Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Fort Thomas Visioning Presented To Council

Joey Hood and Chris Manning discuss the results from the first three stakeholder visioning meetings that will lead to a comprehensive plan for the city of Fort Thomas. FTM file. 
It's been over a year since Mayor Eric Haas led a whiteboard session in the Centennial Room on the third floor at The City Building. That session led to ideas like a skate park, zip line, roundabouts and a city-wide yard sale in Fort Thomas.

When the discussion started lending itself to broader topics, like "making more use of The Mess Hall" and "Midway District accessibility," Haas knew he needed a different approach.

RELATED: Whiteboard Session Could Lead To New Comprehensive Plan

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"We thought we had some really good ideas and knew we needed to expand on them," he said. "We have real talent in this city to tap into so that's what we did."

Haas and council authorized the city to contract Fort Thomas residents, Chris Manning of Human Nature, Inc and Tom Fernandez of SHP Leading Design to help lead that new visioning process that will ultimately lead to a new comprehensive plan for the city of Fort Thomas.

"It doesn't have anything to do with spending or saving money," said Haas. "It doesn’t have anything to do with money, it’s about progress. We have moved passed whether or not we should stand pat or progress. I think we are all on board that we need to continue to move the city forward.” 

FTM file. 
Manning led three visioning meetings, two in October and one in November, with three separate city groups: city council, city staff and invited city stakeholders.

"The intent of that work was to create a foundation for building the next comprehensive plan update, park and recreation plan and the city's first comprehensive pedestrian and bicycle plan," said Manning. "We didn’t dive into too much detail in these meetings on purpose. Each one of these topics will take on a life of their own. So this is a framework." 

The groups first looked at the population growth of Fort Thomas, originally named the District of the Highlands, and first incorporated on February 27 1867.

There are four distinct chapters in the city's history, which are defined by clear changes in character of the city, population and density of the community. From 1870 to the early 1970s's population growth remained steady as there was room to grow. Since the 1970's the population of Fort Thomas has remained stable with approximately 16,000 residents.

"We had some healthy discussion on whether or not that (population) number should be pushed up or not," said Manning. "It was decidedly evident that 16,500 was a comfortable number. But this exercise allowed us to study those moments in time and will help guide us when building a robust vision for the future."

In terms of density, greenspace was a buzzword heard often through the stakeholders meetings. According to the last General Services Annual Report, new construction for residential units are at a 10-year high when 34 new homes, mostly in the Villagrande subdivision, were constructed.

That said, greenspace was a commodity that stakeholders saw as something that should be preserved.

Asset mapping was a tool used during the three meetings to identify the community assets and identify ways of connecting the assets to find areas of future opportunities.

Manning said to help facilitate the dialogue, a series of base maps were created to highlight what the city's greatest assets were by utilizing a live mapping feature.

For example, on the south end of town near the Midway Business District, there are many assets that don't necessarily connect or synergize with one another: the reservoir, VA Hospital, Tower Park and Midway Businesses are all in the same area, but don't have an easy way to connect.

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"That's what we spent most of the time doing, was asset mapping. What are the significant opportunity areas for our future? That's what we tried to summarize," he said. "I was inspired by leadership that came from city staff in terms of wanting the city building to be an example of governance and services."

Manning mentioned three over-arching takeaways:
1) To continue the momentum and quest for continual self-improvement
2) Strengthen the city's assets and connectivity
3) Stay true to who we are.

Manning said a lot of the stakeholder input involved around connectivity and so much dialogue that involved pedestrian and bicycle connectivity that he advised the city to create its first Comprehensive Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan.

"There was so much energy toward linking these assets and it became clear there was a large focus on a more robust trail network. It was such a strong voice that if it gets folded into a comprehensive plan it sort of gets lost."

Trails and a stronger pedestrian network were common themes at each of the stakeholders meetings. The direct impact it has on the safety and health of our community it became clear that it was time to develop the city's first comprehensive pedestrian and bicycle plan." 

Manning said the plan would focus on community engagement after assessing current conditions and needs before implementing of bicycles and pedestrian elements in the statewide transportation plans.

"Collaboration with our neighbors becomes very important. Riverfront Commons in Dayton or working with the hospital and city of Newport, Southgate,  or Highland Heights and at our edges. You start talking about transportation, then you start talking about having partnerships with Kentucky Transportation Cabinet or OKI."

A road diet to take away a lane of Grand Avenue was also discussed and had favorable feedback.

More input regarding connectivity:
- Trail connection to the Ohio River through city parcels and Duke Energy easements near Dayton
- Trail connection through Highland Park for students and residents
- Connecting Highlands High and Middle School to Ohio River through the hillside greenbelt
- Creating a new park entry to Highland Park behind the Fort Thomas Swim Club
- Creating a pedestrian connection behind the Central Business District
- Connecting Tower Park to the Ohio River
- Connecting the Midway District to the Ohio River
- Connecting the Midway District to neighborhood pockets
- Connecting the potential Alexandria Pike District with the Ohio River

The next step will be to get more input to start to hone in on some of these over-arching themes with more stakeholders.

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