New Race Street Project Seeks Exceptions, Draws Criticism

Steiner + Associates, a Columbus, OH based development company, has submitted plans through Platte Architecture + Design to the City’s Historic Conservation Board (HCB) to build a six-story mixed-use infill project along Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine (OTR). The proposal has drawn criticism and support from neighbors and the local Over-the-Rhine Foundation Infill Committee, an independent committee which reviews new construction in the neighborhood on a volunteer basis. A hearing on the project is scheduled for Monday, April 10.

The proposal for new construction would demolish two single-story garages at 1216-1218 Race Street and replace them with a 20-unit apartment building with approximately 3,300 square feet of ground level retail. Along Race Street the building will be five stories, and along the rear alley it will be six.

The developer is seeking three variances relating to buildable density, parking requirements and retail frontage. The variance for density would double the allowable number of units allowed on the site by its current zoning. The property is located along the Cincinnati Bell Connector route and qualifies for a 50% reduction in parking, the applicant is asking for relief from the remainder.

City staff recommends denial.

Included in information presented in the HCB packet are numerous letters of support for the project coming primarily from other residents and members of the city’s architectural community praising the design for its modern, 21st century design.

In one letter OTR residents Marcia Banker and Jeffrey Schloemer expressed their frustration with the Board, “We continue to be at a loss why well-designed projects that look as though they were created and built in the 21st century receive push back while new construction that is little more than not a good copy of 19th century design that is more fit for Main Street USA at DisneyWorld encounter little resistance.”

The OTR Foundation Infill Committee reviewed the project and found it to meet only one of eleven evaluation criteria for conformance to its infill guidelines. In her review of the application, City Historic Conservator Beth Johnson found that the project only met two of the OTR Historic Guidelines on infill projects.

“At this time staff does not feel that enough support or evidence has been provided to staff to justify that there is a hardship of any nature, to allow for a doubling in the density allowances, to not have the applicant attempt to provide any of the required parking, as well as justifying the extensive amount of building recess on the ground floor of the building,” Johnson stated in her report.

There is no question that demand for development in OTR is accelerating the scale and impacts on the historic urban city neighborhood. But should zoning and historic guidance rules be ignored for the sake of development? And if not, is it time to perhaps reevaluate these rules in light of the evolving development patterns and changing conditions in the neighborhood?

The Historic Conservation Board hearing on this project is at 3pm on Monday April 10 at the 5th Floor Conference Room of II Centennial located on 805 Central Ave.

Update: The hearing for this project has been moved to April 24th as reported by the Cincinnati Business Courier.

Editors Note: Mr. Yung is a member of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation Board of Trustees.

PHOTOS: Downtown Construction Boom Underway

With well over $2 billion in new construction projects underway in Cincinnati’s urban core it is not hard to miss with construction fencing, cranes and lifts working at full tilt all over downtown and Over the Rhine. Many new construction and building renovations are underway throughout downtown and Over-the-Rhine. This gallery features photos of 16 projects taken this month. If added up the projects in the photos below are just a fraction of overall development with just over $400 million in construction activity.

 

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Cincinnati Neighborhood Wins Major Preservation Award

In 2006, Over-the-Rhine was listed as one of America’s Most Endangered Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Today that very same neighborhood is celebrated as a tale of monumental historic revitalization and revival. That effort was honored yesterday at an awards ceremony in Washington D.C.

At a reception that is part of National Historic Preservation Advocacy Week, representatives from the City of Cincinnati’s Zoning Department, Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) and the Over-the-Rhine Foundation were presented with the “Preservation’s Best” of 2016 award by the group.

The event is sponsored by Preservation Action, American Institute of Architects, National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Trust Community Investment Corporation, Unico, Inc., and Center for Community Progress and aims to highlight significant projects developed through federal incentives such as Historic Tax Credits.

“Through federal incentives like the Historic Tax Credit, historic preservation drives economic development and community revitalization across the nation by taking historically significant buildings that are dated and abandoned and turning them into viable community assets for a 21st century economy.” spokesperson Rob Naylor said in a statement.

On hand from Cincinnati to receive the award was Kevin Pape of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, Zoning Administrator Matt Shad and Historic Conservator Beth Johnson from the city. West side Congressman Steve Chabot (R) also attended.

Naylor stated that the award, “highlights exemplary Historic Tax Credit projects that revitalize our cities and small towns and breathe new life into our communities. At a time when the future of the Historic Tax Credit is uncertain, these projects help to highlight the impact the program has had in communities across the country.”

Since 1981, federal tax credits have helped save over 377 buildings in Over-the-Rhine for a total of $267 million dollars. Despite losing 50% of its housing stock since the 1930’s the neighborhood is still considered the largest collection of 19th century Italianate architecture in the country and has been regarded  as “the coolest neighborhood in America.

Editors Note: Mr. Yung is a member of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation Board of Trustees.

Nationwide Housing Shortage Most Dire For Those at the Bottom

For those at the lowest rungs of America’s economic classes, the affordable housing crisis is bad and getting worse. According to a 2011-2013 study released in 2015 from the Urban Institute, not a single county in the United States has an adequate supply of affordable housing for those in extreme poverty. Families classified as extremely low-income (ELI), or those making less than 30 percent of an area’s median household income, have far less options today than in 2000. On average nationally, only 28 affordable units are available for every 100 ELI renter households. That represents a 25% decrease in the years since 2000, when there were 37 affordable units for every 100 ELI households.

In Hamilton County, there are 52,749 ELI households (making $20,600 or less), with only 17,972 affordable units. This amounts to around 34 affordable and adequate units for every 100 households. In 2000, there were 47 units for every 100 ELI renter households. As usual, most of Cincinnati’s peer cities are facing a similar situation for their region’s poorest residents. In Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), there exist only 31 affordable units out of 100 families today, compared with 44 in 2000. In Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), there are 35 units per 100 families today while there were 44 per 100 in 2000.

Since 2000, many rural and suburban counties have joined metropolitan counties in their extremely low numbers of available units per needy households. The change is visibly stark on the Infographic for the State of Ohio, As the Urban Institute notes, the most drastic changes have occurred in the Midwest, South, and West in states like Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama, and Nevada, where comparatively abundant ELI housing availability in 2000 has plummeted.

The last 16 years have also seen ELI families increasingly reliant upon federal assistance for housing. The Great Recession, rising prices in many metropolitan areas, stagnant wages, and lack of development mean that while only 57% of families relied on HUD in 2000, more than 80% do now.

Indeed, while the Urban Institute points out that federal assistance for housing has grown (albeit not enough), they also acknowledge that many in the US Congress frequently call for cuts to federal housing assistance provided through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Without this federal assistance, an already-dire situation for ELI families becomes catastrophic. Accounting for a theoretical total cut in federal housing assistance, there would exist only 5 affordable units for every 100 ELI renter household. That amounts to a mere 609,802 units for 11,341,484 ELI households. In Hamilton County specifically, there would be only 10 units for every 100 households. Cuyahoga and Allegheny Counties fair even worse, with only 5 and 3 units per 100 ELI renter households, respectively.

While the nationwide housing crisis has been much-discussed, including on this site, the true scope of the problem is most visible at the bottom of the economic spectrum. The biggest loss in affordable housing for extremely low income families has occurred mostly in unassisted units, highlighting the need for more affordable developments nationwide. Without increased federal assistance, along with more and smarter development across the nation, many will be driven to homelessness and unsafe & overcrowded housing.

Sewer Improvements Save Money, Reduce Environmental Impact

Changes are afoot for Cincinnati residents — underfoot, that is.

The Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) recently unveiled sweeping changes to the region’s sewage system. By optimizing the existing infrastructure’s ability to handle wet weather, newly-installed smart technologies will reduce environmental risk, slash rates, and prolong its life.

“Our smart sewer system is anticipated to save tens of millions of dollars in capital investments in projects to control sewer overflows,” said MSD Director Gerald Checco in the press release. “This is our best chance of reducing spending and ultimately costs for our ratepayers.”

Prior to this announcement, MSD’s reputation had been marred by a string of scandals. Investigations into their financial practices exposed several improprieties and a once-in-a-century storm flooded homes across the county with backed-up sewage.

Illustration of a CSO (City of Cincinnati)

Yet, amid the hoopla, the Mill Creek basin was reaping the benefits of a smart sewer system. A centralized “brain” tracked flow rates throughout the system. New sensors and gates diverted excess storm runoff into larger pipes or other areas that weren’t full. “The ability to have a view of our entire system in real time really helps us to respond quicker to things because it raises that awareness,” said Missy Gatterdam, head of MSD’s watershed operations division, in an interview with UrbanCincy.

Outside this basin, MSD’s pipes empty into nearby streams or rivers, a process called a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). CSOs are legal, but they can damage the environment. Sewers combine domestic, commercial, and industrial runoff with storm runoff. On dry days, this is not a problem. Toxic wastes migrate to a treatment facility.

On particularly rainy days, however, the pipes can’t handle all of the waste and water and must dump these undesirables into the ecosystem. (Here is a video MSD made to help explain the process.)

Untreated water isn’t just disgusting; it’s also deadly. An Environmental Protection Agency report to Congress in 2001 says bacteria found in untreated waters can cause gastric disorders, typhoid, and even cholera. Thankfully, MSD’s smart system will reduces the 11.5 billion gallons of runoff and waste overflow that wind up in the region’s waterways every year.

Gatterdam remarked that the original plan was to rollout the technology to the Muddy Creek and the Little Miami River basins this year, but budget cuts by the county have halted any expansion.