Infrastructure Engineering

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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.


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.



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.

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.

Geotechnical requirements providing guidance for new streets

Posted on June 01, 2017

Much has been written and said about Kenton County’s now two-year-old subdivision regulations and the specifications it includes for new street construction. One of the main reasons for the increased focus is the application of geotechnical engineering testing and reporting standards included in the regulations.

“Staff recommended increasing the geotechnical engineering standards in the subdivision development process from the beginning of the effort to write the new regulations,” said Scott Hiles, CPC, Director of Infrastructure Engineering. “We knew that getting the geotechnical engineer involved to evaluate the suitability of the soils that supported the pavements was an important part of providing pavements that didn’t break down prematurely.”

The results of the new standards are becoming apparent just now.

“The Kenton County Planning Commission was concerned about subdivisions that had already been approved at the time the new regulations were adopted,” said Hiles. “For those developments, changing the rules that governed them mid-stream didn’t seem fair.”

Members of the planning commission approved a grace period for most subdivisions that were approved at the time the new regulations were adopted. Those developments were allowed to continue using the old regulations under certain conditions.

“That meant those previously-approved developments didn’t have to provide the additional engineering to evaluate the suitability of the soils,” said Hiles. This grace period initially limited the number of subdivision developments that were required to have the additional geotechnical engineering.

Even with the grace period, there have been 13 subdivisions since the increased standards were adopted that were required to get a geotechnical engineer’s report that evaluated the soils.

“Staff had long suspected that a major contributing factor to premature street failure was the presence of poor soils incapable of supporting the standard pavement design,” said Hiles. “But without the geotechnical assessment and oversight there was no way to require that the poor soils supporting the new streets be improved.”

Of the 13 subdivisions required to get a geotechnical engineer’s report, eight were identified as containing problem soils that would not produce the strengths necessary to adequately support the street pavements.

“That means that without the additional geotechnical engineering required by the new regulations, some of the new streets would have been constructed on soils incapable of providing proper support. Those streets could have failed prematurely because of those poor soils.”

Hiles said that of the eight subdivisions where poor soils were identified, the recommendations to remedy the issue ranged between a combination of undercutting the poor soils and replacing them with new soil capable of producing adequate strengths, to chemical stabilization of the poor soils.


Engineering staff scheduling seminar on street maintenance issues

Posted on April 04, 2017

PDS will be hosting an upcoming seminar on the importance of performing preventative and routine maintenance on streets as it relates to street longevity. The target audience for the seminar will be mayors and city administrators.

Staff has reached out to professionals at the Kentucky Transportation Center (KTC) in Lexington to lead the discussion. KTC is the research division for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and focuses on a wide range of transportation-related issues including pavement maintenance.

“A new set of subdivision regulations were recently adopted by the Kenton County Planning Commission,” said Scott Hiles, Director of Infrastructure Engineering. “These regulations contained more stringent street standards. Now that new streets are starting to be constructed using these new standards there’s no doubt that cities are starting to get higher quality streets that have the potential to last longer. We want to help cities understand that regardless of the fact they are now getting higher quality streets, if routine and preventative maintenance isn’t provided these high quality streets will still fail prematurely.”

The seminar will touch on the specific types of pavement maintenance, but will primarily focus on the importance of factoring the need for preventative maintenance into annual budgets. One graph that is often used to illustrate the need for preventive maintenance is shown below.

"This graph clearly shows that dollars used for maintenance early in the life of a pavement when it’s still in good condition, grow exponentially to address the rehabilitation that will be needed if the maintenance isn’t done,” said Hiles. “Staff worked for several years to ensure that cities would get better street standards and ultimately, better streets. Now that it is happening, we just want to make sure cities understand the role that maintenance plays in keeping those pavements in good condition.”

The seminar will likely take place in May. Discussions about the event’s details are ongoing with KTC staff.


Developers give feedback on two-year-old subdivision regulations

Posted on April 04, 2017

The PDS Infrastructure Engineering department hosted a roundtable discussion with local subdivision contractors on March 7th. The purpose of the event was to identify any areas where improvements could be made to the new Kenton County Subdivision Regulations or to how they’re administered, and to share any ideas to help make the process more efficient.

“Since it had been two years since the new Kenton County Subdivision Regulations were adopted we thought now would be a good time to sit down with the contractors and discuss how they are adapting to them, or if they have suggested improvements,” said Scott Hiles, Director of Infrastructure Engineering.

In the two years since the adoption of the new regulations there have been eight subdivisions with construction improvements that were required to comply with the new regulations. “Within those eight subdivisions there has been more than 6,500 feet of street constructed that was required to comply with the new regulations,” said Hiles. “So we knew based on our activity level that both the staff and the contractors had experiences they would like to discuss.”

About 40 individuals attended the roundtable discussion. Most of the group were contractors, while PDS staff, KCPC members, developers and engineers also attended.

A wide range of issues were discussed at the meeting. The more serious issues focused on specification tolerances. Hiles explained, “Many of the specifications in the new regulations are ‘absolute’. This means the results have no ability to vary slightly above or below the specification. Some of the contractors asked that amendments be considered to add tolerances where there are currently none.”

KCPC Chair Paul Darpel stated that the meeting’s focus was to identify and discuss these issues, but that it would take future meetings with the Subdivision Regulations Committee of the Kenton County Planning Commission to discuss possible solutions.

“Although there are still some issues that will have to be addressed, the most positive outcome from the meeting was the general concurrence that the new regulations were producing quality streets. That was the goal from the beginning so by all accounts it seems the new regulations are hitting their mark,” said Hiles.


Engineering staff schedules round table for feedback on regulations

Posted on March 07, 2017
PDS’s Infrastructure Engineering department has scheduled a round table discussion with local subdivision contractors at 9:00 a.m. on March 7th at the PDS office.

The purpose of this event will be to identify any areas where improvements can be made to the new Kenton County Subdivision Regulations or as to how they’re administered, and to share any ideas that would help make the process more efficient.

“It’s been almost two years since the new Kenton County Subdivision Regulations were adopted,” said Scott Hiles, Director of Infrastructure Engineering. “We thought now would be a good time to sit down with the contractors and discuss how they are adapting to them, or if they have suggested improvements.”

Hiles said in the past two years there have been seven subdivisions constructed using the new regulations. “When the new regulations were adopted two years ago the planning commission granted a grace period for subdivisions approved prior to adoption of the new regulations.”

This extra time allowed contractors to keep using the old regulations, but only until December 31, 2016.  “Now that this grace period is expired and all contractors are required to start using the new regulations, we thought that was another reason that it was good time for this discussion to occur.”

As it relates to the subdivision contractors, the new subdivision regulations affect how they provide earthwork construction, ditch construction, geotechnical testing requirements, pavement drainage, curb and gutter and the pavement cross slopes and pavement materials themselves.

“Particularly for street construction, there are a lot of changes between the old and new regulations,” said Hiles. “Not all of the new regulations represent major changes, but the contractors still have a lot of different responsibilities than they did before. I expect we’ll have a lot of issues to discuss.”

Hiles said he’s already received RSVP’s from most of the contractors that were invited and is expecting a good turnout. 

New subdivision regulations phase in closes; rules apply to all now

Posted on February 02, 2017
Kenton County’s new subdivision regulations adopted in March 2015 changed the way infrastructure is built in the county. Not all developers had to use the new standards right away. A phase-in period was included in the document’s text adopted by the Kenton County Planning Commission (KCPC).

“Planning commission members were concerned about subdivisions that had been approved already but not yet built when they adopted the new regulations,” said Scott Hiles, CPC, PDS’ director of infrastructure engineering. “For those developments, changing the rules that governed them mid-stream didn’t seem fair.”

The KCPC allowed a “grace period” for these subdivisions, according to Hiles. Those developments were allowed to continue using the old regulations.

“There was a lot of discussion whether or not those previously-approved developments should be allowed to continue using the old regulations indefinitely until the subdivision was complete, or if there should be a pre-determined deadline. Ultimately, the commission decided to impose a deadline.”

Commission members decided ultimately that previously-approved developments could continue using the old regulations until the end of 2016. That way, those subdivision developers had two full construction seasons to finish the required infrastructure.

Hiles said there were a total of 17 previously approved subdivisions that took advantage of the ability to continue using the old regulations. Eight of those subdivisions were located in Independence, and the others existed in unincorporated Kenton County, Erlanger, Walton, Taylor Mill and Covington.

“Developers of ten of the 17 subdivisions to which this grace period applied didn’t complete construction before the December 31st deadline,” said Hiles. “Two are in unincorporated Kenton County, six in Independence, one in Covington, and one is in Walton”.

Developers of these subdivisions will now be required to submit new improvement plans that contain upgraded infrastructure according to the new subdivision regulations. They will also be required to construct to the new standards.

“These ten developments will have a mix of old and new infrastructure,” Hiles concluded. “But at least we know that from this point forward, only the new infrastructure is permitted.”

Kenton County’s new subdivision regulations may be found online.

New subdivision construction approaches pre-recession levels

Posted on January 03, 2017
Subdivision construction activity in Kenton County increased in 2016 to levels not seen in almost a decade according to PDS’ Infrastructure Engineering Department. The department and its staff are responsible to review and inspect new subdivision streets and storm sewer infrastructure in those new subdivisions.

“One of the ways we track subdivision activity is by keeping track of the length of new street pavement that we inspect in subdivisions”, said Scott Hiles, CPC, PDS’ director of infrastructure engineering. “Streets have to be constructed first in order for lots to be created and new homes to be built. So when subdivision street construction is up, we know all of the activity that follows will also be up.”

There was just under 12,000 feet of new subdivision street constructed in Kenton County in 2016. This number neared levels not seen since 2007, when approximately 15,000 feet of new subdivision street was constructed. By contrast in 2015, there was 7,095 feet of new subdivision street constructed.

“The majority of these new streets were constructed in the City of Independence which has been the norm for a number of years now,” said Hiles. “Of that total constructed county-wide, almost 8,000 feet was constructed in Independence throughout nine different subdivisions.”

“We even had a small amount of street constructed in one subdivision in the unincorporated portion of the county this year,” said Hiles.

The 4,000 feet of new subdivision streets that were constructed outside Independence were located in six subdivisions located in the Cities of Lakeside Park, Taylor Mill, Erlanger, and Covington.

The subdivision streets constructed county-wide during 2016 will serve 150 acres of developed land and result in 312 new residences. “Three hundred of those residences will be single-family homes,” said Hiles. “The remaining 12 will be condominiums.”

Based on all projections, it appears subdivision activity levels should be as busy next year as they were in 2016, according to Hiles.
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