Mac’s Pizza Pub to provide free electric vehicle recharging station

Mac’s Pizza Pub in Clifton Heights will become the region’s first restaurant to offer customers a free charging station for their electric vehicles. The move comes as owner Mac Ryan attempts to make the popular uptown restaurant as environmentally friendly as possible. More from the Cincinnati Enquirer:

There’s a parking space next to the patio where you can pull in your electric car and plug in to his dedicated circuit while you go in an have a Macover or a pizza…Owner Mac Ryan uses a Chevrolet Volt for all the restaurant’s delivery and catering business. That’s one of several electric cars that have come to the market recently: the Nissan Leaf is another, and local company AMP has retrofitted jeeps into electric vehicles.

Community summit to focus on neighborhood successes in San Diego

Little Italy in San Diego was like countless other neighborhoods that shared the story of disinvestment, blight and neglect as center city’s population dwindled after World War II. Yet something began to happen in the 1990’s that helped transform the struggling community, one of about 14 Italian-American communities in existence throughout the United States today.

The progressive turnaround of Little Italy, and the community support that helped revitalize it, will be the focus of the second session in an ongoing series called Sustainable Hamilton County: Reinventing Our Communities.

The series is a partnership between the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission, Community Development Corporation Association of Greater Cincinnati (CDCAGC), OKI Regional Council of Governments, Agenda 360, Duke Energy and the Ohio chapter of the American Planning Association, among many others.

San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood has been transformed, in part due to the San Diego Trolley, and is seen as a model for success. Photograph courtesy of LA Wad.

“There are always many possible new ideas and presenters and best practices,” stated Patricia Garry, Executive Director of CDCAGC. “[Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission Senior Planner] Catalina saw a presentation on Little Italy and was very impressed, and thought our neighborhoods and first ring suburbs needed to hear this info.”

The session will feature Marco Li Mandri who helped spearhead the revitalization of the Little Italy neighborhood. Li Mandri is the current president of San Diego-based New City America and helped advance legislation that enabled Community Benefits Districts, which have immensely helped the neighborhood.

In San Diego’s case, a Community Benefits District (CBD) is a public-private partnership that focuses on land uses within a particular area. The CBD can be responsible for things such as an ambassadorship program, street cleaning, visitor information and other services normally handled by the municipality. Similar to Cincinnati’s Special Improvement District downtown that has led to its ambassadorship program, CBD’s are able to expand on basic services without increasing the overall tax burden on the city.

The results have paid off as Little Italy was designated a Preserve America Neighborhood in 2007. The community also received a Smart Growth Award from the Urban Land Institute in 2010.

Those interested in learning more about San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood, and how its successes might translate to the health of Cincinnati’s many neighborhoods and inner ring suburbs, can attend the event this Friday, June 1. The Sustainable Hamilton County: Reinventing Our Communities summit will be held at the Drake Center (map) from 8am to 12pm. The Drake Center is served by Metro’s #78 bus line.

Ongoing demolitions threaten downtown historic districts

With new businesses and the Smale Riverfront Park opening last week, it seems that downtown is finally becoming the place to live, work and play city leaders have long envisioned. Unfortunately, despite the many signs of progress, some of downtown’s distinct historic fabric continues to be threatened by the wrecking ball.

Last year, the owner of 309 W. Fifth Street demolished a building next to Mainstay Rock Bar in favor of a parking lot. Now the neighboring building, which was meant to be served by this new parking lot, has been demolished in spite of opposition from the city’s Historic Conservation Board.

Not only was the demolition opposed by the Historic Conservation Board, but it was also opposed by Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA). The reason the demolition is allowed to move forward, however, is due to a successful appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which stated that the justification for the tear down was economic hardship.

The use of “economic hardship” as a justification for the demolition of historic structures is a common one, according to local preservationists.

The demolition of 305 W. Fifth Street made way for a parking lot, and this exposed wall that was later turned into a mural. Photograph courtesy of 5chw4r7z.

“CPA and many other advocates spoke out against the demolition because the building is contributing, and is a significant structure with development potential,” stated Margo Warminski, Preservation Director of CPA. “The building next door is under renovation, and there are already two vacant lots on the block.”

Warminski says that 305-309 W Fifth Street LLC, claimed the building’s poor condition and costly repairs made it not viable for office use. She also stated that other potential uses, like residential apartments, were not explored in great depth by the owner. It is expected that the LLC owning the property will soon apply for a variance that would allow the construction a landscaped surface parking lot in the historic building’s place.

According to preservationists, the problem with tearing down this structure goes beyond the immediate loss of the historic building. The demolished building shares a common wall with the neighboring building which is currently being renovated, and engineers and insurance agents are already assessing the potential damage the demolition may have caused to the neighboring building.

Similar Story on Main Street
Five blocks east, on Main Street, the former Bay Horse Café building faces demolition under similar circumstances. Situated in the Main Street Historic District, the demolition permit must first be reviewed by the Historic Conservation Board and if denied could be appealed to the Zoning Board of Appeals. A meeting date has yet to be set for the demolition proposal.

The building owner of the Horse Bay Café building says that trucks loading and unloading equipment sometimes hit and damage the building, and thus needs to be demolished. Evidence of this can be seen from the partially damaged storefront cornice, but an independent site analysis, performed by UrbanCincy, found that a wider alley accessible off from Sixth Street is commonly blocked by parked cars. Should the parked cars be prevented from blocking the alley, it could serve as an easy remedy to the problem and would avoid demolition of yet another historic building within a historic district.

Despite these recent setbacks, Warminski is optimistic because the city’s preservation ordinance is currently being revised and strengthened. The revised ordinance, Warminski claims, will include stricter criteria when using “economic hardship” as the case for demolition.

Private options, such as OTR ADOPT may not work in downtown because of high property values, but getting information out on vacant and distressed downtown property may help potential buyers looking for historic renovation projects. A strategy being pursued in Philadelphia is similar to OTR ADOPT, and aspires to help transfer property from owners who want to demolish to owners who want to restore. But ultimately, it may come down to a more engaged public, and more preservation-minded city staff.

“Get the facts, turn out, speak up, and share information in a timely manner,” Warminski exclaimed when asked what people can do to help prevent additional demolitions of historic buildings. “When controversial issues come up it’s important to show City boards that people are interested and are following what is going on.”

Taft High School in West End achieves LEED Platinum certification

The Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School is the first Ohio high school to achieve LEED Platinum certification. The certification results from the building’s many environmentally-friendly features and its location in a dense urban neighborhood. More from Building Cincinnati:

Green features include one of the region’s largest green roofs, funded in partnership with the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati. The building also boasts exterior sunshades, a high-efficiency “active chilled beam” HVAC system, and water-saving appliances and fixtures.

New York City attracting more tech startups

More tech startups are choosing to locate in New York City rather than Silicon Valley. The abundance of available software engineers, many formerly employed by the finance industry, combined with smart urban planning and proximity to other tech companies make New York a desirable place to form a startup. More from Mashable:

[Brad Hargreaves, founding partner of startup co-working space General Assembly] believes that intelligent urban planning is key. One of the reasons that New York has succeeded, Hargreaves told Mashable, is that its density and public transport systems make it easy for entrepreneurs to get from meeting to meeting.

“A technology community won’t ferment if it is spread evenly over one hundred square miles of metropolitan area, especially if mass transit options are limited,” wrote Hargreaves.