Sunday, October 3, 2004

Zoning disputes question Campbell County custom

By Mike Rutledge
Enquirer staff writer

Lawsuits filed against Cold Spring and Fort Thomas could affect zoning across Campbell County, if the zoning commissions of eight cities are found to be invalid.

Here are the eight Campbell County cities that operate independent planning commissions:
•  Alexandria
•  Bellevue
•  Cold Spring
•  Dayton
•  Fort Thomas
•  Highland Heights
•  Newport
•  Wilder
Here are the five cities that operate within the Campbell County and
Municipal Planning and Zoning Commission:
•  Crestview
•  Melbourne
•  Silver Grove
•  Southgate
•  Woodlawn
Here are the two cities that don't have planning and zoning commissions, those duties instead handled by their city councils:
•  California
•  Mentor
The lawsuits also could jeopardize zoning regulations in Alexandria, Newport and other cities. They were filed separately by Allen Rizzo and Fischer Homes, who don't agree on everything. After all, Rizzo has sued twice over a proposed Fischer subdivision in Cold Spring.

But Fischer and Rizzo do agree that Kentucky law bars the county from having the nine separate planning and zoning commissions now operating there.

"This could have huge implications for Campbell County," said Peter Klear, the county's director of planning and zoning. "This really has the ability to reshape how development can occur in the county."

•  Rizzo, a Cold Spring resident, has sued his city over Fischer's proposed 547-unit Granite Spring development south of Bunning Lane. Rizzo contends the Cold Spring Planning and Zoning Commission lacked authority to consider the project, because under state law, it should have disbanded decades ago, when the Campbell County and Municipal Planning and Zoning Commission was created.

"It would be as if I got six of my friends and got a gavel, and called myself the citizens' planning and zoning, and I started taking arbitrary actions against you and your property," Rizzo said. "You would very clearly see what's wrong with that. Well, that is in effect what Cold Spring, Fort Thomas and Highland Heights are doing."

•  Fischer, meanwhile, has filed another Campbell Circuit Court lawsuit over the 116-home Villa Grande of Fort Thomas subdivision that it wants to build, with average house prices of $430,000.

The Fort Thomas Planning Commission rejected that subdivision plan, and Fischer sued, arguing the commission's actions "were illegal and by operation of law, null and void," because city planning panels should have given way to the overall Campbell County panel.

"I'd love to talk to you, but I can't," said Fort Thomas Administrative Officer Jeff Earlywine. "It's pending litigation and would do nothing to improve our status in court. I can't discuss that."

Klear said each lawsuit could affect anywhere from one to eight of the cities now operating independently - possibly forcing coordination of the county's regulations with those of the cities.

Even if Rizzo and Fischer are correct that the city panels are invalid, that doesn't mean the panels would go away. Past lawsuits have been settled out of court, or were decided based on other issues.

"I know that this question has been before the Campbell County courts no less than six times in the last 15 years, and never once has it been answered," Rizzo said.

The most dramatic change could come if the courts would invalidate all eight cities' panels. If that would happen, "and then the judge says either we have to dissolve it and you have to join (the county), or you have to dissolve it and there's nothing, that's huge," Klear said.

"The county's position is that the Campbell County Municipal Planning Commission is a legitimate body," Klear said. But: "As far as individual cities, that's something that probably the court system is going to have to decide."

The wording of Kentucky's 1960s law indicates the cities should have disbanded their own planning, but Klear said he finds it hard to believe that's what was intended. "It does not seem right for state law to say, 'Look, because the county and one city get together, they are going to take precedence' " over existing panels in the other cities, he said. "I don't know if that was the intent or not."

Rizzo, general manager of BB Riverboats in Covington, who estimates he has spent 500 hours researching the law in the past 11/2 years, said he decided to challenge the legality of the city's planning and zoning commission after a conversation he had with City Attorney Brandon Voelker in a parking lot after a city meeting.

"I said to him, 'You know, Brandon, there are people that say that Planning & Zoning has no right to exist in Cold Spring,' " Rizzo said. "And he said, 'You know, that's the problem this city has. If they don't do what the large developers want, they'll get sued ... and they'll have their planning and zoning declared null and void.' "

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