Cincinnati Eliminates Center City Parking Requirements, Neighborhoods Next

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory (D) has approved an amendment to the city’s zoning code that eliminates parking requirements for many residential developments, and substantially reduces them for others.

The ordinance, signed on August 7, tosses out the city’s existing minimum parking requirements within the zoning code’s Downtown Development Overlay Districts, which cover the central business district and historic Over-the-Rhine.

Under the new regulations any residential development with 20 or fewer housing units would not have to provide any parking, while those with more than 20 units would have to provide .75 spaces per housing unit above 20. That means a development with 32 housing units would only need to provide nine parking spaces.

Central Riverfront Garage
Thousands of parking spaces sit largely empty outside of business hours and game days. Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

In April 2012, just weeks after UrbanCincy laid the groundwork for reforming the city’s parking policies, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (C) and Councilmembers Yyvette Simpson (D), Wendall Young (D), Cecil Thomas (D), Chris Seelbach (D), and Laure Quinlivan (D) signed a motion urging the removal of all parking requirements in the central business district and Over-the-Rhine.

While the newly approved ordinance does not go quite that far, its proponents believe it is a step in the right direction.

“The goal of the ordinance is to encourage development in the urban core by permitting developers to determine their own parking needs for downtown developments,” explained Councilwoman Simpson, who is vice chair of council’s Livable Communities Committee. “I firmly believe that the market will work to meet parking demands better than government minimum parking requirements.”

According to Victoria Transport Policy Institute, individual parking spaces add anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 to the cost of a development, and city council believes that by eliminating those mandates that they will make the center city an even more attractive place for private investment.

Mercer Garage
The Mercer Garage in historic Over-the-Rhine is visible from above in May 2013. Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

The discussion about parking mandates in the center city has been ongoing for years, and has taken on more prominence as private real estate investment in Over-the-Rhine has surged. UrbanCincy specifically called into question the size of the Mercer Commons parking garage in mid-2012.

The work of eliminating parking requirements, however, may not be finished.

The approved ordinance also calls for the “deregulation of minimum parking requirements in other neighborhoods through the establishment of Urban Parking Overlay Districts in areas to be determined by Council.”

If and when city council decides to move forward with establishing new Urban Parking Overlay Districts, there would be no parking requirements for any use other than residential developments greater than 20 dwelling units. This is slightly different than the modification to the Downtown Development Overlay Districts since they still require some minimal parking requirements for office uses.

One of the earliest beneficiaries of the new standards might be the renovation of 906 Main Street, which would not need to provide any parking spaces under the new standards. The $400,000 project will transform the largely vacant structure into 20 apartments above 6,705 square feet of street-level retail.

The new ordinance took effective immediately.

“This ordinance will encourage private investment by reducing the amount of government regulation,” Simpson continued. “This also encourages a walkable, pedestrian-friendly urban core, which is more attractive to residents and visitors.”

  • Mark Christol

    Can you hear the collective “HUZZAH” from the Libertarians, small government Republicans, Tea Baggers and the loons at CO ?
    yeah, crickets…

    • Eric

      Makes you wonder why they didn’t fully eliminate the requirement since it’s an agreeable policy. But that might have made the thousands of parking spaces we’re paying Dahoney and 3CDC to build look like unneeded investments…

  • I haven’t seen much reporting on Form-Based Codes here, but FBC will also significantly reduce parking requirements in the neighborhoods.

    • I’m not sure the form-based code(s) will do anything by itself, but I suspect that’s where the city will implement these new Urban Parking Overlay Districts.

    • The parking requirements listed by transect in FBC are significantly different than current code, and once a neighborhood moves to FBC there’s pretty much no going back to old code.

      I’m not certain, but my sense was all these Overlay Districts are meant more as a bridge to FBC as it slowly gets implemented, not as a permanent solution.

    • Honestly, the way the FBC is being approached in Cincinnati is essentially the creation of a special overlay district with form-based standards. The best way to really go about implementing FBCs is to toss out the existing code entirely and replace it with a region-wide, transect-based FBC.

      That’s where you simplify the zoning code and really make things easy to understand for residents and the business community. Cincinnati’s FBC approach is just a baby step, much like its approach to bus rapid transit.

    • Baby steps? Maybe. But I personally like the approach.

      The FBC is meant to ultimately replace the current code, but one neighborhood at a time. So you’re right in the sense that it is a series of overlays on top of current code (at present 4 neighborhood maps are set to be finalized with at least 2 other neighborhoods pursuing the process).

      What’s the advantage to this approach? We don’t get another “one-size-fits-all” zoning code like we have now. Talk to neighborhood advocates and their biggest complaint is that the city imposes decisions that should be made (or at least discussed) at the neighborhood level. The new FBC allows EVERY neighborhood to pursue zoning and development the way they see fit. And if that neighborhood wants to stick with current zoning, that’s okay.

      I see the comparison to BRT but you’re comparing apples and oranges. Real estate is inherently local, within a regional context; transit is inherently regional, with local effects.

    • I disagree. The way FBCs are meant to be set up is by doing them at a regional level and then having each community identify how they want their portion of it set up. In most cases each community would figure out which transect they are in and then go with one of those.

      What is happening now is we are adding a new layer of zoning on top of the existing zoning…just like an overlay district. It is not making anything simpler. And let’s say all 52 neighborhoods were to adopt one of these FBCs, it would not truly be a FBC since the underlying zoning code still exists.

      This is a baby step, and even Vice Mayor Qualls who has been championing this admits to that (listen to her talk to us about it on the podcast:

      In my opinion this, or what most anyone has done to date in the U.S., is not a true form-based code. Maybe it’s not politically feasible to do a true form-based code, but whatever the reason is doesn’t change the fact that it’s not the true way to go about doing it.

      Just like BRT in America…no one’s come close to a true BRT system. If they were, the costs of it would go much higher and then there would be far fewer proponents of the service. We’re starting with a compromise.

    • I don’t disagree. But I don’t think tackling all 52 neighborhoods at once would have been practical or smart. It’s not just the political ramifications of forcing change on the neighborhoods (though my understanding is the forced code changes in the mid-2000’s still leave a sore spot with many neighborhood advocates). If you’re talking 6 months’ (or more) time planning and 3-4 full-day charrettes for all 52 neighborhoods, that’s a logistical nightmare.

  • Guest

    Simply eliminating the requirement entirely seems to have been hung up by this paragraph

    • Agreed…it was a timid decision, but I understand why it was made. All the more reason to aggressively pursue enhanced regional transit service.

  • Can anyone provide a link to the actual amendment that passed? I’ve been following this very closely and would be interested to see how it came out and what exactly is included in the ‘overlay district’.

    From the article, it sounds like this isn’t a huge step forward from what we have now :-/
    Of course, that’s what I expected near the end as various people/groups voiced concern with the lack of a holistic study of the parking issue.

    • I would say that this is a big step. The details of the changes are outlined exactly within the story, but I will try to find the actual posting of the ordinance. Right now I just have a PDF, which I can upload if I can’t find where it is posted online.

      No parking is required for projects with 20 or fewer residential units in Downtown or OTR, and only .75 parking spaces are required for each unit over 20 in those with greater than 20 units. The ordinance also creates the ability for the city to create Urban Parking Districts, which when implemented will eliminate the parking requirement for any use.

    • Here’s the approved ordinance on the city’s website. Let me know if it doesn’t work for you.

    • Thanks Randy!

  • Caelyn

    No parking requirement for development might be a good idea for cities that have adequate public transportation, but in Cincinnati, where you can’t get anywhere without a car, if you don’t have parking, no one will want to live there. Let the market decide? The market will build a bunch of buildings no one wants to live in cause they have no parking or the market will make street parking impossible for people visiting the city center for shopping, bars and restaurants. New apartments that went up near me, who WERE beholden to the current regulations, have already destroyed street parking in my neighborhood, because the new buildings don’t have nearly enough parking for their residents. Now those of us without parking in the neighborhood have to fight tooth and nail for find street parking, or end up parking 5 blocks from our homes. The businesses in my neighborhood are failing, because their customers have nowhere to park.

    • “Let the market decide? The market will build a bunch of buildings no one wants to live in cause they have no parking or the market will make street parking impossible for people visiting the city center for shopping, bars and restaurants.”

      If developers build new housing without parking, and people choose to live there, everybody wins. If developers are unable to sell condos or rent apartments because of a lack of parking, the developers will be forced to build parking. It seems like pretty basic capitalism to me.

    • Caelyn

      I’ll report back if the new apartments near me ever build parking garages…. as if they could. You see they could very easily have built one building and one garage,
      but they didn’t, they filled the entire property with units and no
      parking. They’re out of room. I won’t hold my breath. While I’m waiting for them to create a TARDIS garage, I guess I just have to walk 5 blocks to my car with my cane on icy sidewalks and streets and hope I don’t fall and break my neck, so the capitalists that built those buildings can save a buck or two for their investors.

    • What new apartments are you talking about?

    • Jules Michael Rosen

      Garages are an enormous investment to build and often have to be subsidized by the government to get projects rolling. While I feel for your situation, I don’t really think you can’t get anywhere in Cincinnati without a car. Despite common misconception, there are small grocery stores, a library, a dry cleaner, restaurants, and shops Downtown. In addition, there will soon be a streetcar on Main as well, which will further mitigate this perceived problem.

    • Maybe you should build a parking space for your house then.

    • If the market decides that parking is needed in order for businesses to succeed and residences to sell, then the market, in theory, will provide that. If, however, the market decides that it can provide less or no parking for these uses and still succeed then more power to it.