Fort Thomas committee discusses board ordinances amid lawsuit, questions over member approval

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The Fort Thomas City Council’s Law Labor and License Committee met Wednesday to discuss an ongoing review of city ordinances. The discussion came amid a lawsuit over the request to paint a building on Fort Thomas Avenue and a question of who should approve those who serve on boards and commissions.

The meeting focused on sections of city ordinance Chapter 36 pertaining city boards and commissions.

Based on staff recommendations, City Administrator Matt Kremer presented proposed changes to some of the ordinance language associated with the Planning and Zoning Commission, Board of Adjustments and the Design Review Board.

The committee, comprised of council members Andy Ellison (chair), Adam Blau and Ben Pendery, discussed the suggested changes, rejecting some and making additional changes and clarifications.

For the most part, the committee was in agreement with the language changes proposed by the staff as well as changes and additions proposed by their fellow committee members.

However, a change in make up of the boards and commissions became a sticking point within the committee.

Residents only

Blau proposed, and Ellison agreed, that all three boards should require that members must be city residents. Ellison suggested the ordinances use language similar to that of the Fort Thomas school district, defining “resident” as someone who owns or leases residential property and sleeps within the city of Fort Thomas.

A number of residents had reached out to him on this point, Blau said, asking that residency be a criteria for board membership.

Pendery said he agreed that boards should be made up of city residents, but he was concerned that by adding the restriction to the ordinances it could hamper future decisions.

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“My position is not about prioritizing non-residents over residents on our city’s boards and commissions,” Pendery said. “In fact, it’s just the opposite. I prefer to have residents in these positions, as I think many in the community do. What I want to avoid, however, is the city not having the opportunity to nominate an individual for one of these positions because they do not live in town. I don’t believe in tightening ordinances to the point where we paint ourselves into a corner, as there will be circumstances when non-residents will need to be considered, whether or not you believe they should.”

As result of his concern, Pendery ended up voting against the committee’s recommendations for the ordinances, so they passed 2 to 1. He was quick to say that the residency requirement was the only sticking point but an important one to him.

“There are business-owners in town who have poured their money, time, sweat and tears into our community but live outside the city limits,” Pendery said. “It’s my opinion that the mayor should be able to nominate these people based on their merit, particularly if similarly-qualified resident candidates don’t apply. Council is charged with approving or denying these appointments and not with hampering the city’s ability to cast a wide net to recommend a quality nominee in the first place.”

More changes

Most other changes to the ordinances were clarifications bringing the language closer to that of related state ordinances. Kremer noted that there is specific KRS language regarding membership and duties of Planning and Zoning commissions and the Boards of Adjustment.

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The city’s Design Review Board, which reviews architectural and design issues within the Central Business District, is not required or regulated by the state. It is a board created by and for the city of Fort Thomas. This gives the city a little more leeway concerning the make up and duties of that board.

General Services Director Kevin Barbian noted the city is considering expanding the scope of the Design Review Board to include other commercial areas of the city. For example, there are no parameters for signage for apartment buildings, so the board could provide guidance if its jurisdiction was expanded. With this in mind, a change in the Design Review Board allows Barbian and city staff to take care of minor design issues, such as the removal of a tree or adding a light fixture, that currently go to the board for review.

In the committee’s recommendation, all three boards would require members to be residents and would include a definition of residency.

Language in the ordinance for the Planning Commission had some dated requirements the city does not follow. The current ordinance requires the mayor or member of city council and the city engineer to be on the Planning Commission. The new language eliminates this requirement. All seven members of the commission would be city residents and not city officials or staff.

The language concerning the Board of Adjustment remained unchanged except for the residency requirement. The current ordinance mentions reimbursement for expenses. The proposal removes that statement.

The number of members on the Design Review Board would change from an even number (six currently) to five. The current language lays out specific requirements for a certain number of members to be experts in specific fields (such as two with architectural experience, two with interior design, etc.). The new language would not require a numerical formula and would broaden out the various types of expertise.

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The staff suggestion was “All members shall have a demonstrated interest or experience in architecture, design, real estate, historic preservation or a similar profession…” Ellison suggested adding the fields of restoration and construction to that list, and the committee agreed.

The committee will make its recommendation at the upcoming council meeting. Kremer suggested Pendery bring up his concerns about the residency requirements at the meeting to have a full discussion with council before a vote.

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