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.

Alternatives For Liberty Street Reconfiguration Improvements Vary Widely

Following a public meeting at the Woodward Theater on November 18, Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation and Engineering is asking for feedback on the latest proposed alternatives to potentially narrowing the seven-lane, 70-foot-wide road corridor.

At the meeting, City staff provided drawings for seven alternatives to the existing design. Drawings included configurations for two-, four- and seven-lane configurations of the street, along with commentary on the pros and cons of each.

The two- and four-lane configurations would give a certain amount of space back to property owners along the south side of the street, thus increasing the development potential of some corner lots. Only a few of the seven-lane configurations included bicycle lanes on each side of the street, while others sacrificed some on-street parking to make way for bike lanes.

At the public meeting, neighborhood residents raised concern about the impact of through traffic and trucks on the street. In particular, the concern was that the street is too wide and acts as a barrier for pedestrians.

The Over-the-Rhine Brewery District, which has been the leading group pushing for this project, asked at the public meeting why the reconfiguration developed as part of their Master Plan was not included. After some consideration, City Hall has since added an alternative based on the Brewery District’s concept that included a three-lane road configuration with protected bike lanes on each side.

The proposed narrowing of Liberty Street, which was originally built as a 25-foot-wide neighborhood street, is seen by many as an opportunity to bridge the physical and psychological divide between the northern and southern portions of Over-the-Rhine.

“Minimizing the number of lanes on Liberty Street is important so the neighborhood can take over the streets,” Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of Taste of Belgium, commented after the public meeting. “I think it is important to have development on the south side, but we should also accommodate bicycles.”

Allowing for new development, while also accommodating bicycles and preserving on-street parking seems to be the biggest challenge currently facing the project. At some point, one of the items will have to give.

“I bike on Liberty Street, but I bike everywhere, and the majority of people would not find this comfortable,” Flechet continued. “I have never done it during rush hour, and I cannot imagine this would be any fun.”

City officials are accepting public comment on the various alternatives until Wednesday, December 16. The city has posted the alternatives and a public feedback form has been posted on their website. Once the public comment period is closed, City staff says they will narrow the number of alternatives down to two, and recommend one to proceed to final design.

There is currently no funding identified to implement any of the alternatives, but City officials hope to secure the necessary funds at a later date.

 

Could Narrowing Liberty Street Unlock New Development Potential in OTR?

Streets can set the mood and feel of a place. Narrow streets with low traffic are quiet, easy to walk across and casual. Wide streets can be chaotic, full of traffic and hard to bridge on foot. There is a wide street in Over-the-Rhine that cuts through the northern part of the neighborhood and the southern revitalizing part of it. It’s Liberty Street.

Liberty Street was not always so wide. Before 1955 the street, which now dead ends at Reading Road and the I-471 ramps, extended from Highland Avenue on the hill in Mt. Auburn to the U.S. Post Office facility in Queensgate. The width of the street was a modest 25 feet.

In 1955, however, the city decided to widen and connect it to Reading Road as a east-west cross town access point for the interstate highway system. Buildings on the south side of the street were demolished and the street was widened from a two lane road to one with five lanes.

The street is currently 70 feet wide and is both dangerous and difficult to cross for people walking. Development has not taken place on the south side of the street since most of remaining lots are too small and oddly shaped for development.

Beyond its physical barriers, Liberty Street also serves as a psychological barrier between the nascent Brewery District and vibrant Gateway Quarter.

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In 2012, the City’s Department of Transportation & Engineering began studying ways to calm traffic on the street in order to make it safer. After spending two years evaluating traffic conditions, City Hall is beginning to engage the public for comment on the proposal. The first will be tomorrow night at the Woodward Theater.

The session will build upon the idea proposed in the OTR Brewery District Master Plan, which called for the removal of a lane of traffic to add protected bicycle lanes in both directions. The UrbanCincy team recently discussed the proposal and found that while this is a good starting point, there is a larger opportunity for the street to spur more redevelopment along the corridor.

Our proposal eliminates one lane of traffic in each direction, but preserves the middle turn lane. A two-way contraflow protected bicycle lane would then be installed on the south side of the street. This leaves approximately 15 feet of unused street right-of-way.

This unused right-of-way could be returned to property owners on the south side of the street, thus narrowing the overall street by 15 feet. It would also increase the size of the southern properties which would increase their development potential and improve safety for pedestrians crossing the street. This would serve as particularly beneficial for small parcels such as those at the corner of Vine and Liberty or between Main and Sycamore.

This idea builds on the ideas put forward by Jeff Speck, who recently released a video on traffic calming and embraces modern street design standards that are found in the National Association of City Transportation Officials Street Design Manual.

The Liberty Street Safety Improvement Open House will take place at the Woodward Theater located at 1404 Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. The session starts at 6pm and will last until 8pm. It is served by the #16, 17, 19 and 24 Metro bus routes, and is less than a block away from a Cincy Red Bike station.

High Profile $35M Hyde Park Condo Building Officially Topped Out

The corner of Observatory and Shaw Avenues now looks much different than it did a year ago. Yesterday, development of 2770 Observatory, a 30-unit luxury condominium project by Greiwe Development officially topped out with a ceremony at the site. The project, which we reported on back in May of 2014, has transformed the corner with the demolition of several apartments that were formerly on the site.

At the ceremony, Mayor John Cranley (D) marked the occasion by proclaiming November 10 “Hyde Park Landmark Day,” recognizing the neighborhood’s historical charm, signature places and 2770 Observatory’s place as its newest landmark. The $35.5 million modern four-floor structure will stand as a gateway to the neighborhood with future residents just steps from Hyde Park Square.

With 16 of the 30 units pre-purchased, the development is expected to sell out before it opens in summer 2016.

Topping Out ceremonies are a Scandinavian custom dating back to 700 A.D. thought to bring good luck to future occupants. After remarks from project developer Rick Greiwe and Mayor Cranley, the event concluded with the traditional raising of an evergreen to the top of the building’s newly completed wooden framework.

2770 Observatory is the fifth Greiwe lifestyle development in the Cincinnati area since the grand opening of Mariemont’s Jordan Park in 2008. In October, Greiwe, with a group of developers known collectively as Gateway Partners LLC, was selected to develop a 12-acre site adjacent to downtown Montgomery, where he will build high-end condominiums as part of an urban in-fill village.

“We choose to build our projects in neighborhoods where dining, shopping and entertaining are within one block of the resident’s front door,” said Rick Greiwe, principal of Greiwe Development in a prepared statement, “Hyde Park Square is the ideal location for one of our developments. It’s in demand and draws people from around the whole city. I’ve been watching it for sometime — waiting for the ideal site to become available, and this is absolutely it.”

2770 Observatory features three bedroom and two bedroom units with large foyers and open entertaining areas. With 10-foot ceilings and 8-foot windows, the units range in size from 1,915 to 4,675 square feet. Each unit has its own balcony or patio. The building has an underground parking garage, and a resident pathway leads from Linshaw Court to Michigan Avenue and Hyde Park Square. Prices range from $700,000 to $2 million.

UrbanCincy To Host Definitive Debate On Proposed Parks Tax at Niehoff Urban Studio

Cincinnati Parks Levy Community ForumWhile the presidential election happens next year, there is plenty of excitement on this November’s ballot for Cincinnatians. In addition to the much publicized ballot item that would legalize marijuana in Ohio, there is also an item, Issue 22, that would raise property taxes in the City of Cincinnati in order to provide capital funding for park land and facilities.

The proposed 1-mill tax would be written into the City Charter, and become what is essentially a permanent tax.

Early on the proposal gained wide-spread support, but has since been riddled with controversies. As such, it has become one of the hottest news items of late.

For those not familiar, the proposal was rolled out and explained as providing a dedicated funding source to cover capital expenditures for a number of projects at Cincinnati Parks, including helping address an estimated $55 million in deferred maintenance.

Since that time, however, opponents have charged that the way the proposal is structured gives too much power to the mayor and that it would become a slush-fund with little to no checks and balances. Further adding to the controversy has been the heavy involvement of existing and former politicians that have come under scrutiny lately for potentially improper use of public funds to bankroll the pro-tax campaign.

On Tuesday, October 20, UrbanCincy will host a debate on the topic with Green Umbrella, Tri-State Trails and Queen City Bike at the Niehoff Urban Studio in Corryville. While other debates have taken place on the issue so far, this is the first and only debate that will feature Mayor John Cranley (D) – the initiatives most prominent proponent – live and in person.

Mayor Cranley will be joined at the event by Don Mooney from Save Our Parks. The due represent the leading voice on both sides of the equation. The idea is to gather the public for a community forum to learn more about both sides of the issue, regardless of where you may or may not stand on the matter.

I will be joined by Tom Neyer Jr. of Mainstream Strategy and University of Cincinnati history professor David Stradling to moderate the discussion.

The Cincinnati Parks Levy Community Forum is free and open to the public. It will take place from 6pm to 7:30pm at the Niehoff Urban Studio in Corryville. The location is well-served by Metro bus service and is within a block of a Red Bike station. Those interested in attending are kindly asked to register in advance online so that proper arrangements can be made at the venue.