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Real World Dixie Fix improvements move forward

Posted on September 19, 2013
“Have a plan. Follow the plan, and you'll be surprised how successful you can be.” –Paul Bear Bryant

Success in planning is often measured by implementation of adopted studies and reports. A great example of implementation currently taking place can be found along Dixie Highway. Continued efforts have been underway to implement recommendations from The Dixie Fix plan, which studied Dixie Highway from Covington to Boone County. Projects ranging from median beautification to intersection realignment have taken place this year, all stemming from recommendations of the 2006 plan.

One major change to the roadway is currently under construction in the Erlanger / Elsmere area of the roadway. The realignment of side streets in this area eliminates an offset intersection and consolidates two traffic signals into one. The improved intersection will help increase safety by reducing turning conflicts.

“Realigning this intersection was the number 3 improvement out of all 36 ranked regional priorities in the study and will go a long way to help reduce travel times and improve safety,” said Robyn Bancroft, Strategic Planning Manager for OKI and project manager of The Dixie Fix study.

Another change already made is median improvements in front of Crestview Hills Town Center, near the southern city limit with Edgewood. “The median on Dixie needed repair and we wanted to do something to make this heavily traveled entrance to our city more aesthetically pleasing,” said Crestview Hills Mayor Paul Meier. “We applied for grants and were awarded funds that helped calm traffic and visually improve the roadway.”

Additionally, a new bus stop was added in front of the Town Center and the city worked with Edgewood to install new sidewalks along Dixie. Mayor Meier added, “We go back to the study recommendations frequently and are very interested in seeing the study implemented to help improve this vital road within our city.”

While these two projects are very noticeable, much work is going on behind the scenes that will result in new construction and renovation. Intersection improvements at Kyles Lane are currently being designed by KYTC and the City of Fort Wright. These improvements will assist drivers turning left onto Kyles from southbound Dixie Highway.

KYTC reports that the needed property is currently being appraised and work is taking place on utility design. The Transportation Cabinet anticipates construction at Dixie and Kyles in late 2014.

The City of Covington is also seeking funding for improvements to the Pike Street - Main Street area of Dixie Highway.

While priorities and external factors can change the details of any plan over time, the overall goals of the project remain intact. Addressing the main goals of improving safety, mobility, maintain reasonable and adequate access from adjoining properties, fostering economic development, increasing multimodal options, and improving aesthetics remain as important today as they were in 2006.

Keeping that vision in mind and addressing improvements that help all travelers along and through the Dixie Highway corridor is, and will continue to be an important standard for Kenton County communities to strive to achieve.

The Dixie Fix plan is available online.

Erlanger form district provisions near completion

Posted on August 28, 2013
The City of Erlanger and NKAPC staff are near completion of a project to help revitalize the commercial areas along Commonwealth Avenue, Erlanger Road, and Baker Street near the I-71/75 interchange. The city will host an open house on Tuesday, September 10 at the Erlanger City Building from 6 to 7:30 PM to update citizens on the project and to seek their feedback.

“The project was anticipated to take a year to complete. There have not been any major unanticipated issues, and the project is moving into its final phase,” said Andy Videkovich, AICP, senior planner and manager for the Commonwealth Station project.

To review progress to date, citizens should access the city website and link into the Commonwealth Station section. All comments received during this open house will be considered by the steering committee before finalizing proposed changes to the city’s zoning code.

After the public input meeting, and once the steering committee has considered all the comments, the new zoning text will be presented to the Erlanger City Council for its consideration and feedback. Finally, there will be an additional public meeting before the Kenton County Planning Commission after the city council authorizes the map and text amendment applications. The planning commission will make a recommendation back to the city where the council takes the final action.

This project is being pursued by the city through NKAPC staff with assistance from the College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State University. It began with a multi-day workshop where property owners and city residents showed up to provide input and guide the vision for what they would like to see occur in the study area.

Following the workshop, city officials realized that the city’s existing zoning ordinance would not allow for the type of pedestrian-oriented mixed-use development that was envisioned by those who attended the workshop. (Read the following article for a link to UrbanLand magazine for more on how communities across the US are pursuing similar projects.)

New zoning regulations were drafted by NKAPC staff using input taken from a steering committee comprised of both property owners within the project area and city officials. The main consensus of the committee is allowing for more flexibility for what individual property owners can do with their property, from allowing more land to be developed to permitting additional uses. In exchange for the additional flexibility in area and uses, there are some basic form standards that new have to adhere to in order to create a more inviting public realm for pedestrians and visitors to the area.

 “We expect that the regulations will begin the formal adoption process later this year, most likely in November or December,” concluded Videkovich.

Change facilitates NKAPC.org on mobile devices

Posted on August 28, 2013
With the ever-increasing number of people using mobile devices comes a better way of presenting and transferring information. It’s called responsive design. And recently, NKAPC.org has joined the trend.

Responsive design is a way of developing a website in such a way that it can be easily viewed and navigated, regardless of the device or screen resolution being used. While this is particularly beneficial when using tablets or smart phones, this concept also carries over to desktop monitors, laptops, and even some newer televisions.

Essentially, the screen size dictates the amount and type of information that is presented quickly instead of putting all of a webpage’s links, text, and images on the screen at once. Everything on the website is still available, but it has been organized into easily-navigable menus.

As an example on NKAPC.org, if screen space or bandwidth is limited, non-essential images are not downloaded. This allows zoning ordinances, meeting information, and other documents to be viewed quickly.

“This is a great way to improve the availability of our website to mobile device users, without compromising its functionality,” said Pete Berard, Public Information Coordinator.

Wellness program takes staffers on 8,000-mile walk

Posted on August 28, 2013
NKAPC staff members logged enough individual steps recently to equal walking over 8,000 miles in a 24-week period. This was one of several recent health initiatives undertaken by staff to get fit and hold down the rising costs of health insurance premiums.

Rolled out early this spring under the banner “Fit Happens,” the program was the latest in a series of initiatives by NKAPC’s health and wellness committee to improve staff health and impact annual insurance premiums. The committee is comprised of employee representatives from each department.

The campaign began with a voluntary health risk assessment in January which included a biometric screening. Following the health risk assessment, the wellness committee challenged co-workers and teammates to “Step it up” and “Take it off”.

The “Step It Up” program asked each staff member to set a weekly step goal and then to meet or exceed that goal each week.  Twenty-two staff members rose to the challenge and armed with pedometers, hit the street. The results were better than anticipated. In logging the 8,000+ miles, participants contributed a little over 15 miles per week per person.

Steve Dahlheimer, a principal building official, won in the category of most steps with 4,811,190 steps. Trisha Brush, GISP, the director of GIS administration, won in the category of exceeding weekly step goals; she exceeded her weekly goal by 151%. Her total was 3,082,659 steps.

The “Take it off” program encouraged staff to lose excess pounds they have wanted to take off. John Lauber, a senior building official, won that challenge by losing ten percent of his body weight.

“These are just the most recent examples of the many health initiatives undertaken by the employees at NKAPC,” according to Jan Crabb, PHR, finance/HR administrator. “According to the 2013 Compensation and Benefits Survey commissioned by the Northern Kentucky City/County Management Association, our premiums are now equal to or in most cases lower than those paid by other local jurisdictions offering similar or even less coverage.”

Crabb points to the fact that NKAPC experienced no rate increase for the organization’s July 2013 renewal as proof that the programs are working.

“We hope it’s the beginning of a very welcome trend,” she concluded.

iPad usage begins to impact field inspectors’ work

Posted on August 28, 2013
As reported last month, NKAPC implemented new software in July that tracks and coordinates the activities of staff in a more comprehensive manner. TRAKiT makes this possible through the use of iPads for all field inspection activities. The iPads facilitate activities being more integrated, allowing staff to communicate better with one another on related activities, as well as to be more knowledgeable and productive in their responsibilities.

The TRAKiT program covers NKAPC’s responsibilities for building and zoning permits, building and engineering inspections, zoning code enforcement efforts, subdivision plans and plats, as well as planning and other large-scale projects.

“The use of the iPads is changing how we perform inspections”, said Brian Sims, CBO, Director of Building Codes Administration. “No longer are we needing to carry multiple folders out in the field with us each day, we only need our iPads. We're able to see previous inspection notes, plan review notes, conditions on the permit, and depending on size, the approved plans.”

Because the iPads store all of the previous history of a project, inspectors can be better prepared in the field to deal with changing situations.

“Before we started using the iPads, inspectors had no way to readily access information in the field about a past incident or inspection without coming back to the office to search through paper files”, said Scott Hiles, CPC, Director of Infrastructure Engineering.

“Because we have multiple engineering inspectors and multiple subdivisions under development at any one time, it’s virtually assured that more than one inspector will pursue inspections within a particular subdivision at some point. Now, regardless of who is on site he’ll have access to all of the previous inspection results at their fingertips.”

An additional benefit across all the departments that are using this new technology is the ability for the program, whether being used in-house or in the field, to identify conflicts and automatically alert the user. This helps reduce human error when resulting inspections using the iPad.

Martin Scribner, AICP, Director of Planning and Zoning adds, “The new technology helps streamline our process in many ways, such as providing automated results to inspections and adding photographs to files, all while out in the field, which means we’re not duplicating actions.”

“Prior to the iPad, we collected all of the data we needed from the field and then came back to the office to enter the results, which amounts to doing the same work twice. Only having to enter the data once has certainly made us more efficient,” he concluded.

iPad technology creates a streamlined, efficient process that leads to better prepared inspectors which results in more efficient and thorough inspections in the field.

Senior building official tapped for state committee

Posted on August 28, 2013
Governor Steve Beshear recently appointed Jeff Bechtold, NKAPC senior building official, to a seat on the Kentucky Single Family Dwellings Advisory Committee. The appointment runs through June 30, 2016.

In his appointment of Bechtold, the governor wrote, “I diligently strive to appoint individuals who will be fair and honest and who will always act in the best interests of the Commonwealth. I have every confidence in your abilities to serve our fellow Kentuckians with the honor and respect they deserve.”

The Kentucky Single Family Dwellings Advisory Committee was created nearly 20 years ago to provide the Department of Housing, Buildings, and Construction with input on a wide range of single family residential construction issues. Members of the committee represent all aspects of constructing single family homes.

“I’m looking forward to working with the committee and board on single family residential issues,” said Bechtold. “The committee provides everyone interested in single family issues with an optimum opportunity to collaborate. I’m excited that I’m being given an opportunity to participate and to help the committee to continue its positive impact.”

… for whatever it’s worth…

Posted on July 15, 2013
This month we highlight studies cited on a Washington State Department of Transportation page showing that accidents on roundabouts are less frequent and not as serious as at traditional four-way intersections.

According to the website, roundabouts reduced injury crashes by 75 percent at intersections where stop signs or signals were used previously for traffic control, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Studies by the IIHS and Federal Highway Administration have shown that roundabouts typically achieve a:
• 37 percent reduction in overall collisions;
• 75 percent reduction in injury collisions;
• 90 percent reduction in fatality collisions; and a
• 40 percent reduction in pedestrian collisions.

An attendant YouTube video provides substantiation for these numbers.

Views expressed in this article do not reflect an official position or policy of the NKAPC. The article is presented here to provide input for those interested in land use planning issues.

FY14 budget continues NKAPC’s downward trends

Posted on July 15, 2013
NKAPC’s budget for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 is built on a number of trends related to both revenues and expenditures for the organization. Those trends were highlighted for city and county elected officials last month during the discussion that led to them approving it.

According to Dennis Gordon, FAICP, NKAPC’s executive director, the organization’s new fiscal year budget “continues a trend the NKAPCommission initiated in FY08 and accelerated in FY10.” Gordon cited numerous public meetings of elected and appointed officials to substantiate his assertion. In the end, all agreed that the budget had been thoroughly vetted.

“For those who see this downward trajectory and conclude it was prompted by the 2011 petition drive, note that cuts to the budget and staff were initiated three years before (emphasis added) that effort… and have been continued for the past two years since it failed,” asserted Gordon.

Among the many trends illustrated for the elected officials was an overall decrease in the budget’s bottom line. “This new fiscal year budget is only a little larger than our Fiscal Year 2005 budget,” said Gordon. “This represents a $1.1 million decrease in the organization’s budget since our Fiscal Year 2008 high.”

“Perhaps more importantly,” he said, “this represents a meager 7.1 percent budget increase over the past ten years—or put another way—an average annual increase of just 0.07 percent.”

Gordon used charts to illustrate other aspects of the FY14 budget. He took particular pride in highlighting the ten-year trajectory of the organization’s health care costs which he asserts would not have been possible without the full-scale dedication of the NKAPC staff.

Of the new budget’s total decrease, close to half of it came from tax revenues which have also trended downward since 2009, according to Gordon. He attributed that fact to local elected officials’ action to control tax revenues, explaining that the FY14 budget is the fourth consecutive year that city and county elected officials have trimmed the total tax dollars that fund NKAPC.

Street standards continue to stymie sub regs committee

Posted on July 15, 2013
The Kenton County Planning Commission’s Subdivision Regulation Committee held a second roundtable forum in May. The agenda included the one subject that is precluding action on Kenton County’s new subdivision regulations: upgraded design standards for new Kenton County streets. Since no consensus was reached, a third roundtable forum is scheduled for 2 PM on July 16th at NKAPC.

Beside committee members, those in attendance represented: the Kenton County Mayors’ Group, the Northern Kentucky Homebuilders Association, the Northern Kentucky Society of Professional Engineers, and Henry Fischer of Fischer Homes.

While consensus was not achieved on the larger issue, it was reached on several components of it: 1) only crushed limestone aggregate will be permitted in concrete to reduce D-cracking and surface deterioration; 2) a higher quality of expansion material will be required at all expansion joints to increase their effectiveness and longevity, and to reduce street creep; 3) joints must be skewed to reduce wheel loads; 4) asphalt testing standards must be increased; and 5) detailed pavement analyses must be performed by a geotechnical engineer for all projects to determine any other pavement and drainage enhancements that should be required.

The Subdivision Regulation Committee directed staff recently to address the issue of subsurface drainage by crafting language requiring edge drains under all street curb where 51 percent of the adjoining lot drains toward the street, and in street sag locations extending 50 feet from either side of the sag. These requirements for edge drains are similar to a design proposal made by the Northern Kentucky Society of Professional Engineers. Not all groups in attendance at the May forum agreed on this point.

The Mayor’s Group for example believes strongly that edge drains should be provided under all portions of new street and that a full drainage blanket should be required under all street pavements.

“Committee members agreed that drainage blankets are needed in certain situations,” said Scott Hiles, CPC, NKAPC’s director of infrastructure engineering, “but they believe that rather than require them everywhere as a minimum standard, they should let the geotechnical engineer decide precisely where they are needed as part of the required pavement analysis.”

In addition to requiring a drainage blanket, the geotechnical engineer could require additional drainage improvements such as more edge drains or longitudinal drains, according to some committee members.

Staff is hopeful that this third roundtable forum will produce the needed consensus so the committee can give staff a final directive on what design proposals are to be included in the draft regulations. If that takes place, the last step in the long process will be to take the final draft to a public hearing before the Kenton County Planning Commission.

It isn’t possible to project when that might occur until consensus is reached among members of the committee.

New tracking software coordinates project information

Posted on July 15, 2013
NKAPC implemented new software last month 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.

The new software package, named 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 so far for all the new engineering data we’re collecting”, said Scott Hiles, CPC, NKAPC’s director of infrastructure engineering. “It appears now that it’ll have 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 nkonestop.org 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 going to facilitate coordinating all our responsibilities,” said Dennis Gordon, FAICP, executive director. “That coordination is going to allow staff to be more efficient and effective. It’ll also make us more transparent in our duties because most of our records will be available online via the public web portal.”

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.

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