Cincinnati Proposes Eliminating Parking Requirements in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine

The City of Cincinnati will hold a public conference this evening about proposed amendment to the zoning code that would deregulate parking requirements throughout the center city.

According to city officials, the amendment would create new ‘Urban Parking Districts’ and remove the current regulations that mandate how many parking spaces must be provided for any new development or for any project that is modifying the use of an existing structure.

The efforts to get rid of the parking requirements throughout the center city have been ongoing for years.

In June 2010, city officials moved forward with new legislation that allowed for a 50% parking reduction for residences located within 600 feet of a streetcar stop. Then in March 2012, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (C) introduced a motion, which was co-sponsored by six other council members, to eliminate all parking requirements throughout the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine.

Over-the-Rhine’s existing historic fabric is at risk of further demolitions, due to current parking requirements, as investment continues to pour into the neighborhood. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

Last March, UrbanCincy examined just how these off-street parking mandates are stifling growth and investment in the center city, which was largely built before the advent of the automobile. The requirements have led to not only increased costs for small businesses, but they have also led to an excess of parking in these neighborhoods.

The parking regulations also make it particularly difficult to redevelop smaller historic buildings like the ones found throughout Over-the-Rhine.

“Requiring parking for historic structures that have never had parking is incentivizing their demolition. This puts the property owner in a really difficult position; he must either find parking for the building, demolish it or let it languish in perpetuity.” Nashville city planner, Joni Priest, told UrbanCincy last March. “If a property owner wants to rehab an historic building – a building that marks the character of a neighborhood and contributes to the fabric of the city – all incentives, including the elimination of parking requirements, should be considered.”

Parking requirements have also contributed to the increased costs of redevelopment in these historic neighborhoods.

Last April, Chad Munitz, Executive Vice President of Development and Operations of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), estimated that existing parking mandates cost developers, on average, $5,000 for one surface parking space and $25,000 for a structured parking space. The increased cost associated with that parking, Munitz says, is then passed on to the consumer and raises the price of a residential unit by as much as $25,000.

The City of Cincinnati’s Planning & Buildings Department will host the public conference this evening at 5:30pm at Two Centennial Plaza, which is located at 805 Central Avenue downtown, and is well-served by a number of Metro bus routes (plan your trip). City officials say that the meeting will take place on the 7th floor, Suite 720 in the Martin Griesel Room A.

  • Great news and the next step should be eliminating them city and county-wide.

    The first residential parking minimum appeared in Columbus, OH, in 1923 and the first nonresidential parking minimum appeared in Fresno, CA, in 1939 with the intent of reducing traffic congestion in urbanized activity centers. Reducing traffic congestion through accommodating the peak number of autos for a use appears to remain the intent of parking formulas and is a flawed intent for two reasons. First, there is unfortunately no active road classification – zoning dynamic. Parking formulas are not based on classification of roadways and whether there is congestion, and the road classification system is not based on parking. If there were objections to a development based on congestion brought up by residents, this would have to be proven through study beyond road classification and parking formulas, and even in that instance may not be a proper justification for a zoning denial since there is no direct road classification – zoning dynamic. Second, if minimum requirements change over time, areas of comparable density of development may have very different supplies of parking if they were developed at different dates, forcing an increase in the supply of spaces in some areas while leaving others unaffected even though they may share an identical roadway.

    The primary reason for reducing or eliminating parking minimums is that they’re simply not needed in today’s development climate. Ample parking is a fundamental need of auto-oriented businesses and developments and most large downtown projects come with the requisite 300-500 space parking garage. Most users know the exact amount of parking they will need based on their company projections that go beyond the only two variables zoning parking formulas address: land use and size. So allowing users to provide a written analysis of their parking needs would be more exact and business-friendly, rather than assuming all businesses under the same use category have the same parking needs based on size.

  • I still can’t get over the fact that the land of the free has ‘parking requirements.’ Many of the solutions to urban development are to be found in market forces, not more government intervention. Mason is a product of government policies on tax, finance, and transportation as much as it is of any genuine free-market demand.

    • I would imagine it’s because many Americans feel entitled to free and easily accessible parking. The problem with that, aside from the many obvious points, is that many Americans either cannot or choose not to own a car. In the Downtown/OTR area, for example, approximately 30% of households have no car at all.

    • THank you, this is allot less about gov’t intervention and allot more about the rise and decline of auto dependency and questions into developing infrastructure.

    • Mason probably just copied every zoning code that came before it. Milford, OH, smartly went the other way and got rid of parking minimums in 1999 and have had no problems since. Parking minimums are more of an invasive local government creature rather than a top-down planning effort like the interstate system and FHA that really allowed Mason to be.

    • Someone ‘voted’ against my statement? Really?

    • OK, got off your deep “gov’t is all bad” sentiment and understand reality. This is allot less about gov’t intervention and allot more about the rise and decline of auto dependency. These older neighborhoods of cincinnati were developed prior to the auto-oriented drive in the 50’s and 60’s, where these requirements were initiated. Now the gov’t is stepping in to left these requirements for these circumstance. If you believe zoning is a barrier to progress go live in any Texan city and take note of how inefficient city planning is without zoning requirements. This is just one part of the requirement that needs adjusted for these unique conditions. Gov’t is very much the primary tool here. The bigger questions should be, do we develop auto-oriented or transit oriented? Developing effective infrastructure is critical in growing urban areas. All signs point at the inefficiency of private transportation to grow the workforce while we under-utilize mass and public transit, but that is a new discussion that will stem from these developments.

  • It’s far beyond time to do something like this, but I’m proud that Cincinnati is moving forward with it. As others have pointed out, this should probably be extended throughout the city as developers nowadays will provide the parking they need without being told to do it…and those developers that feel they don’t need the parking should be able to take that risk. Parking is not a public asset that serves the greater good of the people, so I’m not sure why we’re mandating it be built.

    Going forward it might make even more since to expand this as the form-based code is implemented throughout the city.

  • Mark Christol

    This is nice & libertarian & all but won’t the banks still say the developers need parking minimums?

    • Not necessarily. This immediately will help small businesses and individual property investors who are looking to avoid the process of getting a variance to the zoning code for not providing the mandated number of parking spaces. These are granted more often than you would think, but it can be costly and difficult process for small businesses to navigate.

      For larger projects, developers will most likely continue doing business as usual. But if one or two projects deliver projects that provide no parking, or go below the average number of spaces provided, then it will reset the bar for the banks loaning out money to other projects since they have would have benchmarks for doing it that was successfully.

    • I’ll step in and play devil’s advocate here… parking minimums really are still necessary for larger projects. The problem has been that they are applied to all projects equally, which as you point out hampers the smaller developers who have a hard time complying. As you point out, larger projects will continue to do business as usual, but once a few larger developers figure it out that they can do it cheaper without the parking they will take advantage of this new system at the expense of all the small guys around them (game theory). Excessive congestion will ensue, which for the most part doesn’t happen in Cincinnati right now. Parking minimums need to be relaxed but not abolished or else the law of unintended consequences will rear its ugly head. (My opinion is over 10 units needs to plan for parking on some level).

      The bigger barrier from the banks on loans isn’t parking, it’s where they draw the line on financing. Under 4 units is eligible for a residential loan, but 5+ has to be a commercial loan, which are harder to get. For many places in OTR in the 5-8 unit range it makes projects harder before you even get to parking.

      Taking the burden off small developers is moving in the right direction for the city if they want to see things redeveloped, but they need to look at the unintended consequences of what they are doing or else 10 years down the line no one will have built any parking in OTR (due to larger developments without minimums) and now small developments will become less feasible without providing parking (effectively stiffing small development).

      Has anyone stopped to think about why these were put in place from the start? I think they were overdone, but still have a purpose.

    • This isn’t a matter of abstract economic theories. I can point to a number of small businesses that were administratively denied use approval because they were short of the parking requirement even though they had parking from the prior small business use. If you see my post above, the historical link between zoning and parking is tenuous and seems to only remain as a result of overreliance on ITE calculations and just a business as usual approach to zoning.

    • I agree with you that this will have a positive effect on small developers and prevent the type of denials you mentioned, but if over done it could also hurt small developers by congesting the streets around them (where they’d have little recourse) in the event that a large high rise project decides they can make this project viable by cutting all 300-700 spaces out of their costs. Total elimination of these parking requirements for all sizes of projects could have negative consequences for all was my point.

    • This would be true if parking were to remain free or essentially free without any restrictions on how long one can park their car in a given spot.

      If public parking spaces are priced to be competitive with private spaces then you will not see people doing what you’re talking about. In fact, studies show that there will actually be higher turnover thus helping small businesses get more people into and out of their stores. That rotation of customers is crucial.

    • You’re confusing congestion from cruising for metered spaces with congestion from cruising for structured or surface spaces. And the negative consequences you believe would occur is called transit, that’s why Chicago and NYC have ridership because not everyone can drive into the CBD.

    • That’s a good point. I never considered that congestion could actually be a good thing by encouraging other forms of transit other than autos. And I was laboring heavily under the assumption that every business needs parking in the first place, which really isn’t always true. But I still think it’s true to a degree though and the larger the project gets the more that need for parking shows itself in one form or another be it residents themselves or their guests. The private/public parking system would adjust rates accordingly too though, I guess it’s just a question of when that becomes a deterrent for new growth.

  • I’ve gone to the liberty of trying to flesh out some of the fundamental ideas behind both sides of the issue. It’s been a fun, and definitely heated debate over the last few months here in OTR/Pendelton.
    The world of parking is really heating up! 😉

    • As OTR fills in and if parking is privatized, there’s going to have to be a residential permit since most of the streets off or between Vine and Main are primarily residential.