New approach to zoning wins top statewide award

Honor reiterates what users say: NDC ‘easier to navigate’
COVINGTON, Ky. – Six months after the City of Covington completed a dramatic transformation of its approach to land use (i.e. “zoning”), a Cincinnati architect emailed the City’s Historic Preservation officer.
“I wanted to take a moment to say how much we, as architects, appreciate Covington’s Neighborhood Development Code,” the architect wrote. “We work on projects in many local cities, townships, and villages, and Covington’s code is by far the easiest to navigate, the best illustrated, and the most nuanced. I commend you and the team that put the code together – well done.”
The email’s message was – as they say – sweet music to City officials’ ears.
After decades of complaints about the City’s old Zoning Ordinance being counterproductive, rigid, confusing, and both unwieldy and costly to navigate, “user-friendly” was the best compliment they could receive.
Recently Covington officials received further affirmation – this time, a formal acknowledgement – of the new code’s ease, efficiency, and innovation: The American Planning Association’s Kentucky Chapter (APA-KY), gave the City its Special Merit Award for Outstanding Project/Program/Tool for the new NDC. The announcement came at the chapter’s (virtual) fall conference.
“We can tell from the feedback we get almost every day from developers, rehabbers, architects, and property owners that the nearly two years of work and thoughtful discussion the City and its many partners put into developing the NDC was worth it,” said Covington Regulatory Services Manager Christopher Myers. “To get official recognition from our peers is icing on the cake. Congratulations to the City staff, our consultant, and the many, many Covington residents and stakeholders who were involved in the effort.”
About the NDC
The City kicked off the transition to the NDC in November 2018 with the help of Kendig Keast Collaborative, a Texas-based zoning code development firm. With the help of a 16-member steering committee, which put in hundreds of hours of work, the firm worked with City staff to create a Covington-based set of guidelines and held 20 separate events at which it invited the public to give input. The Code was adopted in October 2020.
The NDC focuses on how a proposed development fits within the “character” or historical look of a property’s surroundings, as opposed to its former Zoning Ordinance, which adhered to a rigid set of rules.
The result is clearer standards; less red tape; an appreciation for diverse businesses, blocks and neighborhoods; and a code that recognizes the City’s landscape as it segues from office towers near the river to more rural settings in its south end.
“The NDC makes it easier to invest in all parts of our city, including our historic neighborhoods, which were largely developed before ‘zoning’ was a concept,” Myers said. “The NDC has made Covington even more competitive for drawing unique business ideas, building on our walkability, encouraging and supporting small businesses, and increasing options to attract and retain talent.”
In addition, the NDC has simplified and sped up the process for approval of zoning requests by enabling more issues and applications to be handled on the staff level. That has reduced the number of cases requiring formal hearings before the new Board of Architectural Review and Development. In fact, Myers said, the BOARD hasn’t even had to meet for a few months.  
(On a side note, the creation of that body last year was hailed as a major innovation in and of itself. It replaced two previous panels, the Board of Adjustment and Urban Design Review Board, that separately made decisions about historic design and zoning, often requiring applicants to bounce back and forth before those boards at separate meetings spread over multiple months.)
Previous releases about the NDC can be found HERE and HERE. The NDC can be accessed HERE.
About the APA-KY Awards
Each year, the American Planning Association Awards honor planning efforts, initiatives, and individuals working to make safer, stronger, and more just communities. The American Planning Association’s Kentucky Chapter brings together practitioners, planning officials, students, and interested citizens into a single and stronger community development forum. It’s dedicated to promoting planning statewide to enhance Kentucky’s quality of life.
The American Planning Association’s Kentucky Chapter can be accessed HERE.
# # #