Kenton County Planning Commission

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Planning Commission sends new sign regulations to elected officials

Posted on October 19, 2017

The Kenton County Planning Commission voted unanimously this month to send new sign regulations to every jurisdiction in Kenton County. That action was prompted by a late 2015 US Supreme Court Decision that rendered most sign regulations across the country unconstitutional (Reed v. Town of Gilbert).

The Supreme Court’s decision clarified:

1.    when municipalities may impose content-based restrictions on signage; and

2.    the level of constitutional scrutiny when a content-based distinction is challenged.

“The last overhaul of sign regulations in Kenton County was in 2008,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, PDS’ executive director. “Staff recognized that a number of our communities had some serious issues with their sign regulations that could lead to constitutional challenges.”

The need was so imperative that the PDS Management Board hired a nationally-known consultant on sign regulations to propose a new set that would conform to the constitutional principles and federal court rulings of that time.

Fourteen of Kenton County’s 19 jurisdictions adopted that proposed overhaul, according to Gordon. Due to the ruling in the Gilbert case, PDS staff once again recommended and the Board retained the services of the same consultant to review those 2008 sign regulations and advise the jurisdictions on necessary changes.

“Jurisdictions that adopted the recommended 2008 regulations are mostly in good shape today because they removed many of the content-based distinctions that were ruled unconstitutional in the Gilbert case,” said Gordon. “This proposed 2017 update will get all our communities up to the standard that will pass constitutional review.”

Each of Kenton County’s 19 jurisdiction will receive a copy of the Planning Commission’s recommendation within the next week. It will be accompanied by an individualized copy of the new sign regulations tailored specifically to each jurisdiction’s zoning ordinance. Staff will work with each jurisdiction over the next several months to enact these proposed changes.

For more information on this recommended update, contact Andy Videkovich, AICP, current planning manager at PDS.



Staff assumes role with county economic development group

Posted on June 01, 2017

Kenton County Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann formed a site readiness taskforce in 2016 to analyze land in the county and identify parcels for industrial development. The taskforce membership includes representatives from Kenton County Fiscal Court, PDS, Northern Kentucky Tri-ED, the Northern Kentucky Water District, Duke Energy, REDI Cincinnati, SD1, and citizen stakeholders.

PDS and TRI-ED have been tasked with looking at areas in Kenton County for future industrial development.

“The goal is to determine where industrial development is most appropriate for the future and change the future land use vision for those areas in Direction 2030, the county’s comprehensive plan. If we set these areas aside now and plan for the necessary infrastructure to support manufacturing, we’ll provide future generations with job opportunities,” said Emi Randall, AICP, RLA, Director of Planning and Zoning Administration.

PDS planners and GIS staff have worked with Tri-ED to conduct an examination of all 62,206 Kenton County parcels. Through careful analysis of multiple characteristics, certain parcels were identified as having industrial potential. Parcels that were unsuited due to parcel size, existing buildings, developmentally-sensitive areas (environmental concerns), zoning, access to major roads, and access to water and sewer infrastructure were eliminated.

The analysis confirmed what many suspected; there is little land available in Kenton County for manufacturing. The initial GIS analysis yielded only 20 parcels in the county that meet all identified real estate criteria for industrial development. Among those, only six parcels can be made ready for industrial development within the next five years.

Furthermore, the only site on the list that is ready today for industrial development is the Showcase Cinemas Site in Erlanger, which is currently under contract for development.

Through the generous support of Duke Energy, nationally-renowned site selection consultant McCullum Sweeney, was contracted to provide guidance to Tri-ED for these six sites. Upon further scrutiny, there is much work needed to get these sites prepared for economic development.

“Not only do we have very few sites available for industrial development, we have very high development costs to get those sites build-pad ready,” said Wade Williams, Senior Vice President of Tri-ED. “Environmental mitigation costs are extremely high and these sites still need utility improvements and grading. They’re not ready today.”

Kenton County is home to numerous development patterns and land uses within its boundaries. The land use element of Direction 2030 states the following; “There is a need for land which has the appropriate infrastructure in place to support industrial uses. Large parcels (50 acres or more) of ready to build upon land are in particularly short supply and efforts should be made to increase the amount of such land in the county.”

The taskforce will work over the course of 2017 to develop a strategy to bring additional sites into the short-term pipeline for industrial development.

 



Small area study, cell tower regulations take top state honors

Posted on June 01, 2017

The Kenton County Planning Commission (KCPC) has shown once again that it is a leader in planning in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Two major PDS-managed projects won top honors from the American Planning Association Kentucky Chapter (APA-KY) in its 2017 annual planning awards competition.

Kenton County’s Regulations for Cellular Antenna Towers and Small Cell System Towers earned the Outstanding Project/Program Tool Award and the recently-adopted Villa Hills Study earned state recognition for Outstanding Achievement in a Small Jurisdiction. Both awards reflect the excellent planning efforts that were undertaken in Kenton County in 2016-2017. The two projects represented major parts of the PDS work program accomplished within the last year.

“We’re humbled that our peers selected to recognize these projects,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, Executive Director of PDS. “Our efforts are always pursued with others in mind. Whether we’re talking about the planning commission [for the cell tower regulations], the City of Villa Hills and the Benedictine Sisters [for the Villa Hills Study], or those who call Kenton County home. At the end of the day, we work to help combine ideas… to create a vision. These awards really belong to KCPC and Villa Hills.”

In response to rapid changes and growing demand of personal cell services in Kenton County, KCPC facilitated and adopted new cell tower regulations. Adopted in May 2016, these regulations represent the first update to any aspect of the regulations in nearly 15 years.

“While the personal cell service industry has advanced technology over the past 20 years, little has been done locally or statewide to address these changes,” said Andy Videkovich, AICP, PDS’ current planning manager. “KCPC recognized the paradigm shift coming and responded. It was critical to take the lead on this issue.”

The regulations were developed over a six-month period under the guidance of the planning commission. The process included input from Kenton County jurisdictions and industry experts. Through careful planning and involving many stakeholders, the resulting cell tower regulations are meeting the expectations and goals that the planning commission set out to address.

“Several jurisdictions outside of Kenton County have used components of KCPC’s regulations in their efforts,” Videkovich added.

The Villa Hills Study was a 15-month planning process that examined some of the last land within Villa Hills suitable for improvements. The planning process reviewed 240 acres within the predominantly built out community and crafted recommendations for strategic change. The final plan is different because its planning horizon is only few years rather than the several decades traditional plans examine.

The Villa Hills Study is currently moving towards implementation. The Benedictine Sisters of Covington, the major property owner in the study area, closed a request for proposals window for the sale of the property in April 2017. The Sisters are currently working through the proposals to determine the future of the site. PDS staff anticipates working with the new property owner and the city on any necessary zoning amendments in the coming months.

“We look forward to continuing this award-winning standard for all our future efforts. Even if those projects aren’t recognized formally, we see it as our responsibility to provide our communities and residents with the same standard of work,” Gordon concluded.

 



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.
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