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Friday, December 18, 2015

Tenants, Landlord at Odds Over Zoning at Fort Thomas Plaza

The Fort Thomas Planning Commission listens to an issue on 12-16-15. FTM file. 
The Fort Thomas Plaza has had a mixed past. Anchor tenants Drug Emporium and Fischer Homes are  gone, as are past owners of the shopping center, Myers Y. Cooper and Woodmen of the World and Neyer Properties, who managed the property for the latter.

Ken Perry, of Ken Perry Realty, bought the center and the new anchor tenant, Fort Thomas Antiques & Design Center came in during 2014.

Now, in the opinion of some of the tenants, a potential addition to the Fort Thomas Plaza could derail the forward momentum of the center.

Active Day is an adult daycare facility that is currently renting space at 725 Alexandria Pike. Because of the nature of the business that Active Day offers, they would need to have a text amendment changed and voted on by the Fort Thomas Planning Commission to be able to move to the Plaza, which is currently zoned as General Commercial space.

The Future of the Fort Thomas Plaza (2013)
Fort Thomas Plaza Mounting Comeback (2014)
Fort Thomas Plaza's Future is Bright (2015)

Adult daycare is currently only permitted to be housed under Professional Office space, of which there are seven zones within the city, not enough zones under the purview of Active Day management.

Rob Robinson is the owner of anchor tenant, Fort Thomas Antiques & Design Center, The Highlander Event Center, Highlander Bourbon and Wine Bar and Highlander Coffee House at 90 Alexandria Pike. Robinson leases 23,500 square feet amongst his four businesses, just under half of the total space for the Fort Thomas Plaza. He says that he and a coalition of businesses owners were told that their newest co-tenant was moving in and leasing four storefronts taking up 8,000 square feet.

Looking at the building that include Fort Thomas Antiques & Design, this is on the far right. The proposed Active Day location would encompass four storefronts and 8,000 square feet. 
He doesn't think the proposed new tenant, Active Day, would be a good fit for safety reasons involving the shuttle traffic as well as traffic flow. He and other businesses also do not believe Active Day will continue to bring harmony to the Fort Thomas Plaza as a complementary business.

"There's not a better blocker for retail than shuttle buses and they have seven of them. We have each expressed our concerns with the ownership of the plaza and so far they have ignored our requests to reconsider this," he said. "It's not a fair use or a proper use and it's not a zoned use. It's a much needed social service, but there is a reason why this type of business has not been zoned for this type of retail space. I'm asking the Planning Commission to bring life back to the Fort Thomas Plaza by voting against this text amendment."

Current tenants include Fort Thomas Antiques & Design Center with Highlander Event Center, Swimville USA, barre3, Grace Fellowship Church, Fastenal, Spatola Wrestling and The Mail Room.

Carol Hitch, has worked at the Active Day since they opened in 2001. She says they have been searching for new space for two years because they need more space.

"When we opened the doors we had zero members and we grew rapidly. Our original plan was to have 50 members, but we quickly found out that with our aging population, there was a greater need for the service," she said.

Hitch says that they currently see 65-75 members per day and that there are 120 people enrolled in Active Day. They have 28 employees with an annual payroll of just under $500,000. She said that they currently have six Fort Thomas residents that utilize the service and have served over 800 families since being in business in Fort Thomas.

725 Alexandria Pike, where Active Day has been since 2001. 
"We want to stay in Fort Thomas. We have a good name in Fort Thomas and our referral base comes from the city, but we need a facility that meets our needs. We need a facility that has all of our members on one floor," she said. She also mentioned that the closest adult daycare facility would be in Fort Mitchell or Florence and that this facility is the only of its kind in Campbell County.

The Planning Commission of Fort Thomas was charged with trying to decipher whether or not to accept or reject the text amendment during the meeting. Throughout the course of the two and a half hours they met, they heard arguments for and against.

One of the points that member, Brent Cooper, kept coming back to was that he felt there could be other businesses that were zoned appropriately that the current tenants at the plaza could object to, such as billiards or clubs.

"I think the reason that (adult daycare) isn't in the zoning (of general retail) is that this issue really hasn't come up before. It's new. We've got a lot of citizens in Fort Thomas that could drive upwards of 30 minutes to get to a facility like this and we've got to consider, do we want that if we were to lose this business?" he said. "This zoning decision isn't just about your business, it's about all the residents. I don't think it's our place to get involved in some of the things you're objecting to."

Gene Daniels, the property manager of the Fort Thomas Plaza for Ken Perry Realty, told the Planning Commission that when they bought the center, plans included moving Active Day in immediately. He said they began negotiating last June.

"We asked the city specifically, 'could we bring this business into Fort Thomas Plaza?' The zoning administrator at the time said he had no problem with (Active Day) going in the (Fort Thomas Plaza). We would have never bought the building unless we knew we potentially had Active Day coming in as an anchor tenant. It boiled down to that we couldn't get the building bought and the remodeling done in time (before their previous lease ended)," said Daniels.

Kevin Barbian, who has been with the city as the Building Inspector and Zoning Administrator for the City of Fort Thomas for the last six months said that was simply a misunderstanding.

"At this point in time, (the Planning Commission) is just trying to determine whether an adult daycare is a compatible use in the General Commercial zone. It's only allowed in Professional Office right now and it's obvious that this is a service that's needed. It's not whether or not (the plaza) is the right spot for (Active Day)," said Jerry Noran, Planning Committee member. "If it's a permitted use, not a conditional use like a child daycare, going forward, we may need to take a more comprehensive view of this. I think there's a reason a child daycare is a conditional use in zones. That's because each one is unique and has unique characteristics and we really need to look at each one on an individual basis. I think I'd be in favor if this were a conditional use, not a permitted use."

During the meeting, a free-flowing discussion led to a compromise of sorts. Jay Fossett of Strategic Advisers, who was there to help facility the discussion for Active Day and Ken Perry Realty, said that he thought the Planning Commission should act quickly that night to amendment the zoning ordinance. He said that Active Day's lease is up in the spring of 2016.

"I've talked to the property manager and he said if the loading and unloading of the buses is such a big issue, they would be willing to unload and load the busses in the back of the building where there is no traffic, no fire lanes and no problems," he said.

Dan Fehler, Chairman of the Planning Commission began to table the discussion so city staff could research surrounding areas and our development plan, when a motion was made to approve the text amendment by Cooper.

Tim Michel seconded the motion.

"I don't find (Active Day) to be not in harmony with the development in the General Commercial zone. Personally, I don't care what Newport or some of the other cities are doing. In Fort Thomas, we don't have enough area (zoned) that allows this and its apparently a need that we have. I can't think of a better zone to put it in than General Commercial," he said.

The final vote tally on the text amendment failed 4-2.This means that the committee may choose to reopen the hearing, which could occur at the next Planning Commission meeting.

FTM will have more as this unfolds.


  1. Why would the landlord want to tick off his tenants that badly? Whats missing?

  2. Landlord is ONLY thinking about short term $$ from lease not the long term viability of the Plaza.

  3. i mean, the landlord can presumably do whatever he wants. it's his property, but forcing the businesses into this isn't ideal. i wonder what the business association says.

    1. Actually, he can't. That's why he had to go before the zoning board.

  4. Active Day has been part of the community for year, why is there opposition? Seems very self serving, some would even say even illegal.

  5. I've talked to some people on this lately. It seems there is much more at play than a simple text amendment. I wasn't surprised to hear money is at the root. Typical Fort Thomas. Money talks, I suppose. Have to wonder who or how that influences such issues.

    1. Care to elaborate? Your post leaves the impression that there is something shady happening behind the scenes. If this is the case please share this information so that the citizens of Fort Thomas can be fully informed on the issue.

  6. This is an important service to the Fort Thomas community and this an ideal location for Active Day to move to. If it can't move to this location, this adult day care will have to move out of the city, maybe many miles away and that will be inconvenient for those who use the service. Vote to approve this use.