Infrastructure Engineering

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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.

Developer installs ‘improved’ concrete in Crestview Hills subdivision

Posted on December 29, 2015

Much of the debate leading up to the March 2015 adoption of new subdivision regulations for Kenton County focused on new street construction standards. Last month, eight months after that action, a 22-acre subdivision along Shinkle Road in Crestview Hills became the first subdivision to see streets constructed to these new beefed-up standards.

The subdivision, named Crown Point, will create 42 single family lots and approximately 2,300 feet of new public concrete streets that will become the maintenance responsibility of the city when finished. Work began on the subdivision in July of this year and areas were readied for paving in November.

“This is the first subdivision—and likely the only one this year—to benefit from the new street standards,” said Scott Hiles, CPC, PDS’ director of infrastructure engineering. “Being that this was the first development approved under the new regulations, there were a few bumps along the way. That was to be expected. In the end though it all came together and there’s no reason this street shouldn’t last its complete design-life and beyond.”

About 1,300 feet of new street was constructed that will allow the first 16 homes to begin construction, according to Hiles. Crown Point will be the site for a Home Builders Association Home Show in the spring of 2016. Work to complete the remaining 1,000 feet of street will likely also begin in the spring.

The new street design standards that were adopted as part of the subdivision regulations represent a marked increase over street design standards in the past. A few of the new street design regulations include the following:

1.  greater pavement cross-slope to keep storm water in the gutter section and ultimately the catch basin instead of on the street surface where it could infiltrate beneath the street causing it to fail;

2.  skewed contraction joints instead of ones directly perpendicular to the street that ensures impact from only one vehicle wheel load at a time;

3.  crushed (angular) limestone within the concrete mix for better aggregate interlock at the joints as well as helping to ensure better pavement freeze-thaw resistance;

4.  greater subgrade cross-slope as well as an edge drain along both sides of the street to keep surface and ground water draining toward the edge of pavements and away from directly beneath the pavements;

5.  increased testing requirements for soils supporting the streets which serve as the foundations beneath every street pavement; and

6.  mandatory geotechnical explorations for every subdivision that focus on providing the proper materials and methods for every street to help ensure longevity.

The new regulations were developed by the Kenton County Planning Commission and staff with extensive input and participation from multiple stakeholders around several overriding goals. The first of which—and arguably the most important—was to create “Greater taxpayer protection through new street design standards” to combat the problems of new streets that fail prematurely.

The new Kenton County Subdivision Regulations may be found on the PDS website.


Direction 2030, new subdivision regulations awarded top honors

Posted on July 09, 2015
The Kenton County Planning Commission accomplished even more than it thought when it adopted a new comprehensive plan and new subdivision regulations for Kenton County earlier this year. PDS staff’s crafting and the planning commission’s adoption of the two documents garnered top honors at this year’s awards program of the Kentucky Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA-KY).

The 2015 APA-KY Outstanding Comprehensive Plan Award was given to Direction 2030: Your Voice, Your Choice and the Outstanding Project/Program/Tool Award was granted to Kenton County’s Subdivision Regulations. Both awards cap off years’-long efforts by staff and the planing commission to replace documents that were adopted initially during the 1970s.

Earning both awards puts PDS and the planning commission in a unique position. To the best of recollections by current APA-KY leaders, this is the first time that a jurisdiction has taken home the chapter’s two top honors in a single year.

The September 2014 adoption of Direction 2030: Your Voice, Your Choice put in place a new comprehensive plan for the county and did so while realizing several challenging achievements. This nearly-three-year effort was accomplished with the unanimous support of Kenton County’s 20 jurisdictions in the first update of the countywide Goals & Objectives in more than 40 years. It also accomplished what few communities (if any) have done before. Direction 2030 and its interactive mapping format is entirely web based; no single printed document was produced.

“Kenton County’s new comprehensive plan is the product of strong relationships—both pre-existing and newly-created—between PDS staff, members of the Planning Commission, and stakeholders from throughout the community,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, PDS’ executive director. “Without the creative, diligent, and persevering efforts of these relationships, this plan and the recognition it’s received now wouldn’t have been possible.”

Direction 2030: Your Voice, Your Choice can be accessed here. A website dedicated to implementation efforts for the plan will be put online soon. Watch this space or the PDS website for news about that effort. Contact James Fausz, AICP, a PDS principal planner, at jfausz@pdskc.org or 859.331.8980 for more information.

The effort to rewrite Kenton County’s subdivision regulations—a document which impacts all 20 local jurisdictions—began in the fall of 2009. It concluded this past March 10th when the Kenton County Planning Commission voted unanimously to adopt the new regulations. That action ended implementation of regulations that were adopted first in 1978.

This vote completed an arduous effort by PDS staff, KCPC, the Kenton County Mayors’ Group, and local development and home building interests to: produce a document that is efficient for use by both developers and staff; provide greater design flexibility for developers and ultimately the buying public; promote better coordination with governmental agencies that play a role in the subdivision review and approval process; and most importantly, to provide taxpayer protection to those who will have to maintain the streets that serve these developments. 

“The planning commission’s primary concern was to hear and consider every suggestion that was made,” said Gordon. “Members knew that they wouldn’t be able to incorporate all of the suggestions but were committed to making all of the groups that participated feel like they had had a voice and that their suggestions were given proper consideration.”

“To be recognized for this accomplishment is icing on the cake,” he concluded.

The newly-adopted Kenton County Subdivision Regulations can be found here. Contact Scott Hiles, CPC, PDS’ director of infrastructure engineering, at shiles@pdskc.org or 859.331.8980 for more information.


Demand for lots, spring weather prompt more subdivision plats

Posted on May 05, 2015
Developers have submitted three new preliminary subdivision plans over the last several months; each represents a significant addition to existing developments. Additionally, other developers have submitted plans for subdivisions that received approval in prior years.

“We’re seeing more residential development activity right now than we’ve seen in years,” said Scott Hiles, CPC, director of infrastructure engineering with PDS. “Based on what’s already been submitted and what we’re hearing is on the way, we’re planning for a very busy year.”

Much of this new activity is centered in the Cities of Taylor Mill and Independence. Taylor Creek Subdivision, whose entrance is along Pride Parkway in Taylor Mill, will gain 20 lots. This preliminary subdivision plan is the first submitted since Kenton County’s new subdivision regulations took effect last month. The approximate 400 feet of proposed new street will be the first built under the county’s new street construction standards.

The second new development—also in Taylor Mill—is a 60-lot addition to High Ridge Park. The entrance to High Ridge Park is along Wayman Branch Road very near to the point at which Wayman Branch intersects Pride Parkway. This development, which is just south of Taylor Creek Subdivision, will result in almost 2,500 feet of new public street.

The other of these newest new development plans is for land in the City of Independence; it will add 23 new lots to the Spring Meadows Subdivision. Its entrance is along Lakefield Drive just east of Taylor Mill Road. The infrastructure for this addition is already in place so this will include an addition of lots, not street.

In other recent submittals, Ashford Village, whose original preliminary subdivision approval dates back to 2002, will soon see the addition of approximately 350 feet of new public street and ten new lots. The entrance to Ashford Village is along Mills Road, opposite Mills Park. The entrance to Ashford Village is what prompted the city to make this new intersection a three-way stop controlled intersection.

Staff has also spoken with developers about two additional subdivisions in Independence that have yet to be submitted but are expected in the next couple of months.

Independence and Taylor Mill are not the only cities seeing new subdivision activity. Other previously approved subdivisions are moving forward in Covington and Erlanger, and most notably, Crestview Hills. Although a subdivision plan hasn’t been submitted yet formally, staff is aware of a new 43-lot subdivision that will include over 2,000 feet of new public street, all of which will be constructed to the new street standards.

Subdivision activity last year in Kenton County showed a marked increase over the last several years and the activity PDS is seeing early this year is a good indication that it’s likely to continue.


Strengthening economy, mild weather spur building permit workload

Posted on March 02, 2015
Most preseason forecasts for our winter weather seemed to include another polar vortex like what we endured last year. As of this week, however, we have had one very minor snow incident and this week’s measureable snowfall. Mild temperatures have been the norm in Kenton County. What does this mean to the construction industry? Full speed ahead.

PDS’ building department has seen an increase of 188 permits, 118 plan reviews, and 235 inspections during the three recent months of November through January from the same period the year before.  

“Typically in the winter, we have a month or two where we can play catch up on old files right before the spring busy season hits but that hasn’t occurred this year,” said Brian Sims, CBO, PDS’ chief building official. “Hopefully, that is a sign of good things to come.”

Even with the increase in workload and the enforcement of new codes that went into effect last year, PDS is maintaining its commitment to a short turnaround times on plans as well as quick inspections out in the field.

Scheduling begins for final review and vote on new subdivision regulations

Posted on February 02, 2015
A document seven years in the making is about to be scheduled for public comment. The Subdivision Regulations Committee of the Kenton County Planning Commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. on February 3 to discuss the final draft document and vote on whether to send it forward to the full planning commission. Action to schedule it for public hearing could come as soon as the commission’s February 5 meeting.

The document may be found here. The meeting will take place in the Commission Chambers of the PDS Building in Fort Mitchell.

“It’s taken a while but in the end we’ve got a good product”, said Scott Hiles, CPC, PDS’ director of infrastructure engineering. “This is the first time the subdivision regulations have been updated comprehensively since they were adopted in the 1970s.”

PDS staff began rewriting the regulations in 2008 following a call by the Kenton County Mayors’ Group to update the document’s street construction standards. Mayors and public works officials claimed that subdivision streets were failing prematurely and cited the county’s subdivision regulations as the reason.

The first working draft of the document was released for public review in late 2010. Since that time staff and Planning Commission chair Paul Darpel have worked with various groups to develop consensus on the document’s contents. The commission’s subdivision regulations committee approved that draft a year ago excluding the street design standards and earthwork requirements.

Darpel invited a group of pavement and geotechnical engineers representing developers and the Mayors’ Group to work on those issues and present a recommendation to staff and the committee. After many months of work, that group presented the standards now included in the document. Members assert that streets built to these new standards will last a minimum of 20 years with proper maintenance.

“I recognize the work that the engineers put into providing us their street and earthwork recommendations,” said Darpel. “They did some great work and were able to find common ground on a contentious issue which provides us the last piece of the puzzle to get this project completed.”

“Our hope is that the subdivision regulations committee approves the draft with no changes,” said Hiles. “If that’s the case, the document will then be sent to the full commission for consideration and scheduling the final public hearing.”

Residential street construction increases since end of the recession

Posted on December 01, 2014
Subdivision development and new street construction during 2014 showed an increase over 2013 and a dramatic increase when compared to levels of activity only a few years ago. What’s more, even with a colder than normal fall the activity is expected to continue late into the year.

“There’s always the risk that street construction will slow down or stop when temperatures drop sooner than expected. But as long as they remain above freezing we know of at least two developments that are working toward adding more street before the end of the year,” said Scott Hiles, CPC, director of PDS’ infrastructure engineering department.

Subdivisions in unincorporated Kenton County and the cities of Erlanger, Covington, and Independence all saw new street construction in 2014. The majority of streets were located in the City of Independence.  

“We haven’t seen this level of street construction since well before the recession,” said Hiles. “In looking back through our records, the amount of new street that was constructed this year quadrupled the amount we saw constructed just four years ago, and we’re not finished yet.”

Staff is also seeing signs that the upward trend in subdivision development will likely continue. In 2014 over 200 new lots were proposed and approved along new streets. In a few cases, construction was started this year on those new subdivisions but in no cases were any of these developments completed.

“Because we had more lots and street approved this year than was completed, we’re confident that this will carry over to next year and mean a busy 2015,” said Hiles.

One reason in particular to recognize the increase in street construction is its relation to the new subdivision regulations that are currently being written.

“A primary focus of the new regulations is better, longer lasting streets,” said Hiles. “It’s important to get these new regulations adopted so that all of the benefits to the community that they’ll bring can be incorporated into these new subdivisions.”

Hiles said that staff is continuing to work with a committee of engineers to reach consensus on a final recommendation to the Kenton County Planning Commission.

“Everyone is in agreement with most of the important issues. We’re working to finalize the last of the outstanding items and tie up some loose ends at this point. We understand the importance of getting the process finished but more important is making sure the regulations are enforceable in the way staff needs them to be.”

Hiles said that he is confident that the new regulations will be finished and adopted by the planning commission before the beginning of the 2015 development season.

Progress for Tuscany Condominiums

Posted on August 08, 2014
Work is underway on the last sections of the Tuscany Condominiums in Covington. Major slope stabilizations and re-routing sewer lines will continue through the summer. When this phase is completed an additional three condominium buildings will be ready to build. Currently, from work done in previous phases, two buildings are in various stages of construction.

View the preliminary plan

Project-tracking program now accepts credit card payments

Posted on April 28, 2014
Customers interacting with NKAPC staff now have the option of paying all fees with credit cards. This expanded use of plastic payment comes as an added benefit of the agency’s project-tracking program named TRAKiT.

NKAPC implemented the new software last July which better tracks and coordinates the activities of the agency; this includes: building and zoning permits; building, zoning, and infrastructure inspections; zoning and property maintenance code enforcement actions; subdivision platting and related infrastructure construction plans; and, planning and other large-scale projects.

These activities were tracked previously with a variety of software products, some of which carried growing annual costs, were incompatible, and required additional equipment to be maintained off-site.

TRAKiT allows for all these activities to be integrated on a GIS base, allowing NKAPC staff and outside agencies to communicate better with one another on related activities. It also facilitates all agencies involved with Kenton County development to be more knowledgeable and productive in their responsibilities. And most importantly, the system allows staff to get needed information quicker, reducing times for plan review and increasing customer service satisfaction.

“TRAKiT is working great,” said Scott Hiles, CPC, NKAPC’s director of infrastructure engineering. “It’s giving us the ability to track development information more efficiently than we’ve ever been able to before.”

While NKAPC has been the long-time managing partner of a robust geographic information system (LINK-GIS), there has always been a disconnect between that system and those that track permits, projects, and code enforcement.

TRAKiT sets atop LINK-GIS data, allowing information from different activities to be coordinated by address. This makes the GIS data all the more valuable to Kenton County communities and makes development and code enforcement data more accessible, both to staff and to the public.

TRAKiT also allows all the agency’s field inspectors to use iPads in the field to keep track of inspection activities and report results in real time. This permits inspectors to streamline their efforts, reduce time needed to input data, and ultimately to save the agency and the taxpayers money.

The software package includes a public web portal which allows contractors and citizens to access information regarding development and code enforcement activities. While the original One Stop Shop website previously included access to information, this new portal expands the agency’s online capabilities, making it possible to apply for certain permits, pay for them using a credit card, schedule inspections, report a problem, and review inspector’s field reports all directly from that website.

“TRAKiT is facilitating the coordination of all our responsibilities,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, executive director. “This added expansion of our ability to accept credit card payments is an added bonus for our customers.”

“With trends towards digitizing plans and documents, as well as streamlining processes, this new technology may eventually lead to a completely paperless mode of business,” Gordon concluded.

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