City tosses rigid zoning code

New ‘form-based’ approach represents drastic change
in guiding land development
COVINGTON, Ky. - Good-bye, (and good riddance?) Zoning Ordinance. Hello (and a warm welcome), Neighborhood Development Code.

In a vote that seemed almost anticlimactic given the nearly two years of intense effort and widespread public engagement that led to this point, the Covington Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night approved a drastic overhaul in how the City will guide and regulate land development.

It’s a fundamental change in philosophy and approach whose impact will be felt in every project, ranging from a homeowner adding a porch to a developer building a subdivision to an entrepreneur locating a new business.

The Neighborhood Development Code - or NDC - replaces the City’s existing Zoning Ordinance, a rigid, one-size-fits-all document that was widely criticized for being frustrating, expensive, and time-consuming to navigate; and for failing to reflect the historic character of Covington’s architecture and neighborhoods, thus often blocking cohesive, desired development.

“This is a bold change that will lead to a brighter future for Covington,” said Christopher Myers, the City’s Historic Preservation Officer. “It will mean easier access, clearer standards, less red tape, and an appreciation for each of our diverse blocks, businesses, and neighborhoods - from the office towers overlooking the Ohio River to the more rural-looking areas of South Covington and everywhere between.”
The NDC will become effective Oct. 15, according to the Commission’s vote.
In the weeks ahead, the City will publish articles detailing the code; how developers, rehabbers and others can expect to interact with it; and its new governing infrastructure.
Mayor Joe Meyer said the public should expect a break-in period.
“When you have changes this big, there will always be adjustments that are required, so we’ll keep track of all this over the next several months, and after we’ve had some experiences, we will make any necessary changes,” Meyer said.
Right now, the NDC can be found on the project website, HERE.
The City hired Kendig Keast Collaborative, a nationally known land-use firm based in Texas with offices in Louisville, in November 2018 to guide the comprehensive rewrite. The consultant has been working closely with City staff, a 16-member steering committee, and hundreds of Covington citizens during an array of hearings, open houses, and “charrette” sessions since that time.
“I challenged Kendig Keast to help us create the ‘most user-friendly code in America,’ ” Economic Development Director Tom West said. “They might just have helped us earn that title.”
The “outgoing” Zoning Ordinance, adopted in 2006 and changed numerous times, separated Covington into parcels of land based on single, allowed “uses.” The new “form-based” or “character-based” development code focuses on how structures relate to the surrounding public realm i.e. the “character” of the neighborhood.
City Zoning Administrator Dalton Belcher said he began to see first-hand the flaws and unworkability of the old ordinance from the day he arrived in Covington a year ago, and said its restrictive approach worked against the city.
“The old ordinance renders some parts of Covington technically illegal and wraps red tape around the kinds of investment everyone wants to see: a homeowner adding a sensible addition, a legally established business adding cool signage, a novel business idea bringing jobs into Covington,” Belcher said. “We feel relief and pride knowing not only that this journey is nearing its culmination but also that we’ve been able to craft a code that will better serve the community and the city itself.”
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