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Monday, June 3, 2019

Design Review Board Approves Business District Proposal

After approval by the Fort Thomas Planning Commission, the developers presented a revised plan for their Central Business District development to the Design Review Board.

By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor

At its May meeting, the Fort Thomas Design Review Board unanimously approved the initial proposal for a new mixed-use development in the Central Business District (CBD). The proposal the developers call the Fort Thomas Town Center was approved by the Planning Commission on May 29.

The next day, Developer Rick Greiwe and M + A architect Sari Lehtinen shared a presentation on their project with the members of the Design Review Board, highlighting several changes that were made based on input by the community and by the members of the board.

The developers acknowledged that many of the design details that would be of most interest to the Design Review Board are still in development. The Board’s charge is to review the aesthetics of the project, such as the facades, signage, lighting, materials and other design aspects using design criteria and requirements developed by the city.

While the presentation they made was basically a reordering of the one they’d done the evening before, Greiwe and Lehtinen emphasized changes that were made to the exterior design of the building and addressed issues brought up by board members previously.

RELATED: Revamped Central Business District Proposal Approved by Planning Commission

Architect shares a few design changes

Lehtinen shared the major changes to the original proposal, most notably the scaling down of the mass overall by breaking the building into two, a three-story mixed-use building and a separate two-story commerce building that would house a full-service restaurant on the bottom floor with offices above.

The buildings would be separated by a 30-foot pedestrian pathway and garden space. She also again noted the landscaping, covered walkways, trellises and other design elements.

Among the revised features she also pointed to changes to the tower design and entry to the the residential gallery, a slightly lower roof line and some cuts to the length of the buildings as well as less residential garage spaces and a new configuration in the garage to accommodate Rumpke trash trucks.

She pointed to the tower in Tower Park as her inspiration for the tower design that will sit near the corner of North Fort Thomas and Highland avenues. As previously presented, the developers plan a plaza and seating area on that corner with a tower-like feature. Lehtinen says the corner tower will be bumped out a bit more than previously presented and include more glass. It will taper as it goes up to upper floors.

The entrance may also be bumped out with the goal of making it more prominent and visible as the main entrance to the project, she said.

As he did at the Planning Commission meeting, Greiwe spoke at length to changes to the garage entrance, although it remains facing Woodland Place and remains a point of concern and contention for residents nearby.

He explained that with less residents, there will be less cars, and this allowed the architects to move the building back about five feet to allow more room for the truck to back into the space and not block the street during trash pick up. A 24-foot curb cut will allow the truck driver room to turn without affecting parking on the street.

Design Board has more input during phase two

After the presentation, several Design Review Board members acknowledged the developers’ efforts to modify the project based on ideas and suggestions they provided, but said much of the their input will come leading up to and during phase two of the development.

They asked questions about some of the materials that might be used, the size of proposed planters in public areas and the potential valet parking and loading zone in front of the restaurant.

City Zoning Administrator Kevin Barbian said the city is in the process of reviewing all the parking space in the Central Business District, which may include valet parking.

Board member Jeff Sackenheim's comments reflected many of the same sentiments expressed by his colleagues. "I was probably one of the more critical people up here the last time... I appreciate the fact that you guys listened to people and made some revisions from what we saw a month ago for what we saw today. From my perspective, I think it's improved the quality significantly..."

He went on to say that much of what the board would want to review is not yet available at this point. The board will concern itself with all the design details from the brick and stone work to the type of outdoor canopy.

"When we think about next step from my perspective relative to this presentation...seeing actual samples of materials, all that ultimately needs to come back here so tonight we cannot consider anything but the main idea and that has improved a lot," he said.

The Design Review Board meets the fourth Thursday of the month at 6:00 p.m. The members are resident volunteers, appointed by the mayor. The members include:  Lori Wendling, Chairman, Chris Manning, Vice Chair, Barry Petracco, Secretary, Pat Hagerty, Barb Thomas, Mark Thurnauer, and Sackenheim.

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