The Kenton County Planning Commission approved three measures allowing for the development of townhouses on the former site of Willie’s Sports Cafe in Covington.
The measures were approved at a meeting Thursday night in the face of mixed opinions from people in the surrounding area.
The property is located on Crescent Avenue atop a hill overlooking the city. The land is mostly vacant with only a parking lot and the skeleton of Willie’s Sports Cafe, which closed in 2014, occupying the space.
Corporex purchased the land in 2017 and demolished the restaurant building the following year after other companies had unsuccessfully attempted to develop the plot.
Corporex hopes to build 25 townhomes divided between four buildings on the land. The area is designated as developmentally sensitive, meaning that factors might impede its successful development, although it doesn’t preclude development entirely.
Specifically, the land is located on a steep grade near a retaining wall, which presents problems for construction.
To that end, the developers and the architectural firm designing the houses, Reztark, requested a zoning change and variances on the buildings’ maximum allowed heights and the amount of space between the street and the fronts of the buildings.
“Generally, we want to maintain the grades as much as possible because it’s a developmentally sensitive area,” said Dean Lutton, an architect and principal from Reztark.
Staff members from the commission gave a presentation summarizing the development plans and the developer’s requests, all three of which staff recommended, saying that the desired changes did not affect the local area’s safety or general character.
Still, the projected height of one building in the development, which exceeded the maximum 35 feet allowed by local ordinance by four inches, took up most of the discussion among commissioners and local people who spoke out against the development.
Confusion arose among the commissioners about how the developers calculated the projected height of the building. The grading of the hill required them to engage in measurements and calculations that weren’t immediately clear to the commissioners. It didn’t help that the law that dictated the developers calculations was worded opaquely.
Commissioner Greg Sketch asked the staff member presenting the plans to explain how they calculated the building’s average height.
“The building height is to be measured as the vertical distance measured from the average elevation of the finished grade, adjoining the building at the front of the building to the average height level between eaves and ridges of the gable,” said the staff member.
“I’m an engineer, and I’m not sure I understood that,” Sketch replied, a response that elicited laughter from people in the room.
Following some discussion between staff and commissioners, public members were allowed to speak on their opinions of the development.
Several people from the neighboring houses expressed concerns over road safety, parking and the affect the development might have on their property values.
“There’s a lot of traffic on the street,” said Tony Carpinello who lives on Western Avenue opposite the development. “Parking is my main concern.”
“The main issues with me mostly is the height, the parking and the safety,” said Christine Gyftakis, “but also too our property value because a lot of our houses are old… and most of us bought it for the view.”
One resident’s criticism was more incisive.
“[Corporex doesn’t] take care of the site at all,” said Western Avenue resident Michael Curley. “It’s open to whoever. There’s graffiti everywhere. There’s vandalism from the people that they allow to be there.” Curley concluded by saying that Corporex should not be allowed to profit off such a neglected site.
Other residents thought differently, however.
George Hammerle, who attempted to gauge the height of the buildings by fashioning a measuring implement made of PVC pipe and a small bicycle flag, didn’t think the height of the town houses would be an issue. Plus, he believed that town houses would be one of the better kinds of development that could take place on the land.
“The site been an eyesore for a long time, and it sure beats a storage unit [one of the previous development attempts on the site]. So I would say I’m very much for it,” Hammerle said. “But also if it doesn’t get approved, and someone else moves in there, they might actually build higher.”
The planning commission’s treasurer, Philip Ryan, expressed his own support for the development, even though he acknowledged the critics’ concerns as well.
“Maybe the city can do something about restricting local residential parking or something of that nature,” Ryan said, “but it’s the best thing that’s come to that property thus far.”
The commission voted to approve the zoning change and the two variances. Residents can challenge the approval within 21 days of the commission’s ruling, at which point the matter will go before the Covington City Commission for more discussion.
The next Kenton County Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for July 6 but may be rescheduled due to its proximity to Independence Day. The commission will make any scheduling changes in the coming weeks.