|Crowd gathers to learn the fate of the text amendment. Many wore "vote no" stickers.|
By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor
The proposed tax amendment to allow self-storage facilities as a permitted use in general commercial zones within the city will not move forward. City council voted unanimously in favor of a motion to reject the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation to change text in the zone.
The room was packed for a fourth month as neighbors gathered to learn the fate of the text amendment after developer Robert Heil sent a letter to council withdrawing his support for it and for a subsequent zone map change and development plan request.
|Call Rob Beimesche: 859-240-3219|
Council Member Ken Bowman made a motion to reject the Planning Commission’s recommendation that read in part, "…It appears not to be in the best interest of the surrounding property owners or the city as a whole…In addition to these concerns, it seems to be not in keeping with the stated goals of the visioning process now underway."
The motion was seconded by Council Member Lisa Kelly and passed a council vote, thus ending consideration of any change of the general commercial zone language.
Heil shared his concerns
Heil said, while the letter was an official statement, as a long-time resident and business owner in Fort Thomas, he wanted to share deep concerns about the way the issue was presented and discussed.
"The letter that was just read tonight is the official reason why we withdrew the development plan from consideration, but I stand before you to deliver in person the unofficial reason for withdrawing our plan," he said.
“Quite frankly, the real reason for withdrawal of the plan was we did not like what this was doing to our city. Who would have thought that a real estate development plan would bring out such nastiness, hatred, bigotry, mistrust and perpetuation of false information? Our city is getting a black eye for the lack of civil discourse around this project, and I was not going to allow it to continue."
He said that during the course of discussion about his project at meetings and on social media, he heard many inaccurate statements about himself and about his business, and said he was particularly hurt by comments that he did not care about the city. He went on to outline many contributions he and his wife have made to Fort Thomas.
He spoke about serving as the first homeowner on the board of the Military Commons Homeowners Association. He purchased and restored a home formerly belonging to Colonel Harry Clay Egbert, and said he and his wife were pleased to open up their home for tours during the sesquicentennial.
|Developer Robert Heil shares his thoughts on the controversy surrounding his zoning requests.|
He later noted that he is in the process of working with others to erect a statue in honor of the city’s namesake General George Henry Thomas that will be placed in front of the veteran’s hospital.
He joined the Fort Thomas Planning Commission in 1995, he said, before taking on the role of chair of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in 2015. "In the 20 years I served on the Planning Commission, I participated in five comprehensive plan updates and numerous visioning processes including the current one...When I drive through the Central Business District and the Midway Business District I am proud to have contributed to the vibrancy that it now has."
He went on to say there were inaccuracies stated publicly about his ownership of the site that once included the IGA and Hader Hardware stores. In 2001, he had been working with a group of Campbell County business leaders who were discussing development of a technology commercialization triangle to accommodate and attract new tech businesses to the area.
He said he decided to take a risk and purchase the property that had included the grocery and hardware store to turn it into an office building designed to attract new businesses.
"Someone at the last council meeting accused us of driving IGA and Hader Hardware out of business by tripling the rent. We were never the landlord for those businesses. The owner of the building was the Nash Finch Company in Minnesota, and those businesses had announced they were closing before we ever bought the building," he said.
His company, KLH Engineers moved into the building after it was renovated into office space. He acknowledged that a large part of the building stood empty for eight years and said that it was due to a glut in office space at the time. Today, he said his company has grown to include 120 employees and has added two businesses to the building, Omega Processing Solutions and RWI Transportation, the logistics arm of the Castellini Produce company.
Collectively, the businesses employ about 200 people, he said. He gave statistics on the amount of payroll and property tax generated at the site and added that the employees spend money in area restaurants and other service businesses in the community. Yet, he said, his listing of accomplishments was not designed to impress his neighbors.
"I share this to underscore the ugliness that has transpired over the past several months and why I decided to withdraw my plan...Right now I’m embarrassed for our city. The people looking at us from the outside look at us and see this ugliness and question who we are."
Looking ahead for opportunities for change and growth
Council Member Roger Peterman reminded those present that interest and concern about development and growth in Fort Thomas should not be restricted to the text amendment or any one particular development.
"Despite the things some people said about the south side of town not being a great place; it is a great place. It’s unique because it’s a United States highway. So in natural development over many years, it’s just going to be different and it needs attention. Fortunately there is a joint venture and a funding grant to do a whole US 27 corridor discovery involving multiple cities," he said.
"I think there is a real opportunity for a lot of this energy that’s present in the room here right now to be directed toward this effort, taking this unique place in Fort Thomas, the US 27 corridor, and…to make it a great place."
He urged citizens to stay involved. "Get involved in other things. There are a lot of opportunities. We don’t need that [involvement] just for one issue, but we need that overall."