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Monday, May 1, 2017

VA Homes Developer Shows Preliminary Plans For Historic Homes

Developer Ken Schon of Bloomfield/Schon shows off the site plan for the VA homes for the first time publicly. FTM file. 
By Robin Gee and Mark Collier 

For the first time publicly, developers for the VA Homes in Alexander Circle, presented the city with preliminary plans for the development.

Plans are moving ahead on the transfer of ownership of ten historic homes in Tower Park from the Veterans Administration to the city of Fort Thomas, according to City Administrator Ron Dill. A special meeting of council will take place May 1 to update elected officials on the steps taken so far.

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“Right now, it’s all positive movement forward,” said Dill at the April Fort Thomas City Council meeting held Monday, April 17.

A plan for purchase of the properties first went to the Planning Commission on Wednesday, April 18. The council is expected to approve the plan in second reading at its regularly scheduled meeting on May 15. Still yet to be discussed, publicly at least, are financing options and what requirements will be asked of the city, schools and developers.

Although the city has not yet completed purchase, Dill said all indications are that the VA is aware of the city’s plan to proceed with the purchase and continue work on a  development agreement between the city and the chosen developer Bloomfield/Schon of Cincinnati.

During the Planning Commission hearing, two hurdles were passed: first, a zoning change that would allow the developer more free range on the rehabilitation of the residential properties and approval of a preliminary site plan.

Developer Ken Schon of Bloomfield/Schon, the city's preferred developer was on hand to discuss that stage one site plan. Stage two of the development plan, which Schon said could come within two months, might include more specific plans for traffic flow, implementing upgraded utilities, price points, specific plans for homes or time tables.

"Obviously there is a lot of detail that remains here and that's a work in progress, but it's essential to move forward with this process at this time to make sure the developer has a concept plan so that they know what they are investing in," said Dill.

The visioning process that the city is undertaking will also play a role in how the site is developed, in terms of connectivity. The streets surrounding the homes will continue to be public right-of-way, including the green space in the center of Alexander Circle. There will be detached garage structures for the homes. The sidewalk will still remain, but Schon hinted that they would like to close off traffic around the back side of the ball field and make the road leading up to Alexander Circle two-way traffic.
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All that, though, is yet to be determined, until the stage two plans are submitted to the Planning Commission and requisite council committees for approval.

"The opportunity to be completely honest about some of the conversation you've heard today is what we're doing. There is going to be a stage-two plan that will require (the developers) to come back in a public forum. Obviously, if there are going to be changes to the park system, those will go through a similar process. Some of these concepts could evolve," said Dill. "The city has long-looked at the   access in and around the Mess Hall building with the idea of adding parking, with a secondary connection between the street in front and back side of that. Some of the concepts we've looked at will make clear sense as to what is residential development and what is areas in the park for active use, like the ball field."

Planning Commission Dan Fehler said he understands the developers' concept is to change the traffic pattern leading towards to historic homes to keep them as private as possible. He wondered whether or not there had been discussion about relocating the ball field in Tower Park.

"When people come down to the ballpark, you're not going to want them to go into this development. This isn't going to be a gated community, but if I had a house over a million dollars I'm not going to want a bunch of people going around through the loops near the ballpark," he said.
Looking at the ball field from the entrance of Alexander Circle. FTM file. 

That could be a problem, especially with the large green space in the middle of the homes, which is technically a park.  Schon said he envisioned that space as a "passive park."

Planning Commission member, Dave Wormald, said he believes the community will want to continue to visit the development.

"Even if there is a passive park there, I do think there is going to be demand, at least for access for a bench or some place to put their blankets out because of the investment that the community is putting into this. The time I've been back there, I had half a dozen people back there, staring out, saying, 'I can't wait until the city comes back here and puts benches back.' I think the community outcry is going to require more than just grass," he said.

The homes, built in 1888, suffer from water and weather damage as well as lead and asbestos. Until last fall, the VA required abatement be done before the properties could be sold, making the cost for purchase by the city prohibitive.

 A change in the rules in October, opened up the opportunity for the city to purchase the property and work with a developer on abatement, repair and restoration after purchase.

The stage one development plan was approved with the condition that the stage two plan be back before the Planning Commission. Council will review the Planning Commission's approval on May 1.

A zone change for the VA Homes from R-1C and R-1AA to RCD/R-1C will give the developers more flexibility to make the improvements they need to on the homes. FTM file.

A rendering of the development of the VA Homes shows the traffic pattern may change. Currently, traffic is one-way and loops around the ball field. Discussions of stage two may open the road up to two-way traffic and permanently close access to the back side of the ball field. FTM file. 

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