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.


Regional ‘Food Summit’ to bring groups together on healthy food issues

Posted on March 04, 2016

Save the date Monday, March 28th! Eat Healthy NKY is holding a Food Summit at Turkey Foot Middle School from 3:00 to 8:00 PM showcasing healthy eating habits, local food production, and food preparation in our region.

“We’re really excited to be organizing this event,” said Michael Ionna, AICP, a PDS principal planner.  “Our guests can expect an open house with information booths covering a wide variety of topics important to our local food system—from production and distribution to consumption and food waste.”

The summit will cover several topics like how to eat healthy on the go, where to purchase local food, the benefits school and community gardens, and what is food policy and how can it improve our community’s quality of life. Speakers and panel discussions will be featured throughout the event.

“Attendees should plan on bringing their appetites,” explained Emi Randall, AICP, PDS’ director of planning and zoning. “Part of what we want people to see is that eating healthier can include eating delicious food. The cuisine provided will highlight food production in our region utilizing a variety of ingredients and products produced by local artisans and farmers.”

The event is also family friendly. A kids’ zone will be available from 5:00 to 8 PM and will feature a variety of fun activities including a seed starting booth hosted by the UK Agriculture Extension Office. Additionally, the Northern Kentucky Health Department’s mascot will be at the event and guests are encouraged to let the world know they are at the event!

“We have a full slate of events scheduled for the evening so no matter when you attend there will be something exciting going on,” Ionna continued. “Ultimately, the goal of the event is to reach as many people as possible and provide them with a positive experience where they can educate themselves about food system issues and of course, enjoy some tasty chow while doing so!”

Full details for the event and registration is available online at this Evenbrite.com webpage. Because of the large turnout expected, space is limited so make sure that you reserve your place by registering early.

The event is being sponsored by Eat Healthy NKY, an outreach campaign to educate members of the public about healthy food options. To learn more about this initiative, click here.

Planning Commission charges staff to craft ‘mini cell tower’ regulations

Posted on March 04, 2016

The meteoric change and growing demand of personal cell services has put a strain on local cell service providers to offer better and faster coverage to every corner of Kenton County. This has prompted the introduction a new distribution method called distributed antenna systems (DAS). A DAS is a way to deal with isolated spots of poor coverage and/or capacity within a community.

Kenton County communities are already receiving requests to install distributed antenna systems within their jurisdictions.

“Villa Hills was first approached for permission to install DAS sites in March of 2015,” said Craig Bohman, the Villa Hills City Administrator/Clerk. “The City Administration Office has received a couple of calls about low signal strength, both of which come from areas where proposed mini towers would be nearby.”

Distributed antenna systems are typically located within rights of way and provide coverage within a 300 to 400 yard radius of the tower. In most instances, the poles used are only slightly taller than typical utility poles. They can be very simple wood poles, but they can also be made out of other materials and in other colors so as to fit better into its surroundings.

“According to state law, new cell towers fall to the Kenton County Planning Commission to review and approve,” said Andy Videkovich, PDS’ planning manager who is overseeing the process. “State law was drafted at a time when large, freestanding towers (also called macro sites) were the norm. Distributed antenna systems are considered towers by the definitions of state law, but since the laws were drafted to regulate only macro sites, they do not do an adequate job regulating these mini cell towers.”

All the engineering, application submittal requirements, and notification requirements required by state law are overly prohibitive to allow mini cell sites into Kenton County’s communities, according to Videkovich.

“The initial confusion over whether or not the mini cell towers fell under the same rules as regular cell towers definitely slowed the process,” says Bohman, “Further, the lack of regulation on how to blend in these new towers into existing residential communities also delayed their installation.”

Distributed antenna systems can provide many benefits to a community. One benefit is public safety. As more and more homes in Kenton County give up their land lines, it is important that cell coverage and capacity throughout the county is strong enough so someone in their basement, for instance, can make calls to 911 in an emergency.

Just as important for first responders is finding your location. These distributed antenna systems will improve the accuracy of a cell phone’s GPS locator from within buildings so first responders can locate a person during an emergency more easily.

The Kenton County Planning Commission and PDS staff have been working to update the county’s regulations to address this new technology. In meeting with local elected and appointed officials, it is clear that Kenton County communities see the need to have these regulated.

At the same time, local cell service providers have expressed frustration that current state laws prohibit the deployment of these systems. Meeting all the current state law requirements is cost prohibitive for what is in essence the construction of a specialized utility pole.

“The design of the mini towers is important. While strong signal strength for wireless devices is an amenity that adds to a community’s quality of life, other amenities such as the look and feel of a community also add value,” according to Bohman. “There should be a way to deploy this new wireless platform without negatively impacting the planned aesthetics of an area.”

The goal of these new regulations is to make sure that there are practical and reasonable safeguards in place that will help protect the community from a proliferation of unsightly poles. The Planning Commission has also recognized that there is a need for better coverage, and a complete exclusion of distributed antenna systems will not provide the citizens of Kenton County with the best coverage possible.

“As more and more wireless devices are placed in use, there will be a greater demand on signal use. Having the mini cellular technology would address low signal strength in some areas,” concluded Bohman.

PDS Council elects new officers, fills four seats on management board

Posted on March 04, 2016

The PDS Council—the governing body for Planning and Development Services of Kenton County—met for its annual organizational meeting the last week in January. Representatives of most Kenton County governments were present. Independence Mayor Chris Reinersman was elected the council’s president for 2016; Lakeside Park Mayor Dave Jansing was re-elected vice president and Elsmere Mayor Marty Lenhof was re-elected secretary. All terms run through January next year.

In another voting procedure, councilmembers elected four individuals to serve two-year terms on the PDS Management Board. Elected were former Fort Wright mayor Tom Litzler, Crestview Hills Mayor Paul Meier, Independence Administrator Chris Moriconi, and Park Hills Mayor Matt Mattone.

Litzler, Meier, and Moriconi serve on the Board currently. Mattone will replace long-time board member and former Fort Mitchell mayor Bill Goetz who chose not to run for re-election.

Three other individuals serve on the Management Board, having been elected in 2015 to two-year terms. They are Covington Mayor Sherry Carran, Kenton County Commissioner Beth Sewell, and former Taylor Mill mayor Mark Kreimborg.

As directed by the Kentucky Revised Statutes, the PDS Council provides a forum in which Kenton County planning issues can be debated and consensus achieved. With a membership of elected officials only, the Council is also responsible for final review of the organization’s annual budget and the tax rate that funds it.

True to its name, the seven-member Management Board oversees the professional staff, sets policy to achieve the Council’s direction, and provides oversight for the daily operations of the organization.

Others included on the ballot for seats on the Management Board were Fort Mitchell Mayor Jude Hehman, Elsmere Administrator Alex Mattingly, and Park Hills Councilman Monty O’Hara.

Edgewood disbands its code enforcement board to join joint board

Posted on March 04, 2016

The Edgewood City Council voted unanimously during its December 7 meeting to disband its code enforcement board and join the Kenton County Joint Code Enforcement Board. Edgewood becomes the 11th jurisdiction represented by the Kenton County Joint Code Enforcement Board, an alliance of local jurisdictions staffed by PDS’ One Stop Shop program.

Other members of the joint board are Kenton County, Crescent Springs, Crestview Hills, Fort Wright, Independence, Kenton Vale, Park Hills, Ryland Heights, Taylor Mill, and Villa Hills.

Edgewood City Administrator Brian Dehner stated, “Code enforcement continues to be a growing issue in most communities. Cities struggle with serving citations legally and providing an appeal process that will hold up if the case ends up in court. By entering the Joint Code Enforcement Board, the City of Edgewood will benefit in getting these concerns filled.”

“If property owners decide to appeal their case we know the Joint Code Enforcement Board members will be trained, have legal representation present during all meetings to provide them with legal advice and an experienced board that hears cases every month. Another benefit is our city administrative staff will no longer have to administer the city’s Code Enforcement Board, allowing the staff to work on other job duties,” said Dehner.

Membership of the Kenton County Joint Code Enforcement Board is comprised of an appointed representative from each jurisdiction. The Board provides an objective forum to hear appeals from property owners, order timely remediation or abatement of issues, or if necessary impose civil fines for continued, unabated violations of ordinances.

The Joint Board meets the second Thursday of every month at 6:00 PM in the Commission Chambers of the PDS Building in Fort Mitchell.

Done! OKI Board approves final section of KY 536 corridor alignment

Posted on March 04, 2016

The KY 536 Scoping Study, begun by the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments in fall 2014, was adopted last month on a unanimous vote by the OKI Board of Directors. The vote was the last action step necessary to identify the full alignment for improvement of the corridor across Boone, Kenton, and Campbell Counties.

OKI launched this study to identify the transportation issues in this corridor that need to be addressed in order to improve access, mobility and safe travel while enhancing the economic vitality of the region. The goal of the KY 536 Scoping Study was to reach consensus on a recommended alternative for the corridor from KY 17 to the Licking River.

The improvement plan recommended by the study’s project development team—which echoed the public’s responses—is the off-alignment option. This alternative follows the existing KY 536 east from KY 17 and shifts north onto a new segment as it approaches KY 16 to realign with KY 536 near Maverick Road. This shift redirects traffic north of White’s Tower Elementary School in accordance with feedback received from the public.

The alternative then follows the existing KY 536 until one-half mile west of Staffordsburg Road where it veers north onto a new alignment connecting directly with the existing Visalia Bridge. Between KY 17 and Staffordsburg Road Connector, this alternative is a three-lane road. From the Staffordsburg Road Connector to the Campbell County line, this alternative become a two-lane road, with the exception of an 11-foot climbing lane that would be constructed to assist trucks traveling westward from KY 177 to the crest of the Visalia Hill west of Mann Road.

To accommodate bicycle and pedestrian travel, this alternative includes eight-foot multi-use paths on both sides of KY 536, from KY 17 to KY 16, and a ten-foot multi-use path on one side of the roadway east of KY 16. The estimated cost of this off-alignment option is $86.5 million.

Public input was integral to this study. Through three open houses, three online public comment periods, and input from residents and stakeholders shared by the project development team, a good deal of feedback was received from the public.

Robyn Bancroft, the study’s project manager, believes the “entire KY 536 Scoping Study process has resulted in a recommendation that balances the concerns of local property owners who will be most directly impacted by future improvements with the transportation needs of the region at large.”

The identification of an improvement plan for this regionally-significant corridor prepares it for the future phases of development, engineering, design and funding.

The KY 536 Scoping Study Final Report and supporting documents can be found by visiting the OKI website

Toolbox for engaging the public is about to include video capabilities

Posted on December 29, 2015

Videos from PDS will soon play a greater role in the agency’s short and long-term planning efforts. These videos are being produced in-house, facilitating understanding of specific planning issues in a format that is easy for everyone to understand.

“Engaging the public in the planning initiatives we pursue is always a challenge,” stated Dennis Gordon, FAICP, PDS’ executive director. “With people’s hectic schedules and the proliferation of tablets and smart phones, we felt video was a logical next step in our public outreach program. If they can’t get to us, we’ll go to them.”

PDS produced video previously as a part of Direction 2030, Kenton County’s comprehensive plan. The plan, available at direction2030.org is one of the few comprehensive plans in the country designed completely within a website format, providing a dynamic user-experience. The video was included on the Direction 2030 homepage since its adoption in September 2014 to introduce the plan and plans for Kenton County’s future.

Video will be used to keep citizens updated on decisions made by the Kenton County Planning Commission. Short snippet videos will be made available immediately following KCPC decisions and will be disseminated through social media. Expect to see more PDS video activity on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media channels in the future.

PDS’ new associate planner, Alex Koppelman, has been instrumental in the agency’s efforts to incorporate more video into its everyday workflow. Koppelman works with others on the team to integrate video production of all sorts into planning projects, often times using nothing more than the capabilities of his iPhone. He is a recent graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s Master of Community Planning program and joined PDS in September.

“I’ve been doing video production professionally for a long time and started utilizing these skills to improve my planning and communication efforts,” Koppelman said. “After producing a park plan video while at UC, I discovered this was a powerful way to express planning ideas and activities. I’m really looking forward to incorporating this effective communication tool into more of our projects.”

PDS leads a variety of projects and anticipates incorporating video for future plans, story-maps, and other PDS activities. Start following PDS on social media today and watch for more videos in the near future.

“This is clearly a case of newly-minted planners teaching us old timers new ways of doing our jobs,” concluded Gordon. “We’re really pleased to have Alex on our team and benefitting from the skills he brings to PDS’ staff.”


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