Infrastructure Engineering

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Construction ends FY18 on a high note

Posted on July 10, 2018
Several key categories from Kenton County’s development scene showed strong numbers for June, the end of Fiscal Year 2018. PDS’ monthly analytics showed the highest numbers of the past 12 months for four key activities: plans reviewed; permits issued; inspections performed; and, linear feet of new concrete sidewalk inspected.

“While these numbers are annual highs, they didn’t come as a complete surprise,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, Executive Director. “We’ve watched these activity levels grow throughout the fiscal year. June’s numbers approximate what we were seeing back in 2008 before the market crashed.”

According to ‘PDS by the Numbers’ for June, staff: reviewed 170 sets of construction plans; issued 324 permits; performed 653 inspections; and, inspected 2,596 linear feet of new concrete sidewalk. ‘PDS by the Numbers’ keeps track of close to 100 activities pursued by staff on a monthly basis. Most are posted online for agency accountability and transparency.

Other metrics included in the monthly post are: plan review turn around time; project values (provided by the applicant); subdivision plats submitted; residential lots created; number of active subdivisions in the County; code enforcement cases opened/closed; planning commission and board of adjustment cases processed; number of walk-in/phone-in customers helped; and, social media communications sent out alone with the number of responses.


PDS is now encouraging CAD file submissions for plan review

Posted on January 25, 2018
Applicants for zoning and building permits, building plan reviews, subdivision plat reviews, and subdivision improvement plan reviews may now submit them to PDS in digital form. They’ll be able to complete the entire application process—application and plan submission and payment of fees—online within the next couple months.

“Our goal for some time now has been to move the entire application process online so that design professionals, builders, developers, and engineers can submit their entire application packages and pay their fees from their offices,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, executive director of PDS. “This will help them be more efficient, save money, and allow our staff to focus on getting projects through the review process more expeditiously.”

For applicants who prefer face-to-face interactions, staff is working toward installing a kiosk in the agency’s permit office that will facilitate digital submissions with someone near to help if necessary.

Looking forward, Brian Sims and Scott Hiles, directors of building codes administration and infrastructure engineering respectively, look forward to the day when their staffs will no longer need multiple sets of plans for each project.

For more information, email Brian Sims or Scott Hiles or call them at 859.331.8980.


2017 platting activity was strong; 2018 promises even more

Posted on December 22, 2017

Subdivision activity was on the rise in Kenton County during 2017. Staff saw activity that was on par with levels not seen since prior to the recession. That bodes well for 2018 when many of those lots will be available for sale.

“We’ve been busy the last several years,” said Scott Hiles, CPC, Director of Infrastructure Engineering with PDS. “But we haven’t seen these levels of activity for almost ten years.”

PDS staff approved 11 improvement plans in 2017. Improvement plans contain the detailed infrastructure design that is proposed within a subdivision. These plans are required to be approved prior to the construction of any infrastructure.

“Often, the work proposed within a set of improvement plans takes more than a single year to construct,” said Hiles. “So, we know that there is approved infrastructure that didn’t get installed in 2017 that will carry over to 2018.”

Hiles said that there was approximately 9,000 feet of new subdivision street that was installed in 2017. However, about half of that street total came from improvement plans that carried over from previous years. “There was over 4,200 feet of street approved in 2017 that won’t get built until next year,” said Hiles.

Infrastructure that was constructed during 2017 resulted in the creation of more than 500 new building lots on 480 acres. Staff also processed 69 minor subdivision plats totaling 440 acres. There is no public infrastructure construction associated with minor subdivision plats according to Hiles, but it is another indication that land platting activities were high.

In addition to the infrastructure contained on approved improvement plans that won’t be installed until 2018, Hiles noted several new developments that were approved in 2017 won’t be the subject of improvement plans until 2018.

“There was a combination of seven new subdivisions or new additions to existing subdivisions that was submitted this year. Four of those developers aren’t planning to begin infrastructure construction until spring of 2018. So that infrastructure will be over and above the 4,200 feet of street that will carry over from 2017 approvals,” said Hiles.

While most subdivision activity remains in the City of Independence, it’s interesting to note that several of the new developments and new additions to existing developments that will take place next year are in the Cities of Covington, Erlanger, and Villa Hills.


Applicants may submit digital plans for review beginning in 2018

Posted on December 22, 2017

Applicants for zoning and building permits, building plan reviews, subdivision plat reviews, and subdivision improvement plan reviews will be able to submit them to PDS in digital form beginning next month. They’ll be able to complete the entire application process—application and plan submission and payment of fees—online by the second quarter of the new year.

PDS acquired licenses recently for BlueBeam software to drive this digital plan review process. The program will help PDS communicate with applicants using customizable, easy-to-mark-up tools which will help project coordination by tracking mark ups and generating reports automatically. It will also store all of its records in TRAKiT, PDS’ electronic development-tracking program.

More information about Bluebeam software is available here.

“There will be a learning curve initially, but we’ll work through it and establish a process that will be better in the future,” says Brian Sims, CBO, PDS’ chief building official. “We’re living in a digital world and are committed to help the design professionals and building industry be as efficient as possible.”

Sims believes most of the learning curve process will be completed by April for those who begin submitting digital plans in January.

PDS will move to online applications later in the fiscal year when it activates eTRAKiT, a module of its TRAKiT electronic development-tracking program. Staff is in the process now of developing the application process, online payment tools, and avenues to attach documents such as plans and worker’s compensation and geo-technical reports, etc.

“Our goal for some time now has been to move the entire application process online so that design professionals, builders, developers, and engineers can submit their entire application packages and pay their fees from their offices,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, executive director of PDS. “This will help them be more efficient, save money, and allow our staff to focus on getting projects through the review process more expeditiously.”

“We believe the ability for applicants to submit applications and plans digitally is a real step forward,” said Scott Hiles, CPC, Director of Infrastructure Engineering. “Kenton County’s Subdivision Regulations require all subdivision plans to be submitted digitally already. Being able to submit the entire application electronically goes hand in hand with what’s been required for some time.”

For applicants who prefer face-to-face interactions, staff is working toward installing a kiosk in the agency’s permit office that will facilitate digital submissions with someone near to help if necessary.

Looking forward, Sims and Hiles look forward to the day when their staffs will no longer need multiple sets of plans for each project.

“We’ll be able to deliver digital plans to those individuals and agencies who require a copy of our submissions for their reviews… and we’ll be able to accomplish that without the help of the US Postal Service or a vehicle. It will be so much more efficient for all concerned,” concluded Sims.

For more information, contact Brian Sims or Scott Hiles or call them at 859.331.8980. 


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.


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