|Many who attended the August city council voiced concern over decision-making processes.|
The proposed text change to the General Commercial zone continues to draw concern and passion from residents.
The August City Council meeting drew a large crowd of those who opposed the text amendment for the third month in a row despite state restrictions on discussion of the topic.
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The meeting was originally set to be a second reading of the text amendment but, due to technical issues that delayed distribution of the public hearing minutes, the August meeting became the official first reading. Council will vote on the amendment at the September 4 meeting.
Council vote set for September meeting
City Attorney Jann Seidenfaden explained the delay concerning the transcript of the public hearing held at the Planning Commission meeting in June. An outside transcriber was sometimes unable to identify who was giving testimony so a city employee needed additional time to clarify who was speaking in the minutes.
She also reminded those present about the difference between the text amendment under consideration and future issues that may come up that would involve changes to the zone map.
"When we have a text amendment, it is a change in the wording of the zoning ordinance. It’s not a change of the zone in particular. The text amendment …affects any general commercial zone in the city, not attached to any one particular property but to the entire zone, in this case the General Commercial zone," she explained.
In addition to the text change amendment, the council also heard a first reading of a zone map change on a specific property at 1960 Memorial Parkway. In that instance, Seidenfaden said, the property owner has asked for a zone change from a residential R1C zone to a Professional Office zone.
In answer to concerns about a lack of notification, she said the text amendment, since it is not tied to any one property, required notification in papers of record but did not require the same level of notification as a zone change. In the instance of a zone change for the property on Memorial Parkway, those with property abutting the address would have received notice by mail, she said.
Improving communications and questions about input
Tim Hodory of Hawthorne Avenue said he still had concerns about how the public meeting was publicized. He also expressed concern that there was only one opportunity to speak on the subject.
Mayor Eric Haas responded that the council is looking into the issue of notice for any zoning issues or other city meetings.
"There was a lot of discussion at the last meeting around the notice…The state of Kentucky has finally made some changes to allow us to look at doing notices online, on websites and other methods," he said.
He said he did not know at what stage state legislators are in on the topic, but the city staff has been collecting data and the Law, Labor and License Committee will meet soon to look at ways to improve the system of notice for all meetings.
Another resident of Hawthorne Avenue, Tom Morrison, brought up a concern about the text amendment process. He questioned the interpretation of the Kentucky statute concerning citizen input.
"I wanted to speak on the proper thought process on restricting dialog as it relates to the Planning Commission," he said. "Why are rules in place that say the only input that can go into council has to come out of the minutes of that [public hearing] meeting? Is it a Kentucky revised statute that specifically says that?"
Seidenfaden said that the statute talks about a public hearing that is to go before a Planning Commission. "It specifically says it will go to the Planning Commission and they shall hold at least one public hearing upon notice. They make a recommendation of approval or disapproval which then goes to council."
Morrison said he spoke with other cities’ officials who had differing opinions on whether public input would be allowed between the public hearing and the city council vote. He said there may be concerns about the state’s “sunshine law” that ensures against outside influence. He said that law covers meetings of council members with each other outside of the public eye but it does not cover citizen input.
The city attorney agreed that some cities handle the prohibition differently. One city, she said, allows input but then warns council members to ignore that input.
Council Member Roger Peterman added that the reason for the prohibition is to avoid a situation in which someone might try to delay the process for long periods, a tactic known as "sand bagging." The process, he said, is set up to be efficient and fair.
Another resident spoke up from the audience to say that perhaps a meeting prior to the public hearing would have made sense, to allow citizens the opportunity to learn more about what is being proposed before the final input is gathered at the public hearing.
Haas said this concern feeds into the issue of communication and notice. The city is examining this topic, he said, "As we talked about at our previous meeting, and we will be discussing, there’s better ways to provide notice for all the things that come before the city…"
South side residents weigh in
|Martha Coffman presents on Fort Thomas culture and makes a plea for "the big picture."|
Several of the residents who expressed concern about the text amendment at past meetings said the issue of zoning is only one part of their concerns about their neighborhood.
Mary Healy of Holly Woods Drive has been a vocal opponent of the text amendment, but she said her concerns for her neighborhood go well beyond zoning issues.
"I am not here to talk about the text amendment or zoning. I have talked about the south side at two other recent council meetings. I have lived in the south side 35 years. I personally feel the south side has been short-changed in a lot of respects."
She went on to list amenities and décor in the central and middle business districts that are not present on the south side. While she has participated in the city’s visioning process, she had concerns that visioning committees were not integrating their plans.
Haas said that issue is currently being addressed as committees are sharing their plans and working out an overall vision.
Peterman added that those on the south side of town in particular should participate in plans for the Smart Cities grant. "I encourage you strongly to get involved with this. It is my understanding that it will run from the river to NKU, and I think this can be transformative for your area."
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"What I’m asking you to do is to reflect on our town and what our vision is, for the whole town. We want to be a unified town and that’s what our strength is," she said.
She brought several visual aids, including photos of council members’ homes to make her point about the impact of commercialization and other decisions for the community.
She summed up with a plea to council based on the adage "Do not fail to see the forest for the trees."
"I’m asking you tonight as stewards of our city, to look at the trees and think about the kinds of enterprises we want introduced into our town…This whole town is a sanctuary for me, because when you come here … you feel safe, you feel calm, you feel appreciated and you can go out and face the world and start to solve the problems in the world like many of our students are doing."