Kenton County Planning Commission

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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 ‘mini cell tower’ regulations meeting planning commission goals

Posted on November 03, 2016
The Kenton County Planning Commission adopted new cell tower regulations earlier this year with several goals in mind. The most important of these goals was to empower its incorporated communities to control the location and design of small cell towers within their jurisdictions.

The most dramatic changes to the regulations are within a new section that addresses small cell towers. These facilities are essentially telephone poles in the rights of way that have cell tower equipment attached. This new technology is exploding in the region as well as across the country.

Since adoption of the new regulations, PDS staff has reviewed and approved several new small cell towers within Kenton County jurisdictions.

As the new regulations have been applied, they are meeting this goal by requiring all parties involved to meet and discuss the potential location and design of the new small cell towers with community leaders.

The new regulations have also streamlined the approval process for these towers. Previous to the new cell tower regulations being adopted, all new cell towers – regardless of height or location – had to go through the state-mandated uniform application process. This involves very detailed engineering reports, extensive documentation, and broad reaching notification to the surrounding communities. The uniform application process was drafted at a time when tall cell towers over 150 feet tall were the norm.

While this level of detail is necessary and desirable for the traditional tall cell towers, the planning commission saw this as overreach for small cell towers. There may be dozens, if not hundreds, of these small cell towers across Kenton County sometime in the future. Holding a public hearing for each one was seen as unrealistic.

Finally, the new cell tower regulations have preserved the uniform application process for any towers over 50 feet. This means that if anything taller than a utility pole is proposed, communities can rest assured that there will be ample opportunity for review and public input through Kenton County Planning Commission’s public hearing process.

Through careful planning and involving many stakeholders, the new cell tower regulations are meeting the expectations and goals that the county planning commission set out to address. You may review the expanded cell tower regulations here.

Board authorizes Wall of Distinguished Service to honor contributors

Posted on October 07, 2016
At 55 years of age, PDS is taking steps to acknowledge those whose distinguished service helped the agency succeed. The PDS Management Board last month authorized the creation of a Wall of Distinguished Service and set ten and 20 years as the thresholds for consideration of citizen members and staff respectively.

“We created a Wall of Honor several years ago and posted the names of all individuals who’ve served on the Area Planning Commission/PDS Management Board, the NKAPC/PDS Council, and the Kenton County Planning Commission,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, executive director at PDS. “NKAPC had just turned 50 and we thought it was entirely appropriate to honor the organization’s history.”

“What could be more appropriate than to honor the citizens whose decisions built the organization,” he asked.

Gordon says as appropriate as that step was, most agreed that some of the persons whose names appear on the wall should be singled out for their distinguished service to Kenton County and NKAPC/PDS. Many current officials also felt that some of the many professionals who served as staff over the years should be included too.

Upon its creation during October, the Wall of Distinguished Service will include resolutions honoring 18 citizens and five staff members. It will be located physically in PDS’ front corridor where all persons entering its building will be able see it.

Direction 2030 comprehensive plan earns national award

Posted on March 24, 2016

Kenton County’s new comprehensive plan—Direction 2030: Your Voice. Your Choiceis the 2016 recipient of a national Award of Excellence in the Comprehensive Plan – Large Jurisdiction category. The award is one of several accolades granted to planning projects from across the nation by the American Planning Association (APA) County Planning Division and its sister organization, the National Association of County Planners. The award will be presented on April 4 during the APA National Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

“This recognition was a nice surprise,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, executive director of Planning and Development Services of Kenton County (PDS). PDS provides professional staff support to the Kenton County Planning Commission, the board ultimately responsible for crafting and adopting the comprehensive plan.

“Being acknowledged with the respect of your peers is outstanding. In this case, though, it recognizes the fact that this plan was the result of hard work by members of the planning commission, citizens and interest groups from across the county, and of course our staff. This plan was truly a collaborative effort,” said Gordon.

Direction 2030: Your Voice. Your Choice. was crafted through an aggressive three-year public engagement process. The plan was grounded in research provided by a national market analyst, most of it from sources bankers use for reviewing development-financing strategies.

Planners and technical experts from PDS’ GIS team then went to work crafting an entirely new concept for content delivery. The final plan (direction2030.org)—there is no printed product—documents its creation, delivers guidance to anyone anywhere 24/7/365, and incorporates GIS technologies to entice users to interact with its contents.

Shortly after the plan’s adoption, PDS planners and GIS professionals created a second website (action.direction2030.org) to keep participants and stakeholders up to date with information from the various implementation efforts being undertaken by the planning commission and others across the community.

This national award follows an Award of Merit for an Outstanding Comprehensive Plan given last year by the Kentucky Chapter of the American Planning Association.

Each year the American Planning Association’s County Planning Division and the National Association of County Planners gives out County Planning Project Awards. Only one Award of Excellence and one Award of Merit may be granted per category each year. If the awards jury finds that none of the nominations in a particular category meets the desirable standards, they may withhold the award in that category for that year.

“This recognition, without question, goes ultimately to the countless residents who came out to express their hopes and dreams for Kenton County’s future. Much more than merely a title, Direction 2030: Your Voice. Your Choice. really did represent the ultimate goal for our process and our final product,” concluded Gordon. “We couldn’t be prouder that our collaborative efforts are being held up as a model.”

“Thank you Kenton County!”


Planning Commission charges staff to craft ‘mini cell tower’ regulations

Posted on March 04, 2016

The meteoric change and growing demand of personal cell services has put a strain on local cell service providers to offer better and faster coverage to every corner of Kenton County. This has prompted the introduction a new distribution method called distributed antenna systems (DAS). A DAS is a way to deal with isolated spots of poor coverage and/or capacity within a community.

Kenton County communities are already receiving requests to install distributed antenna systems within their jurisdictions.

“Villa Hills was first approached for permission to install DAS sites in March of 2015,” said Craig Bohman, the Villa Hills City Administrator/Clerk. “The City Administration Office has received a couple of calls about low signal strength, both of which come from areas where proposed mini towers would be nearby.”

Distributed antenna systems are typically located within rights of way and provide coverage within a 300 to 400 yard radius of the tower. In most instances, the poles used are only slightly taller than typical utility poles. They can be very simple wood poles, but they can also be made out of other materials and in other colors so as to fit better into its surroundings.

“According to state law, new cell towers fall to the Kenton County Planning Commission to review and approve,” said Andy Videkovich, PDS’ planning manager who is overseeing the process. “State law was drafted at a time when large, freestanding towers (also called macro sites) were the norm. Distributed antenna systems are considered towers by the definitions of state law, but since the laws were drafted to regulate only macro sites, they do not do an adequate job regulating these mini cell towers.”

All the engineering, application submittal requirements, and notification requirements required by state law are overly prohibitive to allow mini cell sites into Kenton County’s communities, according to Videkovich.

“The initial confusion over whether or not the mini cell towers fell under the same rules as regular cell towers definitely slowed the process,” says Bohman, “Further, the lack of regulation on how to blend in these new towers into existing residential communities also delayed their installation.”

Distributed antenna systems can provide many benefits to a community. One benefit is public safety. As more and more homes in Kenton County give up their land lines, it is important that cell coverage and capacity throughout the county is strong enough so someone in their basement, for instance, can make calls to 911 in an emergency.

Just as important for first responders is finding your location. These distributed antenna systems will improve the accuracy of a cell phone’s GPS locator from within buildings so first responders can locate a person during an emergency more easily.

The Kenton County Planning Commission and PDS staff have been working to update the county’s regulations to address this new technology. In meeting with local elected and appointed officials, it is clear that Kenton County communities see the need to have these regulated.

At the same time, local cell service providers have expressed frustration that current state laws prohibit the deployment of these systems. Meeting all the current state law requirements is cost prohibitive for what is in essence the construction of a specialized utility pole.

“The design of the mini towers is important. While strong signal strength for wireless devices is an amenity that adds to a community’s quality of life, other amenities such as the look and feel of a community also add value,” according to Bohman. “There should be a way to deploy this new wireless platform without negatively impacting the planned aesthetics of an area.”

The goal of these new regulations is to make sure that there are practical and reasonable safeguards in place that will help protect the community from a proliferation of unsightly poles. The Planning Commission has also recognized that there is a need for better coverage, and a complete exclusion of distributed antenna systems will not provide the citizens of Kenton County with the best coverage possible.

“As more and more wireless devices are placed in use, there will be a greater demand on signal use. Having the mini cellular technology would address low signal strength in some areas,” concluded Bohman.

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.


KCPC, staff see increase in applications for communications towers

Posted on March 02, 2015
There has been an increase in new cell tower applications in Kenton County. Following a five-year period during which no new cell towers were constructed, PDS staff has processed two applications within the past four months. Time will determine whether this trend continues.

Larry Perry, a nationally-recognized radio frequency engineer and consultant to PDS, states that this trend may continue as the economy improves, technology and data speeds increase, and wireless providers seek to fill the holes in their networks.

“Part of the reason the need for new towers is increasing is LTE (long-term evolution) technology that is so popular today,” says Perry. “LTE technology reduces signal coverage somewhat while increasing the speed of the data that is transmitted.”

In addition to new cell towers, PDS’ Building Codes Administration Department has also received numerous permit applications to upgrade equipment on existing cell towers and structures.

New cell towers are often the most contentious issues that a planning commission hears and decides. The two most common complaints and objections that the Kenton County Planning Commission (KCPC) hears at public hearings are the loss of property values and the aesthetics of towers.

These objections by themselves, however, are usually not sufficient for denying an application. To deny an application, the planning commission must have “substantial evidence” to deny an application. While property values and aesthetics are important concerns for residents and communities, often times little factual evidence is submitted to the planning commission as a basis for its decision.

Federal and State regulations regarding the placement of new cell towers severely limit the purview of the planning commission. The Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 preserves the ability of the planning commission regarding the placement, construction, and modification of wireless service facilities for personal wireless service, subject to some very important federal limitations.

  • The planning commission cannot have the effect of denying Service. The KCPC cannot develop policies that have the effect of denying an application once an applicant demonstrates a need to construct a tower in a location based on coverage or capacity needs and an inability to co-locate on existing towers.
  • The planning commission cannot discriminate. The KCPC cannot favor one competitor over another competitor or, for example, base a denial because a carrier already has service in an area so there is no need for another carrier to provide service.
  • The planning commission cannot consider environmental effects. The KCPC should not allow evidence of environmental effects at the public hearing.
Kentucky law (KRS 100) states that only the planning commission has the authority to review and approve the construction of new towers. The planning commission must hold a public hearing and make its decision within 60 days of an application being received. Because of the time limits and limitations placed on the planning commission, new cell towers are often very hotly debated within the community.

“[Another reason why more new towers may be built], the FCC has authorized a total of 13 carriers for transmission of mobile data (smart phones) and currently we have only five in our area,” says Perry. “The new carriers are going to need tower space for their equipment also, thus additional potential applications.”

With smart phone technology improving and being nearly a necessity in today’s society, Kenton County is likely to see more conflicts between new cell towers and residential areas of the county.

New subdivision regulations scheduled for public hearing and final vote

Posted on March 02, 2015
March 10 is finally the date. After years of work, scores of meetings, and more debates aimed at consensus than can be recalled by participants, Kenton County’s totally new subdivision regulations are set for a public hearing. Members of the Kenton County Planning Commission will listen to final comments on March 10 beginning at 6:15 p.m.

The draft document is available for public review online.

Since 2010 staff has worked with a committee of planning commission members and various groups such as the Kenton County Mayors’ Group, Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky, and a committee of pavement engineers to complete a comprehensive rewrite of the Kenton County Subdivision Regulations. The resulting draft represents the first time the document has been updated comprehensively since it was written in 1978.

Staff’s goals for the update were to produce a document that is efficient to use, provided design flexibility, coordinated better with other governmental agencies, and—most importantly—provided greater taxpayer protection through better street designs.

“We’re confident we accomplished our goals, particularly as they relate to requiring subdivision streets that last longer,” said Scott Hiles, CPC, PDS’ director of infrastructure engineering. “When subdivision streets fail and need repair, it’s the taxpayers who foot the bill to fix them.”

“We hope the Commission votes to approve the new regulations—as written with no changes,” said Hiles. “That will put the contents into effect immediately.”

If changes made during the March 10 public hearing, it’s likely the effective date of the regulations will be delayed until April 1st. Either way, staff is looking forward to closing this chapter in the process and beginning the business of enforcing the new regulations, according to Hiles.

UC planning students begin study work on land uses in KY 536 corridor

Posted on February 02, 2015

A $4,000 grant from the Murray and Agnes Seasongood Good Government Foundation will cover costs associated with an upcoming study of land uses in Kenton County’s KY 536 corridor. Work will be pursued by planning students from a University of Cincinnati studio class in the department of art, architecture, and planning.

The project entitled “Vision Plan for KY 536 Environs” is scheduled to last the entire spring semester (16 weeks) with formal class times twice a week. The final four weeks of the studio will include numerous presentations to the public and to Kenton County planning and legislative bodies.

The class’s report will be used by PDS and the Kenton County Planning Commission as the foundation for future land use and planning studies of the corridor.

“The focus of this studio is on planning and design practices at the regional scale,” said Dr. Vikas Mehta, Associate Professor with the School of Planning and faculty for the studio course. “Its main goal is to expose students to the complexity of working with multiple jurisdictions, regional spatial patterns, land use activities at regional scale, and its impacts on regional resources.”

During the semester, students will explore a number of planning issues that are critical in understanding the cultural, natural, economic, and political structure of the corridor. As an important part of the studio, students will analyze social and physical factors such as the stakeholders’ needs and interests, the natural ecology, urban growth, land use and transportation, public space, and associated patterns in the region. Learning from their analyses, the students are expected to develop a vision for the corridor. Given the significance of current discourse, this studio will emphasize the promotion of planning and design principles, policies and actions that enhance the physical conditions of the region and improve the human experience in it.

The studio will be organized into a five-step structure:

SENSING: information and data collection; mapping - people, places, phenomena;
ANALYZING: organizing, structuring and synthesizing information and data;
THEORIZING: values, goals, objectives, visions;
MAKING: processes, products; and
COMMUNICATING: writing, speaking, graphics.

“The five steps provide a basic structure for the studio. Although these are listed in a sequence, the steps do not suggest a linear process,” states Dr. Mehta.


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.”

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