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Friday, November 22, 2019

City Council Roundup: Project Completions, Zoning Amendment, New Firefighter/Paramedic

Fort Thomas City Building

 By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor 

The November meeting of Fort Thomas City Council was brief and highlighted ongoing street repair and related work, much of which is coming to completion as the colder weather and holidays move in.

City Administrator Ron Dill reported that the resurfacing of the tennis courts at Tower Park has been completed. The job was done by Tennis Technology, Inc. Lines for pickle ball have been repainted onto the courts so all is ready for the spring sports season.

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The city’s street resurfacing program is also well underway and work on streets behind Woodfill Elementary School is expected to be completed before the end of this month. The streets in the program include Fairview Place, Grant Street, North Fort Thomas Avenue, Ohio Avenue, Ridgeway Avenue, Sheridan Avenue, Sherman Avenue and Vernon Lane (east, west and south).

Repairs to Memorial Parkway have been completed by the state. Although it was not a city project, the city and residents have been concerned about issues on the street with drainage and damage from storms and ice issues.

RELATED: Work to begin on Memorial Parkway 

Dill also reported good news on recent events. The annual Jack-o-Lantern Walk went very well, he said, with 2,937 people participating. This year, due to construction at Johnson Elementary, the event included space to host Johnson’s fundraiser Hullabaloo Festival, which Dill says also had a very good turnout. Dill reminded council the annual Holiday Walk is coming soon, on December 1.

Fire Service and Police Reports

The city council welcomed new Firefighter/Paramedic Adam Hinkel, who was introduced by Chief Mark Bailey. Hinkel received his badge at the meeting, which also marked his first official day of work.

RELATED: Fort Thomas Welcomes New Firefighter/Paramedic

Bailey also reported on a very successful Fire Safety Month in October. Events included 39 public safety classes, a poster contest and the first ever Firefighter for a Day.

RELATED: Fire Department Looks Back at a Successful Fire Prevention Month

Sergeant Adam Noe gave the Police Report and said the department is preparing for the transition in leadership.

“As most of you know, Chief Casey Kilgore is going to retire at the end of the month. I’d just like to personally thank him for the time I got to work with him. He’s been a great leader for us, and he’s definitely going to be missed.” said Noe.

He also reported that recruit Will Martin is doing well in the academy and is on track to graduate in February. Officer Joe Paolucci is also expected back shortly. Lieutenant Brent Moening has stepped up to serve as interim chief.

RELATED: Fort Thomas Police Chief Casey Kilgore to Retire 

Two ordinances pass

Council member David Cameron, chair of the Law, Labor and License Committee reported that work on the development of a Fairness Ordinance is ongoing. City Attorney Jann Seidenfaden has been working on the details.

“Generally, the framework of the ordinance is in place and is agreeable to the committee, however, there are still two or three issues outstanding that we need to research and discuss. Hopefully, we will have the first reading at the next council meeting,” Cameron reported.

Two ordinances were up for a second reading and vote. An ordinance establishing a nonexclusive franchise for the use of public streets, alleys and other public grounds by television, telephone and internet systems or providers within the city passed unanimously without comment.

A second ordinance sparked discussion. The ordinance is an amendment to the permitted uses within the General Commercial (GC) Zone. The Planning Commission recommended passage of the amendment that would add churches and places of worship to the permitted uses in the zone if they are adjacent to an arterial street.

The amendment came at the request of a church that is leasing event space at the Fort Thomas Antiques Center. Because it is subleasing from the Center that in turn leases from the Fort Thomas Plaza, it is currently permitted and there are no tax implications. The church rents space for its worship services through the event space. Yet, if that space were no longer available, the church cannot lease the space directly. The change in the zoning would allow the church to be able to do so as a permitted use.

Council member Ken Bowman said he had concerns about the loss of tax revenue, as well as the loss of space for retail businesses, not just in the Fort Thomas Plaza, but in any of the other GC zones throughout the city.

He read a prepared statement praising the work of Planning and Zoning, but said the city council’s role is to consider the Planning commission’s professional recommendation but to provide additional input and exploration as necessary.

"I’m not advocating against the current system or churches in general but feel that commercial is commercial, and our zoning regulations are in place for good reason. Commercial zones should be just that – commercial zones. I take these decisions very seriously and feel a responsibility to consider thoroughly both the immediate and future consequences both intended and unintended."

While church officials have said they have no intention of purchasing the property, it could allow for such a purchase. Bowman was concerned about the loss of taxes for the city if a large nonprofit entity were to buy property in the GC zones, removing it from the property tax rolls. He also outlined other concerns including the ability to attract a proposed hotel to the area or other retail businesses should nonprofits take over the plaza or other large retail spaces.

Bowman did note, however, that nonprofit philanthropic clubs, such as the YWCA, already are permitted within the GC Zone but his concern was if larger churches or nonprofit entities were to buy up space in GC Zones across the city that would normally attract retailers and add to local tax revenue.

Council member Roger Peterman pointed to other permitted uses already in the zone that could be run by nonprofits and have the same tax implications. The discussion continued and covered issues of payroll tax, the relationship between nonprofit spaces and retail spaces. Peterman said he could not speculate on future uses but did not see that the amendment would change the situation as it now stood.

The vote was called and the amendment passed five to one.

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