Infrastructure Engineering

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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.

PDS Council, Management Board back task force recommendations

Posted on January 03, 2017
At its November 17th meeting, PDS Management Board members approved a recommendation regarding infrastructure inspection fees. This action ended a months-long effort by staff to analyze costs and expenses for the program and recommend a funding strategy that would provide 90 percent cost recovery for the inspection service moving forward.

“Earlier this year Kenton County elected officials serving on the PDS Council challenged staff to complete an analysis of the financial condition of the infrastructure inspection program, and to determine whether the fees paid by developers were coving the cost to perform those inspections”, said Scott Hiles, CPC, Director of Infrastructure Engineering at PDS.

“When inspection fees don’t cover the cost of performing the inspections, the deficit is covered by taxpayer dollars, which is why it’s important that we perform the analysis. We began by forming a task force of elected officials and representatives of the Home Builders Association.”

The task force met for three months, focusing on fee and expense data that spanned a 16-year period. Members determined that at the end of FY16, there was approximately enough money left in the program fund to cover the cost of the inspections left to be performed.

“That showed that based on the 16 years of data we studied, the program was just about where it needed to be at that time,” said Hiles.

Components of the recommendation that PDS Council endorsed and the Management Board members approved included the following:

1.    Leave current inspection fees unchanged through the end of FY17.
2.    Increase inspection fees annually in an amount equal to the Metro Cincinnati CPI-U beginning with FY18.
3.    Analyze staff’s project-by-project data for FY15, 16, and 17 to determine if fees charged are covering roughly 90 percent of costs associated with providing the services. Assure that the costs of inspections to be provided in the future are included in this analysis.

“The annual adjustment of fees referenced in recommendation #2 will help the program fund stay current with the cost of living,” said Hiles. “We’ve never done this before which resulted in actions that no one liked—not staff and not developers.”

“This not only caused the fund to fall behind our targeted cost recovery, but also forced us to propose higher-than-normal fee increase periodically to catch up to where we needed to be. This incremental adjustment should eliminate this in the future.”

Staff began collecting fee and expense data on a project-by-project basis in FY15, rather than just aggregate totals for the year.

“Beginning in FY18, staff will begin analyzing cost recovery using the project-by-project data”, said Hiles. “It’s another useful tool that will help us assure that fees are covering costs.”

Developers, elected officials meet on cost recovery for inspections

Posted on July 29, 2016
Members of the PDS Council discussed the growing gap between infrastructure inspection costs and fees that are paid to cover them during their March meeting. Staff initiated a review process in May to determine what it would take to cover those costs as well as how and when to accomplish the goal. These fees were last reviewed and increased in 2008.

Subdivision inspection fees are paid by developers as they develop new subdivisions; they cover inspections primarily for earthwork, grading, and storm sewer and street construction.

“In previous years the Kenton County Planning Commission set the subdivision inspection fees that developer paid,” said Scott Hiles, CPC, Director of Infrastructure Engineering. “It would then hand those funds over to staff when they provided the required inspections. It was a cumbersome process.”

The county planning commission decided earlier this year that the task would be administered better by PDS that provides the inspections.

The first thing that staff did was to go back and do a comprehensive review of fees that were paid and compare them to the expenses that were incurred from staff doing the inspections. The fee and expense information collected dated back to 2001.

“We found that the fees were covering only 70 percent of the cost to do the work”, said Hiles. “Our directive from PDS Council was to make sure that fees paid for 100 percent.”

Subdivision inspection work performed by staff that is not covered by fees is paid for with taxpayer dollars.

Staff then formed a subdivision inspection fee committee made up of members of the Home Builders Association and elected officials to discuss their findings. They started meeting monthly beginning in May. Committee members discussed various methods for collecting fees but discussion centered on the 30 percent gap between fees and expenses.

“I don’t think it’s fair to ask the taxpayers to subsidize 30 percent of a developer’s for-profit subdivision,” said David Jansing, Mayor of Lakeside Park and one of the committee members. “We need a fee increase so that fees cover the cost to do the inspections”.

Staff hopes to conclude its work by the end of summer at which time it will forward the proposed new fee schedule to the PDS Management Board for review and approval. Hiles believes the resulting increase will probably be effective on January 1st.

The consensus of the committee agreed with Mayor Jansing and has instructed staff to propose a fee increase at the next committee meeting that would close the gap between fees and expenses. Staff is currently preparing that proposal and the next committee meeting is scheduled for July 28th at 5:30 p.m. at PDS.
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