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.

The City Series Aims To Create Scalable Development Model In Established Walkable Neighborhoods

The City Series is an interesting and somewhat new approach for urban housing development in Cincinnati. Instead of pursuing big developments with a large amount of land, or the redevelopment of existing structures, it instead is focused on challenging infill sites.

Leadership at Great Traditions and D-HAS, which is overseeing The City Series, say they chose the sites due to their walkable environments. They believe that the city’s neighborhoods represent the most important aspect of real estate today – walkability.

In addition, the development team says that they were attracted to each particular site cluster, of which they currently have three, because of its distinctive character. As of now their sites are located in Northside, O’Bryonville and East Walnut Hills.

So far, it seems as though the team’s assessment is correct. Two of the five currently available homes located on Gold Street in O’Bryonville and Cleinview Avenue in East Walnut Hills have already sold. With six more homes coming soon, the team expects that number to quickly rise.

What is also unique is that in each case the homes are being built in line with traditional design characteristics of their neighborhood surroundings. But starting at $595,000, the homes in East Walnut Hills and O’Bryonville are also being priced higher than most nearby properties. In Northside, the townhomes will range from $250,000 to $350,000.

The four homes on Cleinview Avenue are being built around an 1860s servant’s house from the original Klein Estate – the developer of the neighborhood in the late 19th century. In this case D-HAS came up with a design solution that uses three variations on an open floor plan, with car access coming through a rear yard with detached garages. This, the design firm says, allows the new homes to contribute to the streetscape at a pedestrian scale – no curb cuts to accommodate cars – and match the historic nature of the neighborhood.

About a mile east on Madison Road is the three-home Gold Street development, which actually sits on a road named Paul Street. Sitting at the end of a narrow side street, the site is within easy walking distance of both the Hyde Park and O’Bryonville business districts. For this development, D-HAS says that they looked to maximize the use private outdoor space in spite of the site’s difficult location and terrain.

Across town sits the team’s newest announced project on Fergus Street. Like the other projects, the five homes in this development are located in the heart of a historic neighborhood and feature a design reflective of its roots. Due to the differences of Northside compared to the other two neighborhoods, these homes are slightly smaller, but have the added benefit of being next to a neighborhood playground.

“We worked with the community groups – Cincinnati Northside Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (CNCURC) and the Northside Community Council to design a series of homes that would be a catalyst for the surrounding neighborhood”, explained Doug Hinger, owner of D-HAS and President of Great Traditions. “There are a lot of very cool and committed people in Northside that have been active for decades and I really enjoy our partnership.”

Driven by his passion for urban design, Hinger said he established D-HAS to provide a vehicle for his architectural pursuits. And from a business standpoint, he said they saw an opportunity to start these three smaller projects as a way to bridge the gap to bigger sites and see how designs in walkable neighborhoods like this will be accepted.

“We have found value in several facets,” Hinger told UrbanCincy. “Probably the biggest value is that we’re growing the business and developing a body of work that we can take into other Cincinnati neighborhoods.”

Great Traditions and D-HAS believe they are off to a good start, and hope to use these developments as a foundation for more projects like on a somewhat larger scale.

“We’re always looking for the next project and there are several neighborhoods where we think The City Series can work,” Hinter stated. Having a viable commercial aspect in place will certainly help bolster the prospects for scalable projects of this nature, especially since they are intending to push the boundaries of the current marketplace focus.

For many urbanists, the idea of scaling up the size of such an approach is an appealing one, and one that many thought would be the defining feature of Cincinnati’s annual CiTiRAMA home show. CiTiRAMA, however, has not yet been able to consistently produce successful urban infill in the way that Great Traditions and D-HAS are attempting to do.

Hinger’s hope is to make The City Series a citywide endeavor. If successful, Cincinnati’s urbanists may finally get the annual urban home show they have long desired.

Metro Rolling Out Series of Transit Enhancements for Peeble’s Corner District

As part of Metro’s system-wide upgrades, transit officials have announced a new project to upgrade stations and services in Walnut Hills.

The first part of these enhancements includes the availability of Metro’s monthly passes and regional stored-value cards, which were available as of last week, at the customer service counter at the Walnut Hills Kroger on E. McMillan Avenue.

“At Kroger, we are always seeking ways to offer conveniences to our customers,” explained Sarah Raney, Walnut Hills Kroger Store Manager. “The Walnut Hills Kroger is happy to partner with Metro to sell bus passes to our customers who regularly use them.”

In addition to many of the store’s customers, management also says that many of the store’s employees use Metro bus service to get to and from work on a daily basis.

According to Brandy Jones, Public Relations Manager at Metro, this is the first such partnership for the region’s largest transit operator, but could be the first of more to come. Jones says that this is a test to see how it works, and that additional partnerships with Kroger and other retailers may be explored.

The move is part of a larger goal to increase ridership system-wide. Other recent improvements have included the construction of the Uptown Transit District and Glenway Crossing Transit Center, and the establishment of the Montgomery Road Metro*Plus route and several new crosstown routes.

Metro officials tout the Walnut Hills Transit Enhancement Project as enhancing service for one of their busiest neighborhoods. According to ridership data, approximately 208,000 rides were provided to the historic neighborhood in 2014. Once complete in 2016, the enhancement project will introduce new sheltered boarding areas, improved lighting, sidewalk and landscape improvements, electronic real-time arrival screens and some other more modest improvements at a total of seven stations in the Peeble’s Corner area.

“Metro is invested in the Walnut Hills community,” Dwight Ferrell, Metro CEO & General Manager, stated in a prepared release. “We’re excited that the Walnut Hills Kroger has become the first major retailer in the region to sell Metro bus passes. This new partnership will help us better serve our mutual customers.”

The commitment from Metro is just the latest in a string of positive announcements from the surrounding neighborhoods, but community leaders are hoping to provide even more transportation choices, such as Cincy Red Bike, in the future as well. But as for now, neighborhood leaders are particularly bullish on the impacts the Walnut Hills Transit Enhancement Project will have on the E. McMillan Corridor.

“We think this is going to be a game changer,” Kevin Wright, Executive Director of Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, explained to UrbanCincy. “Peeble’s Corner has always been one of the largest transfer points in the city and we think ridership will only grow as we add more density to the corridor.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Metro provides approximately 2.8 million rides to the Walnut Hills area, while the number of rides is actually 208,000.

Designs Released for Two-Way Street Conversions in East Walnut Hills

Following an open house held in late November, officials from Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE) have released preliminary drawings that illustrate how portions of E. McMillan Street and William Howard Taft Road will be converted from one-way to two-way streets.

The two-way street conversion is under consideration now and will take into account public comments submitted through December 1. This particular project is a continuation of earlier two-way conversions on these same streets in 2012.

At the time residents in East Walnut Hills resisted the two-way street conversion, which then instead progressed only within Walnut Hills. Due to the success of that traffic pattern conversion, City officials say, neighborhood residents and leaders in East Walnut Hills have asked for the full project to continue as originally planned.

This second segment would convert E. McMillan Street between Victory Parkway and Woodburn Avenue, and Woodburn Avenue between E. McMillan Street and Taft Road. Once completed, the total project will have converted both streets from Woodburn Avenue on the east to May Street on the west near I-71.

The potentially biggest change will come at the intersection of Woodburn Avenue and William Howard Taft Road. According to the drawings, the existing center island at the three-way intersection would be substantially reduced in size in order to accommodate the new traffic patterns. A smaller version of the existing island would remain after the conversion.

The project is supported by the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, and is located in an area that is experiencing an influx of new businesses and private investment.

City Officials to Present Alternatives for Two-Way Street Conversions in Walnut Hills

City officials are moving forward with potential changes to E. McMillan Street and William Howard Taft Road in East Walnut Hills. The proposed changes are a continuation of other improvements that have been made in the area in recent years, and will be presented to the public at an open house meeting on Tuesday, November 18.

Developed by planners and engineers at Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE), the improvements being considered include two-way street conversions of E. McMillan Street and William Howard Taft Road between Victory Parkway and Woodburn Avenue, and Woodburn Avenue between E. McMillan Street and Taft Road.

The proposal is an extension of two other two-way street conversions that were completed in 2012.

According to community leaders, the projects are seen as an opportunity to better connect the business districts of Walnut Hills and East Walnut Hills.

“The two-way conversion would make the two neighborhoods much more connected and make the distance between DeSales Corner and Peeble’s Corner more walkable,” explained Kevin Wright, Executive Director of Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. “Our goal is to make the two districts more connected. Imagine grabbing a pizza at Fireside and then walking down to Myrtle’s Punch House, with a stop at Brewhouse along the way.”

The idea of converting one-way streets to two-way travel is one that has been gaining traction nationwide amongst residents and business owners looking to slow traffic and improve access within their communities.

While former Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (D) had pushed for the conversion of the one-way streets in Walnut Hills to two-way travel, there have also been a number of other conversions throughout Over-the-Rhine in recent years, including the ongoing effort to transition Main Street back to two-way traffic.

City planners, however, say that the two-way street conversions are not the only improvements being proposed. Other components include the typical streetscape enhancements, as well as some gateway features for the neighborhood business districts. All of the proposed changes, they say, are the result of recent conversations and feedback from neighborhood residents and stakeholders.

“The stretch of McMillan between Park Avenue and Woodburn, currently, is very auto centric,” Wright conceded. “Our hope is that this is one of many changes that will be put in place over the next few years to make that area more walkable.”

Greg Koehler, Senior Economic Development Analyst at Cincinnati’s Department of Trade & Development, says that the open house will be held at the Keller Student Center at St. Ursula Academy. The event will run from 5:30pm to 7:30pm. Official presentations will be made at 5:45pm and 6:45pm, but City staff will be on-hand throughout the entire meeting to answer any questions regarding the plans.

City officials were unable to provide UrbanCincy with the drawings of the proposed changes ahead of the meeting. Those interested in reviewing the detailed plans are encouraged to attend the open house scheduled for Tuesday, November 18. The meeting location is highly accessible via Metro bus service, and free bike parking is located at the school.