Her NKY neighborhood’s urban farm was in danger. So this architect helped come up with a plan.
Melissa Baird moved to Covington’s Westside neighborhood in October 2020 just steps away from Orchard Park, a community garden.
The half-acre space, bursting with chickens, tomatoes and bees, drew Baird and her husband, Austin Zanella, to the neighborhood. It was even featured on their home’s Zillow webpage. Five months later, the city of Covington announced plans to seek developers to transform part of the space into single-family homes.
The gardeners weren’t happy. Seven years ago, they transformed the city-owned lot into the garden. They didn’t want to lose their space to newly constructed homes and condos.
Baird, a Covington-based architect with WorK Architecture + Design, had an idea. For a month and a half, she worked on a plan with a group of seven Northern Kentucky companies to save the garden and add homes to the block.
The group got an endorsement from the gardeners and submitted its plan to the city on May 4.
Creating the proposal
When Baird read about the city’s request for development proposals at her block’s beloved garden, she reached out to her friend, Joe Stevie, a Northern Kentucky developer with the Covington-based company Sparen Realty.
“I’m a neighbor so I want to see development in the neighborhood instead of vacant dilapidated buildings,” Baird said.
Stevie had been reading about the opportunity himself when Baird’s email pinged into his inbox.
Stevie and the companies created a plan to save the garden and add seven single-family homes — including a Habitat for Humanity home — and a nine-unit condominium to the block, according to the development application shared with The Enquirer.
They estimate the condos will be no more than $350,000 and the homes will be between $350,000 and $475,000.
“We want them to be affordable, and we want to get a wide variety of people living there,” Stevie said.
They were worried that omitting housing plans from the greenspace would hurt their chances of winning the contract, Baird said. That’s why they included the condominiums, Stevie said.
Stevie said he came up with the condominium idea to make up for not putting houses on the garden space. Those units would have an elevator and are meant to attract an older population who want to “age in place,” in Covington, Stevie said.
The plan estimated the development would create 75 construction jobs, up to 20 permanent jobs, and real estate valued at $4.8 million.
“Neighborhoods need housing, but they also need things that drive people to that neighborhood,” Baird said.
Aside from the housing, the development plan includes a dog park and two commercial spaces. One of those would be in the garden; The plan is to build a covered addition to a small historic structure and create a café.
The covered addition would have views of the park and lead onto an outdoor gathering space.
“This was the best compromise,” to add housing to the block and keep the garden as is, Baird said.
Community members sent a letter to endorse Baird’s group’s plan to Covington’s Neighborhood Services Director Ken Smith.
Janet Tobler, a community gardener organizer wrote in the letter that more than 200 Westside neighbors signed a petition to say they don’t want housing within Orchard Park’s perimeter.
“The architects and partners behind the proposal are trusted neighbors,” Tobler wrote. “Their mission is to positively impact ALL of the Westside community, and honor our unique, eclectic attitudes, while continuing to move us forward.”