Cincinnati’s Mandatory Minimum Parking Requirements Stall $15M Development

An Over-the-Rhine development has hit a potential challenge after a 3-3 vote at last month’s Historic Conservation Board meeting.

Grandin Properties had been planning to convert the historic Strietmann Biscuit Company building, located at 221 W. Twelfth Street, to an 88,000-square-foot office building, but must now request a zone change since it does not meeting the city’s mandatory minimum parking requirements.

In a strange twist, the vote from the Historic Conservation Board actually threatens the historic nature of the building and the surrounding neighborhood, as providing the parking being requested would necessitate that a portion of the building be converted to parking, or a nearby historic structure be demolished to make room for a parking structure.

As such, the developer is requesting to rezone the property from CC-A (Community Commercial – Automotive) to DD-C (Downtown Development – Support), which would give Grandin Properties more flexibility when it comes to the provision of parking.

In a letter submitted to City Council, the developer indicated that despite entering into agreements with 3CDC to secure 175 parking spaces for the development, which is a five-minute walk from the Washington Park Garage and City Center Garage, a split vote for a parking variance may imperil the project if the zone change is not secured.

Further supporting the developer’s case is the fact that the 126-year-old structure is located within a short walk to numerous Red Bike and Cincinnati Streetcar stations; and the location’s Walk Score is 94 out of 100 points.

“We were aware of the long history of not enforcing strict compliance with the zoning code’s parking requirements in Over-the-Rhine for both rehabilitated and new buildings,” Peg Wyant, President and CEO of Grandin Properties, wrote. “This is why we were surprised when City staff took a very hard position and required that we have guaranteed control over parking spaces ‘for the life of the project.’”

The development was slated to move forward, despite losing out on almost $2 million in historic tax credits from the state last year.

Following UrbanCincy‘s 2012 report on mandatory minimum parking requirements, City Council moved to study removing parking requirements in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine; and, in 2013, the City amended the zoning regulations to allow for both neighborhoods to remove required parking minimums with the passage of a special parking district zone. However, there has been no establishment of any special parking district zone to-date.

Further complicating the matter of parking in Over-the-Rhine is the fact that a workable Parking Permit Plan has yet to move through City Hall. While neighborhood residents and business owners have spent months developing a variety of alternatives, each has met its demise with the threat of Mayor John Cranley‘s (D) veto, which he says is due to permit prices being set too low.

As a result, parking remains a hot topic in one of the nation’s fastest developing neighborhoods. Many local developers still believe there is a market demand for one to two spaces per residential unit, while transportation options and the walkability of the neighborhood continue to improve. The increased number of visitors, including both workers and those coming to shop and dine in the neighborhood, is adding increased pressure since many residents in historic buildings utilize on-street parking to store their cars.

The next step for the project is that it will go before City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee for its potential rezoning application.

  • Charlie Hinkley

    Who is on the Board and how did each member vote?

  • matimal

    Parking requirements are socialism! It’s PRIVATE property. The owner decides what happens on it!

    • SurlyQueue

      Where do you think the employees of this company will park their cars? If parking requirements are not enforced, the will park on PUBLIC property. This included spaces that would otherwise be used by customers of local business and restaurants and by nearby residents. Parking works differently in urban environments than it does in suburban. It is very scarce and the city must be aware of changes in demand. Stores, restaurants, and residents do not have private parking accommodations. So, when a business is bringing a large number of people into the area on a daily basis, the city has to consider its consumption of PUBLIC parking.

      The alternative is for the city to spend taxpayer money building another garage in OTR to handle this company’s parking needs. Personally, I am fine with the city asking the company to pay for their parking lot, just like every office building in the greater Cincinnati area.

    • When companies or residents use public parking garages for their parking needs, they pay a monthly fee to do so. That is a revenue stream for the city.

    • matimal

      She doesn’t care about “the city.” She cares about her own individual material self-interests and nothing else. Which makes faux concern for things PUBLIC sadly ironic. I have long marveled at how intense many can get when it comes to parking. They identify with their cars WAY too much and take it all WAY to personally. They are not their cars and restricting cars is restricting PEOPLE. She writes as if people have no legs and as if cars are an extension of human bodies.

    • I think you are missing Angie’s point. She’s simply stating that parking is highly subsidized and that many Cincinnatians would flip if suddenly confronted by the true price. In no way is she arguing in favor of that subsidy; in fact, quite the opposite.

    • matimal

      Nothing she wrote gave me that impression. Maybe she’ll response to tell us if she realizes who really does pay for what.

    • Knowing Angie personally, I can say that I fully agree with Travis’ assessment of her comment.

    • matimal

      She’s arguing for required private parking and assuming the response. I understand what she’s arguing and I disagree. If private parking is not required and public parking is in more demand, and thus will support higher rates, it will increase demand for buses and streetcars. Her assumptions are wrong.

    • Based on her original comment (“This is pretty outrageous story, IMO. Just waive the parking requirement!”), I don’t think she is arguing that the parking should be required.

    • Angie is saying that it is outrageous that this project is being held up by City Hall. Her additional comments were stating that Cleveland would be so thrilled to have a project of this nature proposed that they would shower it with taxpayer subsidies.

    • matimal

      I was responding to SurlyQueue.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Uhh you do realize she’s a prominent urbanist blogger right?

    • matimal

      No. I take people’s arguments as they present them. If she has an urbanist argument to make, I’d be glad to hear it.

    • There’s no way people are going to pay enough to park in Cincinnati for the city to recoup its even operational costs on a parking garage. It will have to be a big public subsidy for driving, if the city builds a garage. Doing that next to the Streetcar would be working at cross purposes.

    • ED

      The city and developers use 3CDC to take away their parking garage burden.

    • This is a terrific point, Angie. In fact, this was something we reported on a couple of years ago when the parking lease was being discussed. Basically we found that while the City’s parking system collects revenues, it is not a profit center.

      This situation was made worse by the fact that many of the City’s parking structures were incredibly old and inefficient. That has changed in subsequent years as several old structures have been taken down and replaced by new ones either owned by the City, or by 3CDC, as ED mentioned.

    • ED

      And just because the user doesn’t have these spaces “secured” like the staff report says, doesn’t mean they aren’t available and that would defeat the point of a “public” garage.

    • Mark Christol

      Some businesses, as an alternative, will buy their employees bus passes.

    • That would be a delight to see happen in large numbers in Cincinnati.

    • matimal

      The alternative is for everyone to do what they want with their private property, cars, time, and money. The alternatives include not using cars at all. I won’t tell you what to do with your private property and you won’t tell me how to travel. Everything works the same everywhere. It has a price and people PAY for it. If something is scarce, it costs more. By your logic, PUBLIC roads should be reserved for the good people of the world going to approved jobs and approved shopping trips and the rest should be priced out of using roads. Your assessment of rights and responsibilities is wrong because you’re assumptions about who pays what are wrong.

    • ED

      What you’re talking about has more to do with implementing demand-based meter pricing, which the city has yet to do, rather than requiring that the use capture all of their parking offstreet.

      A decade or so, when meter prices in OTR were much lower than they are now, there were downtown office workers that would park in OTR and feed the meter all workday because it was so cheap. But at the current parking rate, that is not economical for people parking for 8 hours since a garage would be much cheaper. As far as nonmeter PUBLIC spaces, those aren’t any less open to other businesses or residents when there isn’t a permit.

    • Its a free country, people can choose not to work there if their whole world revolves around what their car needs. I suspect most of these businesses will employee people already walking or biking to their job.

    • Jesse

      The argument against new parking structures in OTR is based on the idea that people will figure out their own way to get there or live there. The city is not responsible for providing parking to anyone, including residents. Building garages or providing on street parking may be a good economic decision but people don’t have a special right to parking.

      Given the state of our transit system and the fact that population density is still a work in progress, it makes sense for the city to provide some parking. However, that should not be done at the expense of the walkability and the historic charm that draw people to OTR in the first place.

      The city should lift parking minimums until there is a measurable negative impact on the number of people choosing to live, work and shop in OTR. I’m sure this developer is aware that people will complain if there is no parking but they think they can fill the building anyway. Let’s see if they are correct.

      And isn’t this one of the problems we built the streetcar to address? There is usually plenty of parking in downtown garages.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Here’s the thing though, the building will still provide parking no matter what, its just that the city has laws in place to force it to provide waaaay more than it will normally need. The argument isn’t get rid of parking its let the market decide how much is needed.

    • ED

      Yeah, I think I saw something in the staff report about them agreeing to share 175 spaces with 3CDC and that the Zoning Administrator wants another 100 secured spaces but I may be misinterpreting that.

      The City is treating this building like any other office building in the rest of the city, which is wrong, and rezoning to DD is an overreaction to a simple problem and would set a bad precedent for OTR slowly becoming more like downtown.

    • ocschwar

      “Where do you think the employees of this company will park their cars? ”

      You’re assuming they will take their cars to work, against considerable evidence to the contrary.

      “The alternative is for the city to spend taxpayer money building another garage in OTR ”

      No, the alternative is to price the parking in the area in accordance with demand. There is no reason it needs to be free of charge.

  • charles ross

    There’s free parking at the casino. What’s that – 2 blocks away?

    • I’m pretty sure the casino ended that practice a couple months ago.

    • Oh, did they finally do that? I am curious as to how they’re enforcing it.

    • The casino keeps threatening to end the free parking but they have not actually done so. Plenty of my coworkers still park there on a regular basis.

    • Thanks Travis.

    • charles ross

      I think the casino needs to cultivate neighborhood friends, so free parking is a little like free booze! If they do end the free ride, they should offer a bargain rate. Then they need to host a gondola platform to Mt Adams.
      http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/13/business/skypods-gondolas-urban-transport/

    • ED

      Yeah, when you routinely have 700 spaces available it doesn’t really make sense to start cracking heads.

  • ED

    The parking deck on the NW corner of Central and 12th is $2/day and is rarely full.

    The main flaw of parking requirements is that they don’t account for shared/neighborhood scale demand, which is how it works in urban areas where you don’t drive to each building like suburbia.

  • This is pretty outrageous story, IMO. Just waive the parking requirement! Geez, this is the kind of development we would shower with taxpayer subsidies in Cleveland. And right next to the streetcar!

    • ED

      Urbanism according to zoning minimum parking requirements

    • Brian Boland

      ED, that’s not even the closest under-used parking lot. Here’s the WCET parking lot across central parkway. So much capacity, so little demand in this corner of the city.

    • ED

      And this space can’t count per the staff report because it’s not “secured”, which is ridiculous since public parking by nature is not secured by one user.

    • 14th&Bremen

      This lot is actually used by the staff of the arts organizations who work at Music Hall. It is empty now because most of these organizations have found new homes during the Music Hall work. I will agree that the lot and parking structure is much larger then what is needed for the staff who work at Music Hall. The lot, parking structure and Wash Park garage are often very full though during performances at Music Hall.

    • ED

      Grandin should try to come up with a shared parking agreement since office hours would not typically overlap with music hall performances.

    • Bernard Finucane

      In other words, it’s almost always empty, and the times when it is used do not overlap the times that the office building would be used.

    • ED

      There’s also a pay lot immediately to the south of the office building that’s probably going overlooked or can’t be counted because spaces aren’t “secured”

    • Neil Clingerman

      Welcome to the world of Cincinnati politics where everyone forgets that Cincinnati is a really urban city.

    • ED

      And where the vocal minority community council NIMBYs are second in command

    • Well there is some hope. After publishing this story, we have been informed that there is a movement at City Hall to get the parking requirements waived for this project.

      Even better, this, along with a variety of other strange parking issues lately, may restart the conversation about eliminating mandatory minimum parking requirements altogether.

    • At this point, given the abundance of parking, I’d prefer to let the market determine the need for additional parking. But if there are to be parking minimums I hope the city at least has a basis for setting them that is more than an average from a manual. Team up with UC and actually do some local studies in our neighborhoods.

  • SC

    Another file added to the folder “reasons we need better public transit.” The need for better public transit should’ve started years ago (almost did with Metro Moves.) Now that the city is growing again, we’re quickly seeing the error of our ways. No better time than now to get the conversation moving again about real, efficient, and easy public transit.

  • Brian Boland

    I’ve always described myself as socially liberal, and fiscally conservative, so in that frame of mind, let the market decide how much parking is needed, not a 1980s era parking stipulation. It seems the cure (minimum parking requirements) is worse than the disease (parking), especially in light of increasing our transit options.

  • SquidHunter

    Stop ruining down town with an over abundance of parking for the sake of a few simpletons who can’t live life without a car (or complain about having to walk a couple blocks). If you design down town around suburban people, that’s what you’ll get; traffic, parking lots and mediocrity. Design a friendly, walkable down town for residents, and urban professionals and you’ll end up with a truly great place to be. If you’re a car dependent slob commuting in from suburbia GTFO, you contribute nothing good to this city.

  • thebillshark

    Two points:

    1. I was a little surprised that this project worked out the deal with 3CDC for so many spaces in Washington Park garage, when Town Center garage across Central Parkway is the same distance away, if not closer, and so underutilized and so cheap (2 dollar a day!) Although people complain how it doesn’t fit in with the urban fabric, Town Center garage could really handle a lot of the overflow of OTR parking needs if people thought to use it. When the streetcar is up and running, you could park there for $2 and get anywhere downtown, including the stadiums!

    2. I wouldn’t freak out too much about this. It sounds like the proposed zoning change (CC-A (Community Commercial – Automotive) to DD-C (Downtown Development – Support)) makes more logical sense anyway and may result in the requirements being waived altogether. No big deal, unless the initial vote by the Historic Conservation Board indicates they intend to strictly enforce parking requirements for developments in the future (which they shouldn’t be doing if they want to achieve the goal of historic conservation.)

    • I have a feeling that the City Center Garage, along with its skywalk across Central Parkway to Music Hall, will be torn down in the coming years. I suspect those in the know are aware of this and suggested to work out an arrangement with Washington Park Garage instead of City Center Garage as a result.

  • Bernard Finucane

    How dumb can you get?

  • John Morris

    Aside from the obvious waste and destruction, the added cost will help speed up the gentrification of OTR, insuring that rents will be high. What a helpful caring, government.