their work with GIS users from around the world, having been selected to present at the 2016 ESRI International User Conference. 

The NKYmapLAB initiative was recognized with a first place finish in the Map Gallery at the 2015 Kentucky GIS Conference and a third place finish in the Large-Format Printed Map Category at the 2015 ESRI International User Conference.

The initiative’s Walkability Story Map garnered the attention of the Story Map team at ESRI and became part of their Story Map gallery on ESRI’s website. View it here on the LINK-GIS site.

“While getting the attention of the GIS community is great, the real reward is being able to assist a community with an issue when they ask for it,” stated Ryan Kent, GISP, part of the NKYmapLAB team.  

NKYmapLAB has partnered with agencies, where mutually beneficial, in order to improve their collaborative work efforts by leveraging existing GIS capabilities, cartography, and data partnerships. One such project was created in collaboration with the City of Fort Mitchell on a proposed realignment of the Dixie Highway-Buttermilk Pike-Orphanage Road intersection.

As 2016 gets underway, NKYmapLAB has already released two products: “Trails of Kenton County” and “Landslides in Kenton County.” The initiative seeks to continue its goal of addressing one topic per month over the course of the year.

Louis Hill, GISP, the other part of the NKYmapLAB team, stated that “so far NKYmapLAB work has been very well received. It’s also continued to generate requests for technical assistance on projects that require a deeper level of analysis and partnership.”

For more details on NKYmapLAB, email Louis Hill, GISP, AICP, or Ryan Kent, GISP, or call them at 859.331.8980.

NKYmapLAB is available online and on Twitter @NKYmapLAB.


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