Board authorizes going electronic with plan reviews

Posted on September 28, 2017
As reported here last summer, PDS is going electronic with its plan review process. The PDS Management Board approved a proposal last week that authorizes the purchase of software to review CAD drawings and store the resulting data in the agency’s development tracking system.

“Our original goal was to start this transition last fiscal year,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, Executive Director. “Unfortunately, our workload last year wasn’t conducive to transitioning to a new process. And, since service is our primary goal, we kept things moving the old way while we prepared for a new, more-efficient system.”

As Gordon suggested in last year’s article, “Handling plans in electronic format is going to improve workflow in several ways. Staff will be able to receive plans, applications, and payments via email using PayPal. Those same time savers will apply to customers who won’t need to drive to our office any longer. They won’t have to buy paper and print plans—some that look more like small logs than anything else—and we won’t have to scan and eventually dispose of them.”

Transitioning to electronic plan review will begin this fall, once the software is functioning fully. As staff are trained on the software, they will eventually move away from paper plans toward CAD drawings on their computer screens.

“We intend to pursue this transition in a slow and methodical manner,” concluded Gordon. “We’ll all have things to learn—customers and staff alike. We want this to go as smoothly as possible.”

PDS will continue to accept plans on paper for the foreseeable future.


Staff responds to requests for research on ‘short term rentals’

Posted on September 28, 2017
PDS planners have received inquiries from multiple city officials over the past year regarding Airbnb rentals in their communities. As the number of questions increased, staff began to investigate the issue, looking at how other communities are handling the issue.

Initially, inquiries focused on whether these rentals are permitted under current zoning regulations. As the popularity of ‘short-term rentals’ has grown, additional communities have requested information as to whether they should be regulated within the community.

“Staff along with several of our city administrators participated in a recent webinar to learn more,” said Emi Randall, AICP, RLA, Director of Planning and Zoning. “The short-term rental industry has grown fifteen-fold in the last six years. Airbnb launched in 2009 with zero listings. Today the site is adding 35,000 listings each month.”

Airbnb is now the number one search site for accommodations with 31% of the market share over traditional hotel sites like Booking.com (7%) and Hotels.com (3%). One quarter of the traveling population in the US has now used a short-term rental for either leisure or business travel.

Although Airbnb is the biggest player in this market, there are a growing number of sites—now over 125—providing short-term rent listings and that number is growing every day.

There are many short-term rentals located currently in Kenton County. Most are within traditional residential neighborhoods, most of which have gone unnoticed. Some, however, have resulted in problems for neighbors. Issues of noise complaints, trash accumulations, parking violations, and a lack of occupational tax revenue has left some communities looking for ways to hold property owners more accountable.

PDS staff will continue researching best practices in the coming months and provide recommendations for communities. Contact Emi Randall or Andy Videkovich or call them at 859.331.8980 to learn more.


Construction underway for county’s first ‘rural subdivision’

Posted on September 28, 2017
Developers of Kenton County’s first “rural subdivision” broke ground in July and worked on earthwork and infrastructure improvements through the balance of summer. Those improvements are nearing completion now and home building is about to begin.

The development called Bentley Park is located on 34 acres along the west side of Staffordsburg Road, approximately 1,500 feet north of Visalia Road in unincorporated Kenton County. It will contain 14 new single-family homes served by a new public roadway and five additional homes served by a common driveway.

“When staff drafted the new subdivision regulations, we received a lot of input from the South Kenton County Citizens Group,” said Scott Hiles, CPC, Director of Infrastructure Engineering. “Its members were concerned that new subdivision development could affect the rural nature of their part of the county.”

Most of southern Kenton County’s zoning permits residential subdivisions that contain one-acre lots with at least 100 feet of frontage.

“The citizens’ group expressed concerns that one-acre subdivision lots felt more suburban than rural,” said Hiles. “Staff determined that regulations encouraging developers to choose larger lot sizes would be less dense and more rural, meeting the requests of the citizens’ group.”

Staff also recognized that it was not only lot sizes that determined whether a subdivision had a more rural feel.

“Improvements to the subdivision streets such as curb, gutter, and sidewalk also made the development look more suburban than rural,” said Hiles. “We had to consider how new streets could be designed so that they looked more like county roads than subdivision streets.”

The result was new rural subdivision development regulations that were made a part of Kenton County’s subdivision regulations. The rural regulations allow developments to contain roadways without curb and gutter, mirroring the look of most county rural roadways.

Storm water is handled by grassy swales that run along each side of the roadway instead of using catch basins that are part of typical subdivision streets. Also, sidewalks are not required if the roadway serves less than 50 lots.

“The benefits to this design go beyond just looking more rural,” said Hiles. “There’s also a benefit to water quality from using swales to collect and channel storm water runoff. Swales can absorb some of the storm water and add an element of filtration that helps clean the water of harmful particulates like road grease and oil. You don’t get that benefit when water is collected in a traditional storm water pipe. This filtration helps the storm water to be cleaner when it ultimately reaches a receiving stream.”

  “The rural regulations also result in subdivisions lots that are twice as large as the one-acre lots permitted by zoning,” said Hiles. “That means these rural developments are generally half as dense as they otherwise could have been.”
 
Hiles said that the 14 lots served by the new roadway in Bentley Park are all at least two acres in size and 200 hundred feet wide which allowed them to utilize the rural roadway design. Lots are expected to be available later this month and home building will begin soon after.



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.

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