SOUTHGATE, Ky – Southgate City Council unanimously approved a zone change to allow developers to transform the former Beverly Hills Supper Club on Wednesday night.
In May, the city partnered withEdgewood, Ky. Based construction firm Ashley Builders and Cincinnati-based Vision Realty Group agree to develop the land into a $ 65 million mixed-use development that will include an assisted living facility, apartments , houses – and a permanent memorial to the victims of the supper club fire in 1977.
The Campbell County Zoning Commission approved the necessary change. It was up to the city council to finalize the approval.
The approval came amid controversy as lawyers for the families of the fire victims tried to challenge the legality of parts of the project. Families hired lawyers who told city officials that construction should be banned on some project land – because they said it was a cemetery, according to emails the lawyer said. Stephen Megerle provided The Enquirer.
“It almost seems sacred,” said Robin Thornhill, a resident of Delhi township. “Obviously there are still pieces of people there. ”
According to Kentucky law, cities in Kentucky are supposed to prevent cemeteries from being used for things like parks, athletic fields, construction sites, and other structures. But, the definition of a cemetery can be broad.
Southgate City Attorney Mary Ann Stewart and Mayor Jim Hamberg did not respond to The Enquirer’s request for comment on the claim.
Thornhill, 48, was 5 when his father, three aunts and an unborn cousin died the night of the blaze that left 165 people dead and more than 200 injured.
When she learned the land could be developed, Thornhill joined the Beverly Hills Respect The Dead group, a group made up of families of fire victims. The group hired Megerle and attorney Todd McMurtry to represent their concerns and hopes for the land.
The community gathers to discuss
On Wednesday, dozens of community members and residents gathered at the Southgate Community Center to both support and oppose the project moving forward as planned.
“My clients are not opposed to the change of area or the development of the site,” Megerle said during the meeting. They wanted the land to be surveyed for human remains and a memorial built on top of the hill where the fire took place.
Tammy Nolan, founder of Beverly Hills Respect The Dead, read the names of the victims’ family members. They stood up one by one and wrote the name of their group in white letters on their black shirts and masks.
Dozens of family members of the victims and community members shared their thoughts on the proposed development. They agreed that the project could be good for the city. They disagreed on where the memorial in honor of the victims of the fire should go.
The developers want to put a memorial in honor of the victims of the fire along the US 27. But the members of the group want it where the cabaret room once stood, at the top of the hill, where many victims died.
“Go ahead and build it, but I want a memorial on the hill where my family members died,” Thornhill said, choking back tears.
Another commenter said the group was prohibited from telling developers where to place the memorial. He preferred it to the proposed location at the bottom of the hill so people could see it when they drove by.
A handful of speakers said the project should go ahead because it was better than stores such as Lowe’s and Walmart using the land.
“We intend to continue to work with a group of survivors and family members of the victims as well as Southgate Town officials on a memorial planning committee,” the developers said in a statement. Press release.
The cemetery dilemma
The group is concerned about the grassy terrain where the club’s cabaret hall once stood. This room is where many people died in the blaze, Megerle said.
Families of the fire victims have asked developers to survey the land to see if any human bodies remain. The developers plan to set up a private park there and claim that the investigation is not necessary.
The developers told The Enquirer in an emailed statement that there are “numerous records which verify and indicate that all the deceased have been counted and all the remains have been removed and examined by the coroner.”
A descendant, Leslie Henry, of Wilder, wrote in an affidavit given to The Enquirer that only her mother’s torso was recovered from the debris.
“I believe her remains are buried at the site of the Beverly Hills Supper Club, most likely in the area of the cabaret hall where she worked so hard for my siblings and I to have better lives,” Wilder wrote. .
At Wednesday’s meeting, Henry pleaded for a compromise for the “graveyard that the earth has become.”
Developer attorney Sarah Houseman said in an email obtained by The Enquirer in a previous article that developers would stop construction in an area if human remains were found. Work would stop until the body could be “properly buried,” Houseman wrote.
Megerle wrote the city a letter saying the area should be considered a cemetery, which would prohibit the construction of a park under Kentucky law, according to documents Megerle shared with The Enquirer.
The legal definition of a cemetery is broad, so Megerle is prepared to seek an injunction on the project from the Campbell County Circuit Court. A judge would then decide if a park could be built there.
Two competing memorial ideas
The area of land where the cabaret hall was located is also part of the dispute over the location of the memorial in honor of the victims of the fire. The developers plan to put a memorial alongside US 27. But those affected by the fire want it where the fire took place.
Recently, the developers agreed to allow those “directly affected” by the fire to access the park on the anniversary of the tragedy and at other times with the consent of the owners association, according to a report. release from the developers.
The descendants of the victims of the fire do not want their access to depend on the association of owners.
How did we get here?
In May, Southgate City Council reached a joint deal with the developers to redevelop the land.
The land was not zoned for the proposed project. The developers had to show why the site had to move from professional office use to a combination of living and general commerce.
In July, the Campbell County Zoning Commission, which is reviewing plans like this for towns in the county, unanimously approved the zoning change.
The six-member Southgate City Council had the final say on making the change happen.
What’s next for Memorial Point?
Construction on the $ 65 million redevelopment project is expected to begin in fall 2021.
He will understand :
- 89 single family homes with two to four bedrooms that will be offered from the upper range of $ 300,000.
- 100 to 200 apartments that will cost $ 1,100 to $ 2,000 per month with amenities that include a swimming pool, indoor exercise area and event center.
- Up to 90 residential units in a for-profit assisted living facility that will cost between $ 3,000 and $ 6,000 per month.
- A memorial to remember the lives lost in the deadly fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club.
Julia is the Northern Kentucky government reporter for the Report For America program. Anonymous donors have pledged to cover the local donor portion of his position funded by grants to The Enquirer. If you would like to support Julia’s work, you can donate to her Report For America post. on this site or email his editor Carl Weiser at [email protected] to find out how you can help fund his work.
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