Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Leaders Hoping to Build on Current Momentum

Last month UrbanCincy broke the news that a new brewpub would be opening in the heart of the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood business district. The announcement was much bigger news that we had anticipated, but during the research for that story we found that even that was only the tip of the iceberg.

Neighborhood leaders in Pleasant Ridge say the community has been meticulously studying and developing ideas for how to improve the business district for more than a decade. Research on demographics, assessments of existing conditions, and visioning sessions have all been conducted over the years. This work has resulted in numerous planning documents that neighborhood activists today believe create a strong foundation for future success.

The Pleasant Ridge Development Corporation (PRDC) has been the driving force behind much of this work. The organization has seven board members, and has been led for the past several years by Jason Chamlee.

A neighborhood resident for the better part of the past seven years, Chamlee is also part of the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority’s real estate team and is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s Masters of Community Planning program. Almost by definition, he would appear to be just the kind of person you would want to have steering a community development corporation like PRDC.

“We’re trying to stimulate development in the neighborhood as we can,” Chamlee explained to UrbanCincy. “Pleasant Ridge is kind of an untapped market in terms of clusters of neighborhoods since it is geographically near so much.”

One of the problems, he notes, is that I-71 and the big box developments to the south often serve as a physical or, even worse, mental barrier for people not familiar with the neighborhood. Unlike Oakley Station and Center of Cincinnati, the Pleasant Ridge business district, primarily organized along Montgomery Road, has a distinctive historic character to it that is only moderately marred by late 20th century planning failures.

Therefore, one of the primary goals of Pleasant Ridge is to rebuild and reinforce that character. Sixty99 is the first project that will help PRDC move in that direction, but Chamlee is quick to explain how it is only the beginning.

“We believe that there is a lot of demand for this kind of business district,” said Chamlee. “There is a good opportunity to appeal to those suburbanites that want an urban experience, but might not want to head all the way to Over-the-Rhine or Mainstrasse.”

The hope is that Pleasant Ridge can become an in-town neighborhood with a walkable neighborhood business district that boasts appealing restaurants and shopping. It is not that the community wants to be a regional draw, but rather start drawing from a slightly larger zone than it does now. Based on the community’s demographic analysis, significant opportunities lie within nearby neighborhoods like Amberely Village, Kennedy Heights, Norwood and Silverton.

In order to get to that point PRDC hopes to redevelop ‘non-contributing’ properties in the heart of the business district, from Lester Road on the west to Grand Vista Avenue on the east, with infill that brings new density to help bolster business on weekdays.

One of the sites the neighborhood has its sights set on is the triangle-shaped block bounded by Ridge, Montgomery and Woodford. The site sits right in the heart of the district and is currently occupied by two one-story buildings, a gas station, and several parking lots. Sitting directly across the street from Sixty99 and Nine Giant Brewing, the hope is that the site could be redeveloped with three to five story buildings that include new street-level commercial spaces.

But Chamlee says that before they get started on pumping new commercial space into the business district, they are working to fill out and improve what is already there. To that end, he mentioned two new businesses that will be opening in the coming months. The first is a cocktail-type restaurant and bar that will feature smaller plates and be located in the former VFW Hall. The second is a coffee shop and lunch restaurant geared toward families that is called Red Balloon Play Café + Play.

It is anticipated that both new establishments will utilize some of the remaining liquor licenses made available from the Pleasant Ridge Community Entertainment District designation.

Beyond that, Chamlee says PRDC is working with building owners to help fill the three remaining spaces at Sixty99 and reimagine what they consider to be underutilized properties.

“We have found that the people that are really interested [in opening businesses] are the people that are already here and have been here,” Chamlee explained. “A lot of what is happening is from people already here who really believe in the neighborhood and are doubling down. We’re only just starting to get the attention of some outsiders.”

While Pleasant Ridge boasts a relatively stable residential base, there may be a significant opportunity should the neighboring Losantiville Country Club ever be sold off and redeveloped. The neighborhood’s 2007 vision study looked at exactly that possibility and found that the site would be ideal for walkable residential infill.

According to Chamlee, the focus on walkability is critical; and implementing a form-based code for the neighborhood would be an effective tool to help make that a reality.

“We know what we want and we know what we need,” Chamlee said in reference to the past planning exercises. “We just need to get some more momentum and find the right partners to help execute it.

  • I personally know 5 people/couples who have moved out of the core up to PRidge, some movers and shakers. We’re starting to see the tip of the iceberg here, what we’ve been saying for years, the stronger the core is the stronger the neighborhoods will be.
    Plus the fact that Metro*Plus goes right through there connecting it to downtown makes it even more appealing.

  • Brian

    The Neighborhoods Committee will be passing this motion at their meeting on Feb 19:

    “MOTION, dated 02/09/2015 submitted by Councilmembers Simpson, Young, Sittenfeld, Seelbach, Winburn and Vice Mayor Mann, We MOVE that the Administration initiate the steps necessary to determine whether to establish Form-Based Code zoning in Pleasant Ridge and, if so, to determine the details thereof including the appropriate area subject to the Form-Based Code. We further MOVE that the Administration identify the specific amount and potential sources of funding necessary to establish Form-Based Code zoning in Pleasant Ridge.”

    • Guest

      FBC seems to be dead now with Cranley. He’s stalling neighborhoods ready to go after 2+ years of hearings and study and he (I mean Black) is now downsizing the planning dept. to 6 whole people- back to his desired level of insignificance.

    • Brian

      While I completely agree that Cranley dislikes FBC because, as he stated, he’s ignorant about it, I disagree that they are downsizing the planning department in a meaningful way. It is a reorganization and no positions are being lost.

      According to this article in the BizCourier http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/news/2015/02/09/exclusive-how-the-city-plans-to-eventually-make.html?page=all they are separating the building department from the planning and making Buildings its own department. As the article states, “The planning department will now focus on the legislative part of planning, including rezoning, planned developments and text amendments.” The number of folks who focused on purely planning issues will not change.

      Additionally, “the city’s Historic Preservation Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Board of Housing Appeals and Board of Building Appeals staffs will move to the law department.” So while it is true there will be fewer folks in the department that Planning was a part of, there are not fewer people whose function is city planning.

    • Guest

      I will just point out that you’ve now separated the planning dept and director from duties typical of most US planning depts, while also severing the dept from the people that are supposed to enforce FBC.

    • Brian

      I’d be curious to hear more about your issues. In my view we’ll be adding a director (of either Planning or Building) and no duties will have changed, just the organizational structure. The creation of FBC (or changing of any zoning) is already different and separate from the enforcement of zoning codes which is different and separate from the enforcement of building codes.

      Having a building department separate from planning is not unusual in city government nor is the idea of having a one-stop shop for permitting and inspections (which is what this proposal creates).

    • Guest

      Both are usually under the authority of the same director since they’re so closely tied together. I certainly don’t think the reorg benefits FBC since there is so much coordination needed between the two depts.

      Also, there is already a planning director who seems to have no problem being left out of a plan that cuts his role in half, that says a lot to me about how he views the department’s role under this admin, borderline lame duck.

    • Brian

      St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Nashville and Charlotte all have separate building and planning departments. Just to name a few.

      EDG – The functions of the planning department have very little to do with the delays in permitting and inspections. That is squarely on the plans examiners and building inspectors who are in the Building department (or our newly situated dept). Many jurisdictions are moving to this model of a “one-stop shop” for development review due to the delays folks have experienced in getting plans reviewed and current construction inspected.

      While I understand the knee jerk reaction to believe anything Cranley (and Black by extension) does is anti-progressive or anti-planning I think this reorganization has more to do with making it easier for developers (and small time contractors) to maneuver through the plans review and inspections process rather than stunting the planning function of city government. Though time will tell if I am correct of if this just the first shot.

    • Guest

      It’s not a knee jerk reaction, Cranley is by nature anti-planning, so don’t hold your breath on FBCs. Also, keep in mind his battles with the planning commission and that this separates that body from enforcement and permitting of said FBC.

    • Brian

      The Planning Commission is already a separate body not linked to the administration of current zoning codes (planning dept staff) or enforcement of building codes (building inspectors). I do agree the Planning Commission is where we need to keep our focus, not departmental reorganizations, as Cranley continues to appoint his people to various boards and commissions and asserts his will through them.

    • Guest

      The current director links the planning commission and permitting. Now you’re going to either Black or an unknown linking those two.

    • Guest

      Until we hear that Cranley is pro-FBC or that this plan won’t negatively affect FBC, there’s no evidence to think otherwise since he controls admin functions.

    • BillCollins45227

      Yes, time will tell. I like what you said re: I think this reorg has more to do with making it easier for developers (and small time contractors) to maneuver through the plans review and inspections process rather than stunting the planning function of city government.”

      That idea — making it easier for builders to maneuver through the plans review and inspection process — lies at the core of Form-Based code idea. Here in Madisonville we now have a Form-Based Code that most of us are very happy with. But, the “rubber meets the road” re: FB Codes when the City-employed inspectors and plans reviewers are trained to understand the form zoning codes and enforce them.

      Personally, I don’t know how that training is going. But, if these city employees ARE trained properly, you should see waiting times reduced and capital flowing faster into the neighborhood business districts where the form codes are now in place.

    • Guest

      Developers are constantly complaining in every jurisdiction about permitting delays. To me, the answer of reducing the planning dept to 6 people sounds more like cronyism than improving customer service, but I may be wrong.

    • Brian

      And now a new motion on FBC:

      MOTION, dated 2/23/2015 submitted by Councilmembers Murray and Flynn, WE MOVE that the City Administration prepare an up to date report on the impact that Form-Based Codes (FBC) have had on the four initial neighborhoods of College Hill, Madisonville, Walnut Hills, and Westwood. Included in the status update, the report should address the following questions: 1. How have Form-Based Codes affected developer, residency, or commercial interests in any of the targeted neighborhoods? What measurements are being used for assessing interest? Include any and all development activities beginning with the date of the passage of FBCs in each neighborhood. 2. Describe any work that has been done relative to Form-Based Codes by City staff subsequent to Council approval of the FBC zoning for College Hill, Madisonville, Walnut Hills, and Westwood. 3. Describe any work that has been done relative to Form-Based Codes by City Staff for additional neighborhoods that have expressed interest since the initial passage of Form-Based Codes.

    • So, Murray and Flynn want a report from an admin. that is anti-FBC judging the merits of FBC?

    • Brian

      That would be the very cynical view to take. But remember, it isn’t the “administration” that is anti-FBC, it’s the mayor. The planning department likes FBC as far as I know but were told to stop implementation because there is no funding for it.

      My reading of this motion and the prior motion are that councilmembers are gathering data they know will be positive (FBC doing wonders in College Hill, Madisonville and Walnut Hills (Westwood is too new to it)) so they can then have arguments as to why they will restore funding to finish FBC in Pleasant Ridge.

    • Looks like we have an anti-FBC motion with 2 signatures and a pro-FBC motion with a veto-proof 6 signatures.

  • David Thomas

    I’ve mentioned before that I plan on buying a house next year and P Ridge was already high on my list. Stories like this make it really exciting.
    I wonder what the chances are that the redevelopment pictured up at Ridge/Woodford will actually happen? Looks awesome. If they can come up with a strong biz district, PR really could become something. It’s got a better housing stock than Oakley, imo, and the prices are much lower.

    • EDG

      Yeah, there’s a real difference in the housing stock north of Madison (cheap frame bungalows), vs south of Madison (brick spillover from HP). Plus, the newer northern half of the business district really isn’t all that worse in form than Pleasant Ridge.

  • Josh

    Why would this piece speculate about the fate of Losantiville CC? I do not think the club is for sale as it was just recently remodeled. I am not a member and do not even know anyone who is but I have played events there in the recent past and it appears to be doing just fine financially.

    • Adam Nelson

      I agree, I see no need for more inferior new single family home construction. We are overbuilt on SF anyway. Build up the P Ridge core/bus district, let all the existing homes be reinvested in, allow incremental building/growth (granny flats, etc).

    • The reason I included the information about Losantiville Country Club is exactly because golf courses like that are becoming increasingly rare. Who knows what will become of it, but the odds are that it will eventually be sold off to a developer. The community recognizes this and decided to develop a vision they have for the site should that cole to be.

    • It was just announced today that this Springdale golf course will be converted into an industrial park: http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/news/2015/02/20/exclusive-former-ge-golf-course-to-become-100-acre.html

      Good thing Pleasant Ridge is thinking ahead about how the Country Club could be made into a continuation of the existing neighborhood, rather than plopping down some terrible big box stores and a sea of parking there.

    • charles ross

      Avon is Parks owned. And also note – Amberly now has a defunct course on its hands.

  • Doug Newberry

    Unfortunately, until you stop the PRidge hair salon merry-go-round, this is all just happy-talk.

    • Michael

      Agree 2X’s

  • Mark Christol

    Looks pretty ambitious.
    Ridge & Montgomery get really busy with cars & kinda make it obnoxious for peds & cyclists. It would be cool to narrow it people’s heads would probably start exploding.
    They have a good solid comic book store & record store so that takes care of most needs. That church on ridge has nice festivals. Lack of a grocery kinda blows, tho.
    I looked at a house on Woodmont or something east of Ridge once & it’s a nice area.
    Riding or walking down to the business area around Highland & Ridge used to be OK but I think it’s worse nowadays.

    • EDG

      Good point, it feels just like an extension of Norwood right now when it should feel like a Montgomery to enable a thriving business district.

  • Jay

    I’ve lived in The Ridge for 23 years, moved there when my first child was born. It’s been fun to watch this neighborhood come together to build a solid foundation for growth over the last two decades. Thwarting the closing of Pleasant Ridge Elementary and establishing it as a Montessori school was huge. It kept young families from moving out of our neighborhood. Projects like 1000 Hands which built an extensive new playground structure in the park, a new pool for one of CRC’s most attended pools in the city, and the regular trash cleanup crews organized on the neighborhood Facebook page are emblematic of the cooperative spirit here. Many members of the creative class live here: artists, chefs, musicians, digital creators and graphic designers. I work with and know many of them. There’s always been a long standing sense of neighborhood pride, collaboration and diversity in Pleasant Ridge.

    See this article about some folks who have volunteered time and talents for the benefit of The Ridge: http://www.soapboxmedia.com/features/021715-neighborhood-heroes-pleasant-ridge.aspx

  • EDG

    Reminds me of what’s going on in North College Hill, and with a better business district and area demographics. Millenials aren’t going to pay $1000+/mo to rent forever, at some point you need that 3rd bedroom.

  • BillCollins45227

    This is great news. Pleasant Ridge’s neighborhood business district (NBD) has the right “bones” already — two drugstores (one local, one chain), a convenient store, a successful “niche” record store, a coffee shop, good architecture. Plus, its NBD is not “gap-toothed” (lots of vacant buildings and empty lots) like so many others in the City.

    But, the thing that P Ridge has that makes its NBD really special is not just one or two, but THREE highly sought-after elementary schools located right in the heart of its NBD. These three schools are
    * PLEASANT RIDGE MONTESSORI on Montgomery Road (PRM, the CPS neighborhood school serving P Ridge, Amberley Village, Golf Manor, the western part Kennedy Heights and a small portion of Madisonville where I live). This school is so popular that it now has an enrollment of 600 children, and is becoming overcrowded because of its popularity.
    * TCP WORLD ACADEMY (at the NE corner of Woodford and Ridge. It’s a Charter School that is actually run competently and is widely respected by educators who are “in the know” — both public, charter, private and parochial).
    * NATIVITY CATHOLIC SCHOOL (at the SE corner of Woodford and Ridge. It’s one of the most popular Catholic elementary schools on the East Side)

    What the presence of these three schools does is that, for people driving through P Ridge’s NBD early in the day and around 2-3 PM, they see lots of children on the street. This communicates visually that “this place is safe because I see kids here.” That alone creates a “vibe” that attracts people, and it draws a sharp contrast between this NBD and other NBD’s around the city where the public and parochial schools have been shut down over the last 30-40 years.

    THE VALUE OF SEEING CHILDREN ON THE STREET
    In our City, for those of us who care about NBD development, I think we need to focus more on children and families. As more childless Millennials move into the City, I think we need to understand that in a few years, all of them will be asking themselves, “where should we live when we have children?” If we cannot answer that question and create family-friendly NBDs as they are doing in Pleasant Ridge, we will lose too many of these Millennials to the suburbs.

    In Pleasant Ridge they are showing us the way forward.

  • Adam Nelson

    also that triangle commons concept shot doesn’t show anywhere near enough parking for the presumed uses of a building that size.

    personally, me likey.

    but can you imagine what this will look like after it gets VE’d and the financiers demand a sea of parking to fit its tidy loan pro forma?

    • Well one solution could be to build a level of underground parking. That’s if you really feel like that much parking must be provided.

    • Adam Nelson

      I don’t feel that way, just saying that I would be surprised if it made it to construction as shown. And, of course, obviously, nothing makes it to construction that looks like the visioning sessions, and that isn’t really the point of a vision session anyway. I’m mostly bummed that what we get is consistently so far away from what we want.

  • Michael

    Pleasant Ridge had all those things 60 years ago (hardware, dress shops, banks, bakeries, bars, grocery store’s, on and on……….)Please, don’t try and change PR to Oakley. Oakley is a nice community w/school’s, church’s, and so on, But it also has about 2000 apartment’s being built that will be nothing of a nightmare for the people who call Oakley home.

    • EDG

      You can’t become something by trying to be nothing

    • BillCollins45227

      What undermined all of the NBDs up and down Montgomery Road and Kenwood Roads (Montgomery, Silverton, Kennedy Heights, Pleasant Ridge, Madeira and Madisonville) was the building of the Kenwood Plaza shopping center (now Kenwood “Towne Center) in the mid-1950s by the Williams family-owned company that became North American Properties.

      Then, in the early 1960s — over the strong opposition of Oakley, Hyde Park and Madisonville merchants, along with lawsuits by the Cincinnati City Council — the Hyde Park Plaza shopping center opened which, in turn, continued the gutting of the NBDs in Hyde Park, Oakley, Pleasant Ridge and Madisonville. Then by the late 1970s the 71 freeway was built, creating the sprawling mess in the Ridge/Highland/Kennedy area of Columbia Township.

      Slowly, all these communities are finding their ways back to build up their NBDs. Montgomery has rounded the corner during the last 15-20 years, Madeira’s NBD (which was rather tacky when I moved here 25 years ago) has slowly come back. Hyde Park Square is not the same — no food stores, no pharmacy, no hardware store — as it was in the old days, but it has come back. And Oakley Square has come back.

      Pleasant Ridge is finding its way. It’s not easy to recover in the midst of full-scale “malling” and the massive white flight of residents that defined so much of the East Side from the late 1960s through the late 1980s and then thankfully stopped (now the white flight is on the West Side, unfortunately). All of these communities are coming back.

      I’m delighted to see what P Ridge is doing. They started the right way: by preserving and enhancing their neighborhood schools — Catholic, public, and Charter — as the core of community life for young families and children. That is the key. That is the taproot. And that is why they will succeed.

  • Jeff Syroney

    Nice piece, Randy. I’m a P-Ridger and wasn’t aware of some of these initiatives. Keep up the great work.

    • Thanks Jeff. The plans for the triangle and country club are just visions put down on paper by the community. They have no teeth yet, but it is encouraging to see that Pleasant Ridge has already figured out and defined what it is they want.

  • charles ross

    The next frontier – a SIDEWALK you can safely walk all the way down thru BigBox gulch to Mad Tree.