City to rewrite ‘unworkable’ zoning code

Covington's current Zoning Ordinance divides the City into acceptable land "uses."

COVINGTON, Ky. - Navigating the City of Covington’s Zoning Ordinance is not for the faint of heart.

Employing a fundamental one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t honor Covington’s historic, urban fabric and hasn’t kept pace with the evolution of the city - or new concepts like Airbnb, Tiny Houses or Rideshare services - the existing code is unwieldy, outdated, and frustrating to developers, investors, and residents who interact with it.
The result has been decades’ worth of applications for variances, conditional use permitting, text amendments, and map amendments - all costly and time-consuming attempts to carve out exceptions to accommodate modern land-use goals and developmental needs.
“Our zoning code is basically unworkable,” Covington Economic Development Director Tom West said. “It’s not up to date with current property uses, it’s not getting us the development and investment we want, there’s too much red tape and too many hoops to jump through, and it doesn’t foster innovation.”
Rather than make a voluminous number of edits and changes that wouldn’t address the core problem with the code, the City is starting over.
Tonight, the Covington City Commission voted 5-0 to hire Kendig Keast Collaborative - a nationally renowned zoning code development firm based in Sugarland, Texas - for up to $220,000 to do a comprehensive rewrite of Covington’s Zoning Ordinance.
The process will take about 18 months, so the cost spans two budget cycles: $100,000 has already been set aside in the current budget, and $120,000 will be set aside in next year’s budget.
Kendig Keast was one of five firms from across the country to respond to a request for bids issued in April.
The team includes Dover, Kohl & Partners from Coral Gables, Fla., and Thomason & Associates from Nashville. Its fee also includes the license to a unique and proprietary web-based platform to be used in the development of the code, West said. The platform makes code revisions more efficient and easier to update.
The process will include many opportunities for public input.
“Given the magnitude of this project and the wide-ranging impact of this work, we want to get this right,” West said.
The City’s current Zoning Ordinance was adopted in 2006 and has undergone numerous piecemeal revisions. Two years ago, a consultant completed a “zoning code diagnostic” that identified the huge gap between the existing regulations and the City’s development needs.
A dense and detailed encyclopedic entry could be written about zoning codes, and most of it would sound like technical mumbo-jumbo to the average resident.
But the simple explanation, West said, is that the current code is a Euclidean-based code (named after the town in Ohio that was the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case) that separates the city into parcels of land based on single, allowed “uses” ... whereas the new code will be a “form-based” or “character-based” development code that focuses on how structures relate to the surrounding public realm i.e. the “character” of the neighborhood.
The new code will also incorporate historic preservation principles and goals that are critical given Covington’s hundreds of historic commercial and residential structures.
“It will help us better identify and prescribe opportunities for adaptive reuse, infill, and redevelopment in neighborhoods that fit the community’s and the City’s goals, rather than throw up obstacles and delays,” West said.
“It will cut down on red tape and expense, make development and property investment more efficient, and improve the overall look and function of our community for future generations.”
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