Independence zoning update is sent to city council

Posted on July 20, 2012
On June 7th before the Kenton County Planning Commission, two of three proposed zoning districts received positive recommendations from Commission members. Those proposed districts have now been sent back to Independence City Council for final action, bringing the nearly two-year process close to completion.

A steering committee of citizens was appointed in late 2009 by Independence City Council to implement recommendations of the Independence Community Small Area Study. These recommendations were adopted by the city council and the Kenton County Planning Commission in 2007. The planning commission’s action incorporated the study’s contents into the Kenton County comprehensive plan.

The appointed steering committee met close to monthly for a year and a half to review current zoning requirements, small area study recommendations, and zoning alternatives. The members’ geographic focus was for areas around downtown Independence, McCullum Pike, and the intersection of McCullum Pike with new KY 17.

The steering committee presented its recommendations to the Independence City Council over the first few months of 2012, one district at a time. Those recommendations included the following three new zoning districts:
•    DI/Downtown Independence Zone
•    CD-SF/Conservation Development Single-Family Overlay Zone
•    GMU/Gateway Mixed Use Zone

The public hearing, which included the presentation of both maps and text for the Downtown Independence Zone and the Conservation Development Single-Family Overlay Zone, was well attended by Independence residents and business owners. Much of the testimony, however, was in opposition to the proposed zoning updates.

Many of the residents claimed that the regulations should remain as they currently are; some even stating, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Many also said they did not feel like they had had adequate input during the process.

The Gateway Mixed Use Zone is expected to be discussed in further detail by the Independence City Council before sending it to the KCPC in the near future.

“Our committee worked diligently to reach consensus on these recommendations. Our process was open and included two public forum opportunities for community input. The public input definitely influenced our final recommendations and I think helped create a better end product,” said Rodney Crice, a citizen member of the steering committee. A detailed report of changes made by the committee based on public input can be found at the NKAPC website.

Crice concludes that he is pleased with the final recommendations. “If council approves the new zoning codes, we will have achieved a primary goal for implementing and realizing the small area study recommendations.”

New energy code coming for residential construction

Posted on July 20, 2012
The Commonwealth of Kentucky adopted the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code  in late 2010 with a mandatory enforcement date of June 6, 2011 for commercial applications. The process for residential applications wasn’t so easy.

The Board of Housing required numerous studies to be performed. A small committee made up of home builders, mechanical contractors, energy specialists, and code officials was assigned the task of putting a value on the differences between the 2006 and 2009 codes. After the information was gathered and provided, the Board of Housing approved the 2009 edition, which becomes mandatory on October 1, 2012.

Adoption of the new code includes new inspection requirements. “We’re starting now to perform energy inspections for residential homes. This means there will be an additional insulation inspection after the framing inspection. We’ll also need to bring back the requirement for single-family slab inspections,” said Brian Sims, CBO, NKAPC’s chief building official.

Secondly, there is the need for training and education. The Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction (DHBC) and the Code Administers Association of Kentucky (CAAK) collaborated to provide six CEUs to builders, designers, and code officials who completed the training. Instead of using outside instructors, DHBC and CAAK selected a few employees to be co-facilitators for these classes. The goal was to produce a comfortable interactive session for all of the participants.

Trainer education started in December. Jeff Bechtold, Senior Building Official with NKAPC, was one of the CAAK members to participate in this training. “It was quite a surprise and honor to be selected from such an educated membership,” Bechtold stated.

The three-person teams taught at least three of the scheduled ten one-day classes, located in eight cities across the state to facilitate participation and reduce the overall travel for attendees.

The Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky also asked Bechtold to provide its members with training on June 19th.

Two forums in July move Direction 2030 forward

Posted on July 20, 2012
The majority of respondents to a recent public meeting keypad survey chose employment as the element that needs the most improvement locally. Based on that consensus, economic competitiveness will be the focus of the next public meeting scheduled for July 25th from 6-8 p.m. at Simon Kenton High School in Independence.

Fifty-five percent of respondents selected jobs as the most important local issue when compared to shops and amenities, outdoor recreation, housing options, and education. The desire for better employment was also articulated in small group discussions. At almost every meeting citizens have expressed strong concerns about good jobs for youth as an incentive to stay in the area.

A portion of the meeting will include a discussion amongst panelists after which the public will have a chance to ask questions or make comments—a similar format to the June 14th public forum on healthy communities. A summary of that session is posted on the project's website.

In addition, a forum specifically for elected officials from Kenton County’s 20 jurisdictions will be held on July 19th at the Edgewood Senior Center.  That session will discuss specific county-wide and city issues.

Both meetings will further the conversation on policies that can be addressed in the Kenton County Comprehensive Plan: housing; land use; transportation; environment; and, community facilities. Preparation of the plan's goals and objectives is anticipated to begin in September after the conclusion of this second round of public meetings.

OneStopShop offers elec. inspections

Posted on June 30, 2012
In 2005, NKAPC hired their first electrical inspector as a way of streamlining their One Stop Shop program. Soon afterward, two more inspectors were hired to meet the needs of the customers. This continued until the economic crash hit in 2008-09, and like many other companies and government entities NKAPC was forced to look at cutbacks, including personnel.

In early 2010, NKAPC sought to privatize their electrical inspections as a way of saving money and still fulfilling their obligations set forth from the Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction in Frankfort.

After an RFQ process, Inspections Bureau Inc. (IBI) was awarded a two-year contract on July 5, 2010. NKAPC issued the permits, while IBI performed the inspections within NKAPC jurisdictions and collected fees for their work.

To ensure NKAPC’s customers kept receiving the best service possible, another RFQ sent out near the end of the contract with IBI. The process included the same style of qualifications as before but with one big change; the requirements for online applications, inspection scheduling and status updates on inspections.

NKAPC received three responses to the RFQ by the May 18, 2012 deadline; Inspections Bureau Inc, Electric Inspections, and NEC Inspections and Education.

On June 25, 2012, the NKAPCommission will approve and sign the contracts of the approved recipients who have demonstrated they meet the criterion set before them. Electrical contractors/homeowners will be able to choose between any of the awarded inspection firms for their electrical inspection needs.

Permits will still be issued from the NKAPC’s office on a walk-in/walk-out basis. Once the permit has been issued and work has started, the customer will have the option to choose from any approved, contracted firm to conduct the inspections.

Direction 2030 efforts focus on public engagement

Posted on June 30, 2012
Since its start, the Direction 2030 project has continuously emphasized the importance of public input and interaction with the key persons who deal with issues addressed in the Comprehensive Plan.

Opportunities for such dialogues include public meetings held in different areas of the county, small group meetings with groups traditionally not represented in the public meetings, meetings with a Technical Task Force, and a Planning Task Force. The Kenton County Planning Commission which includes one representative appointed by each legislative body has the final authority to adopt the Comprehensive Plan.

While over 200 people attended the first round of four public meetings, the small group sessions allow a more in-depth conversation with different groups in the community. One such meeting was held after an initial public meeting at Piner Elementary School.

“These small group meetings have allowed us to hear the specific issues that residents of southern Kenton County have mentioned. The needs of the residents are somewhat different from the rest of the county and we are working in collaboration with theDirection 2030 effort to bring those issues to the forefront,” said Kenton County Commissioner Beth Sewell.

A small group meeting was also held in Elsmere with the African American community, who represent 4.6 percent of Kenton County’s population according to the 2010 U.S Census.
“We appreciate the opportunity to bring our thoughts and ideas to the table as part of theDirection 2030 effort,” said Jerome Bowles, President of the Northern Kentucky branch of the NAACP and Technical Task Force member.

A continued effort will be made to keep all the groups involved in the planning process as the plan moves into the second round of public input meetings. The input received at these meetings will be presented to the Planning Task Force for their consideration, and then the preparation of goals and objectives will begin.

“The Comprehensive Plan is the foundation for planning efforts, including zoning and subdivision regulations, in Kenton County. We strongly encourage residents of Kenton County to get involved in the planning process so you can have a say in the adopted policies,” said Paul Darpel, Chairman of the Kenton County Planning Commission.

One Stop Shop fees will increase this summer

Posted on June 30, 2012
Cutting the tax revenue that has subsidized them, One Stop Shop Program fees for new permits, new phases of existing projects, and reinspections will increase an average of ten percent effective Monday, July 2, according to NKAPC executive director Dennis Gordon, FAICP.

“Although Kentucky statutes authorize charging what it costs to provide fee-based services, we’ve held off increasing these fees for a while in deference to local builders whose businesses have been decimated by this recession,” he said. “Unfortunately, this response has had a very negative impact on the tax revenue we receive.”

Gordon says local elected officials want to see a reversal to the trend of public funds subsidizing fee-driven services. “They don’t believe that’s an appropriate use of tax dollars.”

Open permits for which fees have been paid and on which reinspections are not required will not be assessed any additional costs, according to Gordon.

One Stop Shop Program components include: building, electric, HVAC, and zoning permits; building, electric, and HVAC inspections; hearings before local boards of adjustment; and, local code enforcement board fines.

NKAPC has handled these responsibilities for numerous Northern Kentucky local governments since 2005. The new fee schedule is available online at the One Stop Shop program website.

LINK-GIS accepts new oblique imagery

Posted on June 30, 2012
The LINK-GIS partnership signed contracts recently with Pictometry International Corp. to update aerial images of Campbell and Kenton Counties. When uploaded into its system, these new digital images will provide jurisdictions in both counties with two ways to view their territories—the traditional bird’s-eye view and now a 3-D view.

Pictometry captures high-resolution images obliquely—or from an angle—allowing users such as emergency services personnel, property assessors, and zoning officials to see land features and structures clearly and in their entirety.

“Pictometry gives me five ways to view a parcel, compared to the traditional one top-down shot. These new images will be really helpful for firefighters and police responding to calls,” said Ben Campbell, Campbell County Property Valuation Administration’s, Chief Deputy in charge of mapping. “Pictometry is a new angle on an old product.”

Pictometry’s interactive measuring tool will also be helpful for zoning and property valuation staff. They can measure buildings from the ground up, see how many stories a house has, and measure the perimeter around a structure, for example. Traditional bird’s-eye view images don’t provide this ability.

This 3-D ability to see properties from their desk will help assessors save time and money by cutting field costs. It will also allow them to see restricted properties, verify records, and resolve claim disputes. This technology will not be available on the website due to licensing costs that are expensive to maintain.

An added benefit that was realized this March was that Pictometry International Corp. will re-fly the two counties without charge in the event of a natural disaster and provide the resulting photos quickly. Due to the tornado that hit the Piner area in Kenton County and the National Weather Service declaring it an F4, we receive updated aerials of the affected area in as little as two weeks after the event. This aided in faster cleanup efforts and insurance claim processing.

“The ability to give the citizens of Kenton County immediate assistance after the tornado was a huge benefit that we gained from the photos provided by Pictometry,” stated Mark Vogt, Kenton County Property Valuation Administrator.

The 3-D aerial images were shot in March and delivered to the LINK-GIS partnership in May for immediate review and utility. By joining the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s efforts to fly imagery for the entire state, the partnership was able to save $21,000 on oblique imagery and an additional 15 percent by flying the two counties together.

The LINK-GIS partnership is a multi-jurisdictional relationship made up of the Fiscal Courts of Kenton and Campbell Counties, the PVAs of Kenton and Campbell Counties, the Northern Kentucky Water District, SD1, and the Area Planning Commission. NKAPC is the managing partner and provides centralized support services to the others as well as assistance to the public.

KCPC agendas get a surge in activity

Posted on June 30, 2012
At its busiest, the number of public hearings on any given Kenton County Planning Commission agenda might have been in double digits. But over the last several years, those numbers have waned, even to the point of cancelling a handful of meetings due to lack of any agenda items at all.

However, the KCPC is seeing a new resurgence of business as more hearings are scheduled.

“In all of 2011 there were approximately 35 items heard by the Kenton County Planning Commission,” said Andy Videkovich, Senior Planner for NKAPC. “It’s hard at this point to determine if this is part of a larger trend or just an anomaly.”

June’s KCPC agenda was lengthy due to the intricate nature of the requests, and what July’s agenda lacks in intricacy, is gained in sheer volume. The majority of these requests are zoning code text amendments and a few zoning map amendments.

With the downturn in the economy and lack of development activity, came a major decrease in the number of zoning amendments.

“Because only one of these requests came from a property owner, it is likely that the cities of Kenton County are doing one of two things; either using the lull in activity to prepare their ordinances for future development that some experts have said is imminent or making compromises that might help make those predictions a reality,” said Martin Scribner, Deputy Director for Planning and Zoning Administration.

Paul Darpel, Kenton County Planning Commission Chair, said, “I’m hopeful that this is indicative of a trend that the cities are getting ready for a much needed upturn in development.”

Other major items are also on the horizon for the KCPC, such as the adoption of the updated Kenton County Subdivision Regulations and the adoption of the Kenton County Comprehensive Plan, known as Direction 2030.

Slip Sliding Away: Northern Kentucky hillsides gain attention

Posted on May 24, 2012
After three inches of rain fell recently over a few days in Bellevue, there was a hillside behind a row of condominiums that slid into the homes. This is just one of a growing number of landslide sites Matt Crawford from Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS) has visited in Northern Kentucky.

“I got involved in this slowly at first by compiling a landslide inventory of sites all around Kentucky with data from a variety of sources,” Crawford says. “I started visiting the sites to check the information I was putting into the database.”

Northern Kentucky has become a frequent destination for his visits, because of the high number of landslides in the region. “Our job is to communicate what we know about geology, steep slopes, soils, and about activities that destabilize slopes,” stated Crawford.

Field studies also help to verify landslide locations using light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data provided to KGS by the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission on behalf of the LINK-GIS partnership. Crawford explains LiDAR data is taken from an aircraft and uses pulses of light or lasers to collect very accurate terrain information. “It allows the creation of high-resolution digital elevation models,” he says, “and there are features in this data that can indicate landslide activity not easily noted by simply looking at the terrain.”

The data helped identify susceptible areas that may not have been a problem—yet. “It may have been a creeping slope that after a large rain will be more susceptible to material sliding off.”

LiDAR may not detect some landslide-related features because of development and other changes to a landscape. But field visits have confirmed landslides at many of the 234 locations indicated by LiDAR data to be a possible risk in Northern Kentucky.

Due to the geology of the Northern Kentucky area and the LiDAR data available this made the study by KGS a perfect match. Though local government and regional planning agencies have been considering whether to enact regulations relating to landslide susceptibility, Crawford says he limits his scope to geologic work.

Collaboration on tornado aftermath

Posted on May 24, 2012
After the storms of March 2, efforts to facilitate the rebuilding of homes in that area of Kenton County began immediately. NKAPC staff began a comprehensive review of the area and of the Kenton County Zoning Ordinance to ensure that property owners would be able to rebuild their homes and barns with a minimum of red tape.

It was quickly discovered that many properties in this area had homes or barns that fall under a category known in the zoning code as a “nonconforming” structure. This means that these structures were most likely built prior to the adoption of the current zoning code and, as a result, do not meet one or more of the zoning regulations for that zone. It also means that these structures would have to go through an extra step in the process of rebuilding, with the possibility that they may not be allowed to be rebuilt as they were.

NKAPC staff quickly brought this situation to the attention of the Kenton County Fiscal Court and advised that there were options that might make this process less cumbersome for the property owners and could ultimately permit some reconstruction that would not have otherwise been allowed. The fiscal court instructed staff to work pre-emptively with the Kenton County Board of Adjustment to resolve the situation with the least amount of hassle to the affected property owners. The fiscal court also passed resolutions to support this effort and to instruct staff to halt all code enforcement activities in this area to allow property owners to get debris cleaned up without the risk of incurring code violations.

Planning staff used information gathered by NKAPC building inspectors to inventory damaged “nonconforming” buildings. Most of these were either too close to a property line or had more structures on the property than were allowed. This inventory was then presented to the Kenton County Board of Adjustment, who had the option of either discontinuing those nonconforming uses or allowing them to be rebuilt.

The Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to allow all structures on the inventory list to be rebuilt the way they were prior to the storms, provided that they would attain the appropriate permits and did not expand the nonconformity of the structure. The board also provided an 18 month window for attaining building permits. If a property owner seeks a building permit to rebuild a nonconforming structure after that 18 month period, then that request must be resubmitted to the Kenton County Board of Adjustment for further review.

It should be noted that any property owner who chooses to rebuild a structure but changes the specifications to meet the current zoning code will not be subject to the above review.

To date, 42 storm-related building permits have been issued by NKAPC in this area, 27 of which were nonconforming structures that were allowed to be rebuilt because of this process, initiated by NKAPC staff. All permit fees were also waived for these permits to help minimize the headaches involved in getting residents back to their lives.
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