A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Covington commission: ‘Game-changer’ Highland Ave. project advances; IRS site purchase approved

By Ryan Clark
NKyTribune reporter

After one last round of questions, including — you guessed it — whether or not the developers will actually follow through with what they’ve promised, Covington City Commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday night to approve a map amendment that will pave the way for a contentious development on Highland Avenue.

“I’ve never met a developer so determined to make sure our needs are addressed,” Commissioner Shannon Smith said. She later called the development plan a “game-changer” for that reason.

The project calls for putting a 132-unit, five-building apartment complex on 14.94 acres at Henry Clay and Highland Avenue.

At issue is the age-old problem of flooding in the Peaselburg neighborhood. Two more residents emailed the Commission this week stating their displeasure with the proposed development, even after meeting with developers, and their comments were read before Tuesday night’s regularly-scheduled legislative Commission meeting. Commissioner Michelle Williams echoed their concerns, saying she wanted the residents to “feel comfortable that we’ll have a solution for them when this is over with.”

The developer, PLK Communities, has promised two catch basins for the complex, as well as the free gifting of land at the bottom of the hill to the city, which can decide in the future if another catch basin is needed there. City officials said PLK has actually agreed to capture 45 percent more water than is legally required of them.

Economic Development Director Tom West told the Commission that another developer may not be as generous. “I don’t know that there’s anyone else out there that wants to do that,” he said.

Still, the people of Peaselburg are concerned that development above them will just cause more flooding to come their way. It caused Commissioner Denny Bowman to vote against the development, even though he made sure to later note that he was not against this particular developer.

Bowman said that he has six months left to represent the city, and after experiencing seven raw sewage floods in 50 years, he said, “I can’t go out knowing this (development) could harm Covington residents.” He did say he believed this to be the first time he ever voted against a development.

Mayor Joseph U. Meyer explained that the development would reduce the flow of water, add population growth (which is beneficial to the city), and convert the land from a nonprofit piece of property to a paying one. He further went on to explain that the development was not the issue; he said the issue was who would have responsibility of storm water maintenance of the gifted land. The city has stated many times that they would like to wrestle stormwater control from the Sanitation District, which as the Mayor put it, has been skirting its obligations for decades.

“We’re all infinitely aware we’ve got to deal with this,” Meyer said. “We have a path we’re negotiating (with the Sanitation District).” He said that once they have control, then they can decide how to best deal with the land.

Commissioner Tim Downing made sure to say after the vote that Commissioners would hold PLK Communities to their promises.

Commissioners go virtual again

Commissioners were again forced to hold their Tuesday night meeting in a virtual setting due to increased cases of COVID-19, Mayor Meyer said.

He noted the move back into the virtual world — one meeting was held in person this month — was to ensure the safety of the staff and the public.

IRS site purchase approved

In a surprise addition to Tuesday night’s agenda, Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the purchase of the IRS site.

In the spring, the federal General Services Administration accepted the city’s offer of $20.5 million for the site.

The IRS closed the facility last September after 52 years. In 2018, Covington hired Atlanta-based global architecture and design firm Cooper Carry to help it obtain the site and to create a master plan for its development.

Again, Commissioner Denny Bowman voted against the deal. In the past, he explained that he never understood why the city should be purchasing the site again.

Nearly 60 years ago, Covington residents bought the property and sold it to the government for $1 to lure the IRS to the city.

Multiple ordinances get first readings

Commissioners heard first readings on multiple ordinances Tuesday night, including:

• An ordinance to amend Covington job development incentives: “recommended changes are based on national best practices and staff believes they will help strike that balance while also creating a program that is flexible and predictable,” city documents say.

• An ordinance amending the zoning map of the city changing 17-25 W. Eighth St. from a limited industrial zone with a historical overlay to a central business district zone with a historic overlay and establishment of a multi-use within the central business district. PDC Opportunity Fund, LLC, per Chuck Patton, submitted an application requesting the Kenton County Planning Commission to review and make recommendations on the map amendment. He is proposing to renovate the existing 11,817-square-foot structure into a mixed-use building with a courtyard, including a restaurant, retail, office, and short-term rental use.

• An ordinance to amend the Covington code and provide accurate city department and staff references, update abatement and lien procedures, revise the existing noise ordinance, and update fine amounts and penalties for violations. 

Mayor says no to firework participation

At the end of the meeting, Commission Bowman asked Mayor Meyer if the city was going to participate in the annual Riverfest fireworks celebration. Newport made headlines earlier in the week when the city announced on its Facebook page that they would not be participating in the end-of-summer event due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Quite frankly, I’m under the impression we are going to not participate in the Labor Day fireworks,” Meyer said. “We are going to formally cancel our participation in it for this year and support Newport.”

The next regularly-scheduled Covington Commission meeting will be a caucus meeting held at 6 p.m., Aug. 4, at City Hall at 20 W. Pike St. The meeting can be followed live on Fioptics channel 815, Spectrum channel 203, the Telecommunications Board of Northern Kentucky (TBNK) website, the TBNK Facebook page @TBNKonline, and the TBNK Roku channels.

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  1. mike sage says:

    behind 1701 monroe st. is a ponding area that was built to catch water ,back in the 1950s.it was made to slowly let the water to recede in a pipe into the sewer system, the pipe is gone the ponding area has a breach, or better yet a hole 25ft. by30ft. wide and deep, that the water flows out of into the hillside, that eventually, flows down to euclid, because of this breach 2 houses have come down and are gone, the city contracted with the home owners at the time to build the ponding area, with the promise to forever maintain the area, which they have not done, .if you want to do something about the flooding then fix the ponding area. the hole is so deep i`m afraid some child will fall into it and wind up dead, ,,fix it

  2. sharon says:

    This will end up causing more flooding. I lived for many years on Highland Ave., once the second group of condos were built i put 3 furnaces 3 water heaters ina year and half. I hope people will think twice before moving there.

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