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Bellevue development code misses with fuel center, looks for hits with Harbor Greene and TIF

Walkability a big priority for city
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Posted at 12:00 PM, Mar 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-08 09:51:05-05

BELLEVUE, Ky. -- For communities like Bellevue, a 1-square-mile riverfront city home to 6,000, walkability is major.

As national trends reflect a massive urban influx, Bellevue officials are doubling down in support of a form-based development code that prioritizes pedestrian-friendly spaces.

One big goal is smart renovation of the long-underutilized shopping centers at Riviera Drive and Donnermeyer Avenue. In 2014, Bellevue planners compiled renderings to demonstrate the area’s potential. Now, the conversation is gaining new life as the city moves to purchase undeveloped property at Harbor Greene that could connect the riverfront Port of Bellevue with a newly identified area for targeted improvements in the heart of the city.

“(Donnermeyer and Riviera) is the only part of Bellevue that doesn’t look like Bellevue,” said assistant city administrator Jody Robinson, who was part of the 2014 decision to halt plans for a Bellevue Kroger fuel center. The city wanted a street-facing convenience store design in keeping with the form-based code; Kroger proposed a recessed kiosk similar to the one at Newport Pavilion. Plans fell through when the two parties failed to reach an agreement.

Mixed reactions continue to swirl around that decision. Critics of the code think the city should have given Kroger more leeway and prioritized immediate growth over long-term goals. Proponents argue that Kroger should have tried harder to comply with Bellevue’s vision -- especially since the grocery chain has adjusted designs in the past to suit individual neighborhoods.

"Kroger was unable to obtain the required approvals despite making many changes to our fuel center plans in an effort to conform to the requirements of the city's form-based zoning code," Kroger representative Patty Leesemann said. “We were disappointed with the outcome, having recently completed a $5 million remodel of our Bellevue store to better serve our customers,” 

Still other residents believe, wrongly, that Bellevue blocked the deal over issues with putting a gas station in that location.

“We weren’t as concerned with the type of business as we were with the type of building they wanted to put there,” said city councilman Ryan Salzman, explaining that Kroger’s proposed kiosk would have also limited future use of the space.

“We have to think about what happens after a company leaves the neighborhood -- and they always do, even if it’s after 100 years,” said Salzman. “It would be difficult for someone later to move into that kiosk and hope to begin operating a new business quickly.”

For now, that conversation is over. But with major developments ready to unfold at the riverfront Harbor Greene and within the newly identified Tax Increment Financing district, city officials are more committed than ever to upholding their long-term vision for Bellevue.

“We now have a huge opportunity to focus on Riviera Drive and make it the connection it needs to be from the riverfront to the rest of Bellevue,” said Robinson.

In February, the city settled its decade-long dispute with the Ackermann Group over the undeveloped property at Harbor Greene and made a $500,000 down payment toward purchasing the site for $2.9 million. Details are currently being finalized, and once the sale is complete, the city will seek bids from prospective developers.

“This will be a fast-moving project,” said Salzman. “The public engagement will be starting in the next few weeks, and the property should be sold within the year.”

Conversations over what will go into the riverfront space have not begun in earnest, but both Salzman and Robinson confirmed that those decisions will be based on public meetings and residential feedback.

Elsewhere, a TIF district, outlined in Exhibit A of the city’s plan, was implemented last year in hopes of driving improvements and development projects to commercial areas beyond the city’s main Fairfield Avenue thoroughfare.

Here’s how a TIF works: Portions of tax revenue from property value increases within the district are funneled directly back into that defined area through improvements and new developments. Other local TIF districts include Newport Pavilion, Dayton’s Manhattan Harbor and most of downtown Covington.

Some Bellevue residents have opposed the plan, fearing the ordinance would categorize certain properties as blighted, thus exposing them to eminent domain. City officials offer as reassurance the TIF’s ability to capture funds and, in something of a pretzel effect, use them to fund hyper-local improvements designed to raise property value and encourage growth.

“Opponents of the TIF who fear eminent domain have been lied to in that regard,” said Salzman. “In some ways, the lie was comforting. It gave them something to fight.”

Bellevue’s vision for the TIF ties in with its overarching goal of becoming a more prosperous, engaged and more walkable city, but officials stress a need for taking the long view and managing that growth as it comes.

“It’s my job to make sure that residents in a hundred years don’t look back and see 2017 as the year that we messed it all up,” said Salzman. “I’m foreseeing a pretty quiet 2017. There are no major policy disputes and nothing more to do besides get together as a community and envision how we want these projects to be. That’s a really good thing.”