Planning Commission Flexes Muscle With Use of Interim Development Control Districts

While two of the more lengthy discussion items were controversial planned commercial developments in Hyde Park and Roselawn, Cincinnati Planning Commission had a slew of other items on their Friday afternoon agenda.

In three related moves, the City Planning Commission recommended using Interim Development Control Overlay Districts. Two were extensions of existing IDCs, but one was newly recommended. Traditionally the City uses IDCs to put a temporary control on development while planning or feasibility studies are conducted. During such time, the establishment of uses, construction of new buildings, and the demolition or alteration of existing structures are all subject to review by the City Planning Commission.

The two recommended for extension include IDC Districts 73 and 74, Wasson Line District and Pleasant Ridge NBD, for an additional six months to allow for the completion of land use and zoning studies.

The newly recommended IDC is for the hot real estate market surrounding the University of Cincinnati. In particular, the neighborhoods to the south and southwest of the university where midrise developments continue to be proposed and built, much to the dismay of many long-time residents.

IDC District 77 was recommended to be put in place for a period of three months while a University Impact Area Study will look at growth and housing conditions, parking and traffic, quality of life concerns, and new development vs. existing character in the areas within a quarter-mile walk from the university’s main campus and the Clifton Heights business district.

Here is a quick rundown of the rest of the cases and the recommendations made by the seven-member board:

  • Approved the sale of 1623 Pleasant Street in Over-the-Rhine to Avila Magna Group, LLC for $20,000. The developer plans to renovate the 3,296-square-foot building into three one-bedroom for-sale units and one two-bedroom for-sale unit.
  • Approved the sale of approximately three acres of land left over from the Kennedy Connector road project to Vandercar Holdings and Al Neyer Inc. for $530,000. The developers plan to consolidate the land with adjacent parcels to construct two office buildings of up to 45,000 total square feet.
  • Approved a dedication plat of 3.48 acres along the south side of River Road in Sedamsville to allow for a western extension of the Ohio River Trail.
  • Approved a final development plan for Phase 1G of Oakley Station, which will consist of a 12,000-square-foot multi-tenant retail building at the northwest corner of Vandercar Way and Oakley Mill Lane.

The commission also approved the sale of a one-acre parcel at Eighth and Sycamore streets to the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation for $1. This move will ultimately pave the way for a new $45 million development that will continue the transformation of the northeast quadrant of the central business district where numerous other midrises are advancing.

Through the agreement, the non-profit development corporation will create a garage air lot, a commercial air lot, and an apartment air lot. Once construction is imminent, 3CDC will sell the garage air lot to the City for $1 to allow for a 500-space parking garage to be built. They will then sell the apartment air lot to North American Properties for $1 for the construction of a 130-unit tower, and will retain ownership of the commercial air lot for the construction of 10,000 square feet of commercial space.

Niehoff Urban Studio Open House and Panel Discussion to Focus on Remake of Burnet Woods

Most University of Cincinnati students are familiar with the small forest just across Martin Luther King. During the warmer months, before the autumn turns too chilly and after the winter cold snaps, students can be seen biking, hanging out and walking through it. Even during the winter it’s a good place for a snowball fight.

At almost 90 acres in size, Burnet Woods is one of the larger parks in the Cincinnati Parks System. The park, which is over 142 years old, is the subject of this year’s Niehoff Urban Studio Open House titled, “Urban Parks and Urban Life.”

In 2014, Mayor John Cranley (D) identified the redesign of Burnet Woods as one of his administration’s top priorities. Calling it one of Cincinnati’s top gems, the mayor partnered with UC President Santa Ono to embark on a planning initiative to include the park in a wider plan to form an uptown eco-district.

Part of that plan was to engage UC planning and urban design students in a year-long worksho,p which will wrap up on April 23 with an open house and panel discussion moderated by John Yung of UrbanCincy.

 

“I’m really excited to see the students’ work and have a discussion on placemaking at the park,” Yung stated. “Cincinnati is blessed with historical parks such as Burnet Woods and Washington Park, to name a few. You don’t get that in most other American cities.”

This event is part of the continuing partnership between the Niehoff Urban Studio and UrbanCincy to examine complex urban issues. Last year UrbanCincy moderated a discussion panel on Tiny Living focusing on the opportunities and challenges of small space living in the urban environment. Prior to that, bus rapid transit and bike mobility were topics of conversation. We even hosted an urbanist candidates forum just ahead of the last city council election.

The Burnet Woods open house will take place on April 23 from 5pm to 8pm, with the panel discussion will beginning around 7pm.

The Niehoff Urban Studio is located at 2728 Vine Street in Corryville and is accessible by Metro*Plus and the #24, #78 Metro bus lines. A Cincy Red Bike station is located a block away and there is plentiful free bike parking on the same block.

$40M Avondale Town Center Redevelopment Could Change Fate of City’s 7th Biggest Neighborhood

If a team of local organizations have their way, Avondale Town Center will offer a jolt of investment like perhaps none other to date in the neighborhood.

The town center development project is actually the final of three phases worth of work in Avondale that have thus far taken a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and leveraged it into $100 million. So far the money, part of the community’s Choice Neighborhoods implementation, has gone toward rehabbing nine properties throughout the neighborhood, but the final phase will bring new construction to Reading Road.

“Since we initially conceived of the Avondale Town Center development, we’ve entered into robust conversations with the community on the potential for the whole project,” Jeffrey Beam, Director of Development for The Community Builders, told UrbanCincy in an exclusive interview.

Beam says that these conversations have led to an expansion of the original concept, and now includes a two-part $40 million vision for much of the northwest corner of Reading Road and Rockdale/Forest Avenue. Based on feedback from the community, the development, as it stands now, would include residential and commercial uses, along with a long-desired grocery store.

“The mayor is excited to do it all as one development that could leverage other financing like New Market Tax Credits,” explained Beam.

For years, The Community Builders have been working with Avondale Community Council and the Avondale Community Development Corporation in an effort to improve one of the city’s most historically significant and proud neighborhoods.

The centrally located Avondale Town Center site is composed of a large wooded lot, which is referred to as Avondale Town Center North and would be the first to be developed, and the 47,000-square-foot strip mall and an accompanying surface parking. In total, the redevelopment of the site would create three new structures, ideally built out to the street in a pedestrian friendly manner, and include a total of 118 residential units and 80,000 square feet of retail.

Project officials say that while many details need to be fleshed out, Avondale Town Center North is the most fleshed out so far and would include 72 residential units, of which 51 would be reserved for low-income renters.

The goal, Beam says, is to have the design documents complete this spring so that they can begin approaching potential retail tenants, and line up financing like New Market Tax Credits. If all of that happens, then ground could be broken on the project as early as 2016.

One of the things benefiting the effort is the fact that the City of Cincinnati owns the land, and is engaged in a land-lease with a coalition of local churches and individual leases with tenants inside the strip mall, which at one point held an IGA grocery store. The City’s formal interest was made clear when Mayor John Cranley (D) touted the project and showed off a conceptual rendering for the site in his inaugural State of the City address.

“This will provide access to healthier and fresher food choices in one of our city’s under-served food deserts,” Cranley, the first-term mayor from Mt. Lookout, told the audience on September 18, 2014. “Maybe a new grocery store in the heart of Avondale will help us to begin replacing a sub-culture of guns and early death with a culture of long life and healthy eating.”

While no potential grocers have been lined up at this point, the development team says they will be in search of a “proven” operator that can bring healthy and fresh food to the neighborhood, while also offering training and retention programs for local employment.

“We would like the operator to be committed to altering their offerings to be as customized for the neighborhood as possible,” said Beam. “While we are not sure what that means yet, we have gotten into varying levels of discussions with potential operators about it.”

Whatever tenants and operators eventually move in, they will be moving into a markedly different site than what has existed for the past several decades. Noting that the existing strip mall with most likely be torn down, or, at the very least, substantially altered, Beam says the aim to embrace the neighborhood’s urban location.

“The vision is for a mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development at Avondale Town Center.”

Considering there is a Metro*Plus station at this exact location and that approximately 40% of Avondale’s residents do not own a car, the development team seems to be heading down the right path.

Report Quantifies Growing Influence of UC’s Niehoff Urban Studio and Community Design Center

Urban ideation and practical implementation of projects are the dual subjects of the 2014 Annual Report from the Niehoff Urban Studio and Community Design Center.

The symbiotically connected interdisciplinary programs are administered by the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning at off-campus studio in Corryville.

The recently issued report details that since the program began in 2002, more than 1,200 students in urban planning, engineering, architecture, design, anthropology, business, nursing, political science and urban geography have worked with nearly 150 organizations on projects to address urban issues throughout the Cincinnati region and make it more sustainable.

Specifically highlighted within the report is the studio’s work on the Wasson Way Light Rail and Bike Trail Corridor, which continues the studio’s initiatives on Movement in the City and Building Healthy & Resilient Places.

Over the past year, a major effort focused on Burnet Woods, and how it could become the epicenter of a larger ecodistrict in Uptown. That work included a civil engineering team that explored stormwater management and planners that studied how to convert the park into a landscape with edible forests, a fish hatchery and more, while also improving public health through amenities. A freshman innovation seminar further researched student perceptions of the park and how to inspire greater use.

“Some of the ideas are really out of the box thinking,” stated Willie Carden, Director of Cincinnati Parks. “These ideas could well blossom and inspire actual changes in the park someday.”

Support from the Niehoff Studio and UC is important, Carden says, in order to help think about how to enhance the experience and enjoyment of the city’s top-rated park system.

Another highlight of the report was student participation in a competition by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) for a commercial real estate project with green infrastructure in East Walnut Hills.

Dave Neyer, ULI’s chair and executive vice president at Al Neyer Inc. said, “The experience was exciting because, in some ways, the students were the ones doing the teaching by introducing mentors — industry experts with 20 and 30 years of experience — to new ideas and creative solutions. The competition was a great example of collaboration.”

Neyer says that another competition is planned for 2015, and that everyone involved is eager to see what the next class of Niehoff students will accomplish.

Complimenting the interdisciplinary studio is the Community Design Center, which is also directed by Frank Russell with assistance from co-op students and graduate assistants. The goal of the CDC, Russell says, is to help community groups represent underserved areas and underfunded projects.

During 2014, for example, staff and students worked with Cincinnati Public Schools on the Rothenberg Academy’s rooftop teaching garden; Cincinnati AIA Urban Design Committee on the Mill Creek Restoration Project’s West Fork Creek trail plan; and Center for Closing the Health Gap to help promote healthy corner stores in some of Cincinnati’s “food desert” neighborhoods such as Avondale and the West End.

As if that wasn’t enough, they also facilitated a two-day workshop for planning officials featuring Australian designer and theorist Tony Fry called Metrofitting Cincinnati for a Resilient Future.

In total, the 40-page report summarizes two dozen events from 2014, ranging from open houses and lectures to workshops and panel discussions, including a highlight on Modern Makers, a partner arts collaborative.

EDITORIAL NOTE: UrbanCincy is a partner of the Niehoff Urban Studio and Community Design Center, and collaborates to produce events throughout the year that engage the public with the work and research being done at the studio.

EDITORIAL: Don’t Cancel Homearama, Relocate It

The past ten days have been interesting. A week ago I spoke with Keith Schneider from the New York Times about the booming residential property values in Cincinnati’s center city. Then, just one day later, the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati announced that they would be cancelling this year’s Homearama event in Clermont County.

The annual suburban home show has been going since 1962, and was cancelled this year due to, “increased activity in other segments of the housing market.” One of the builders that has traditionally participated in those over-the-top suburban home shows is Great Traditions, which recently expressed a growing interest in developing urban properties.

Great Traditions is not the only one. Greiwe Development has also said that they would like to start building homes along the Cincinnati Streetcar starter line, John Hueber Homes made the same transition to Over-the-Rhine, and Ashley Builders appears to just be getting started on their work in the center city.

So while homebuilders are struggling in the region’s outlying suburbs, they seem to be thriving in a manner that is pulsating outward from Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

It seems more than likely that Homearama will return in the not-so-distant future, but should it? With all the demographic and economic trends pointing in the opposite direction, perhaps the energy and money put into the 53-year-old suburban home show should be shifted elsewhere. I could think of some very nice places to do urban home shows in Pleasant Ridge, Walnut Hills, Avondale, West End, Price Hill, East End, and College Hill. And that is not even considering the possibilities in Northern Kentucky’s river cities.

Yes, there is CiTiRAMA, but that annual home show is often limited in its scale and tends to leave much to be desired.

The writing appears to be on the wall, which makes the outlandish Fischer Homes Expressway proposal look all the more desperate. Why keep up the fight? There are plenty of opportunities in our region’s first-ring suburbs, and the city governments overseeing those sites will assuredly be more than happy to cooperate.

Don’t believe me? Just ask those developers that had been defined by their suburban subdivisions for decades how they are liking life in neighborhoods like East Walnut Hills, O’Bryonville, Northside, Clifton and Over-the-Rhine where condos are virtually sold-out.

I hope the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati decides to not cancel this year’s Homearama after all. I just hope they relocate it to the inner-city where the residential housing market is hot.