EDITORIAL: Parking Requirement Removal Should Be First Step In Broader Reform

Recently, the Cincinnati City Planning Department sent out a notice to property owners in downtown and Over-the-Rhine regarding the implementation of an Urban Parking Overlay District. The city will hold several meetings with the next one being at the City Planning Commission meeting this Friday, July 27th at 9 a.m. If approved, the district would remove the requirement for uses in downtown to provide off-street dedicated parking.

Since 2012 when I first wrote about parking in downtown and Over-the-Rhine the number of off-street parking supplied has increased well over 3,000 parking spaces (38,760 in downtown alone according to DCI). The Banks parking garage alone with over 6,000 spaces is the third largest parking garage in the United States.

We have an abundance of parking in the urban core.

At its core function, the removal of required parking minimums has proven to allow for more creative parking solutions to blossom. As Donald Shoup, parking guru and professor at UCLA found in his book The High Cost of Free Parking, most parking minimums were established as arbitrary standards by planners in the middle of the last century. Many of these requirements are intended to account for the busiest times of the day or year. UrbanCincy interviewed Dr. Shoup in 2014 regarding a variety of local parking issues.

In Nashville for example, the removal of parking minimums helped remove barriers for small-scale developers who could not afford to acquire additional land for a few parking spaces. Instead, agreements with nearby garages helped facilitate automobile storage demands.

Back in 2012 Nashville Planner, Joni Priest told UrbanCincy, “Removing the parking requirements from downtown zoning allows flexibility for site-specific and program-specific solutions. Flexibility is key in urban environments,” said Priest. “As downtown becomes more comfortable for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users, new development will have the flexibility to build less parking.”

Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, the city continues to struggle with developers looking to build new infill or rehabilitate and reactivate the many historic buildings in the urban core.

Even when parking requirements are reduced or eliminated most banks and investors still require parking to be provided or identified for developments to move forward. Removing zoning requirements for parking often allows the developer to build the parking that is really needed and not what is arbitrarily demanded by local zoning controls. This reduces the cost of development and in turn, allows more affordable housing to be provided.

Removing parking minimums also preserves historic structures from being demolished for parking lots and garages. Over-the-Rhine is the largest collection of German Italianate buildings in the country yet it currently has lost over half of its historic structures. If parking minimums are retained, the demolition of our communities historic assets will continue to be encouraged to meet the city’s parking requirements.

There is an abundance of alternative options to traverse to, from and around the urban core. These modes include walking, biking, CincyRedBike, buses, streetcar, uber, lyft, Gest, and Zipcar. In the near future, we’ll likely see Bird scooters and Lime bikes introduced. In the long-term, improved transit and autonomous vehicles will reduce the need to own and store a vehicle. Every one of these trips is one less parking space needed per resident, worker or visitor.

It would be wise for the City to anticipate criticisms from residents of the urban core. Some of whom recently voiced concerns regarding the increasing struggle to find on-street parking spaces. This is a struggle that is common in many dense, historic urban neighborhoods across the country where the expectation is that it is very rare to snag a parking space directly in front of a persons residence or business. However, it is important to consider this in light of a broader parking strategy, one that would balance resident, business and development demands.

There are a few additional strategies for city policymakers can consider in conjunction with approving the Parking Overlay District to remove parking requirements. Most of these are adapted from Dr. Shoup’s recommendations:

1.) Continue to pursue the implementation of the on-street residential parking permit program.

2.) Add on-street 10-30 minute convenience parking at some spaces around Findlay Market.

3.) Consider opportunities for future public underground parking facilities to serve Findlay Market and the rest of Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street.

4.) Enable the demand-responsive capabilities for on-street parking meters. This strategy will encourage more meter usage and could be a potential revenue add for the city’s parking meter program.

As part of a broader plan, it makes sense to remove the parking space requirements in the urban core. To quote Shoup, “If Cincinnati uses fair market prices to manage on-street parking – the lowest prices that will leave one or two open spaces on every block at every time of the day – it won’t have to require off-street parking spaces for every land use. If the government regulated any other aspect of our lives as precisely as it regulates the number of off-street parking spaces everywhere, everyone would join the Tea Party.”

Removing parking minimums is a productive first step in the city’s comprehensive strategy to balance the demands of residents, workers, visitors who help make our urban core a vibrant and attractive place. Supporting this policy is a step in support of enhancing housing affordability, historic preservation, environmental sustainability and livability in our urban core.

Findlay Market Opens Third Neighborhood Farm Stand To Combat Food Deserts

Access to fresh, healthy foods has become an increasingly hot topic for discussion over recent years due to a rise in consumer interest.

The topic has become even more important for inner-city neighborhoods around the country, including in Cincinnati, that have been largely abandoned by traditional grocers and now lack easy access to these food options – even sparking official government programs meant to tackle such problems.

In line with this trend and in an effort to help address the situation, Findlay Market has been working to grow their reach and spread their product throughout the city over the past three years through the opening of seasonal farm stands in Walnut Hills, open every Wednesday from 4pm to 7pm, and East Price Hill, open every Tuesday from 3pm to 6pm.

And earlier this month, Findlay Market, in partnership with Dirt: A Modern Market, opened their third Farmstand in Evanston at 1614 Hewitt Avenue.

Kelly Lanser, Communications Manager for Findlay Market, says that the stand and will be open every Thursday, from 3pm to 6pm, until the end of October; and will be stocked with products from Dirt, Taste of Belgium, Mama Made It, and Em’s Sourdough Bread.

“We have been working closely with the Evanston Community Council, Xavier University, the Port Authority, and the City of Cincinnati to find the best location in the appropriate neighborhood,” Lanser told UrbanCincy.

The Farmstands are essentially miniature farmer’s markets that serve as an extension of Findlay Market by bringing products from the vendors at the historic market in Over-the-Rhine to other locations throughout the city.

Organizers of the Farmstand program see it as being a critical component for providing access to fresh, healthy foods to neighborhoods that might otherwise not have such options. An added benefit is that fact that the program also supports buying locally produced goods that ensures the consumer’s money will stay within the community.

To help make sure the fruits, vegetables and other products being sold at the farm stand are available for all members of the community, each location accepts the Ohio Direction Card/Electronic Benefits Transfer card; and to make it more affordable, Findlay Market is offering 2-for-1 incentive tokens to customers who use an Ohio Direction Card to purchase food.

“We are always open to launching Farmstands in new communities,” Lanser explained. “While we don’t have any definite new locations at this moment, we are always happy to speak with any neighborhood that is interested in opening one up.”

VIDEO: Use Red Bike to Experience Best of Downtown Cincinnati

It’s no secret that the center city boasts a seemingly endless number of things to see and do, for both visitors and locals alike. Moving about from one destination to the next will soon get easier when the Cincinnati Streetcar opens for service, but, for those able to do so, Red Bike serves as a perfect tool to check out as many places as possible.

By taking transit, walking or riding a bike, you can avoid the hassles of fighting traffic, looking and paying for parking, and can check your concerns about parking tickets or other hassles. Plus, it’s also a great way to get some exercise in the process.

Downtown Cincinnati Inc. knows this well.

To help promote such information, they partnered with US Digital Partners on a video to showcase just how convenient and enjoyable it can be to explore the center city by bike. And thanks to the continued expansion of Red Bike, you can now take it to go beyond Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

If the embedded video does not function properly, you can watch it on Vimeo here.

Revised Plan, Drawings Submitted for $27M Mixed-Use Development at Liberty and Elm

After announcing plans for a $27 million mixed-use development at Liberty and Elm Streets, Source 3 Development, the developers of record for the project, have been met with both cheers and push back on their proposal.

Located directly on the streetcar line, the project would be the first major new construction project to occur north of Liberty Street in Over-the-Rhine in many years. As scores of historic buildings are now being renovated around Findlay Market, many see this site as a critical piece of the Northern Liberties puzzle.

While preliminary designs were not released in January when the project was announced, the developer did discuss building massings and programming. Those plans called for the creation of 15,000 square-feet of street-level retail, 165 parking spaces in a three-level garage, and 118 apartments in new buildings, and within four existing historic structures that would be renovated as part of the effort.

In response to those details, the Over-the-Rhine Foundation issued a list of 12 concerns they had about the project. One of the primary issues was related to the appropriateness of a 85-foot-tall structure in a historic district made up of buildings that are generally shorter than that.

“The proposed height of the structure dwarfs all buildings in the surrounding area especially considering the smaller scale of Elm Street and the topographic elevation change from Liberty Street northbound on Elm,” a joint committee made up various neighborhood groups wrote to City Hall March 24.

“This will not only change the historic character of Elm Street and the Over-the-Rhine Historic District, but eliminate the views of downtown Cincinnati’s skyline enjoyed by residents on Elm and Logan.”

Source 3 responded to the comments from Over-the-Rhine Foundation by varying the heights of the two buildings to be construction, and reducing their heights from 85 feet to approximately 76 feet and 54 feet. These adjustments, Source 3 says, will increase the cost of the building and also forced the development team to reduce the number of apartment units in the development by eight.

The developer has also made a variety of other changes to respond to those 12 concerns from the community, including the elimination of two parking spaces in the garage and adjustments along the Liberty Street facade to minimize garage exposure and add retail frontage.

These will be presented to Cincinnati’s Planning Commission, due to a request to rezone the properties from Commercial Community Auto (CC-A) and Residential Mutli-Family 1.2 (RM-1.2) to Planned Development, on Friday, April 15 at 9am.

$27M LibertyElm Project Exposes Cincinnati’s Urban Development Struggles

Source 3 Development recently announced their intention to develop a $27 million mixed-use infill project at the northwest corner of Liberty Street and Elm Street.

The project’s prominent location near Findlay Market and along the streetcar line, combined with its unusual large tract of cleared land, grabbed headlines, particularly as the developer promised to create 118 apartments and 15,000 square feet of street-level retail. All of the retail, and 90 apartments, will be developed in the new structure, the remaining 28 apartments will be developed within four historic structures that will be preserved.

In addition to being bold, the proposal also illustrates the conflicts challenging Cincinnati’s development community as the city continues its rapid physical and social transformation.

Historic Preservation
The site is large and includes an unusual amount of cleared land. Of course, this land used to be occupied by historic structures.

Prior to the wave of investment that has changed the face of Over-the-Rhine, these historic buildings were left to decay to the point where City Hall issued emergency demolition permits for them. Since their demolition, the site has been used by Findlay Market as a community garden.

Cincinnati developers continue to be challenged with building in historic districts. Often, new structures struggle with balancing contemporary design with a historic neighborhood fabric. When it comes to the historic structures themselves, there still seems to be a split in the development community about whether it is more valuable to tear down aging buildings, or spend the money to breathe new life into them.

Until the understanding that historic buildings and urban fabric are what establish the value of neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine, there will continue to be a conflict between those who wish to preserve the old, and those who think reducing the upfront capital cost is more valuable.

Transit & Parking
The LibertyElm development is arguably located in one of the region’s most walkable neighborhoods, is served by numerous bus routes, and is surrounded by the Cincinnati Streetcar.

Yet, while touting these facts, John Heekin, Principal at Source 3 Development, says that a concerted effort was made to provide enough parking to not only satisfy its new residents and businesses, but also address parking demands in the surrounding neighborhood. In order to accomplish this, a three-level, 165-space garage is included with the project.

In fact, when asked about the possibility of adding more residential to the project, Heekin explained that while more apartments are being demanded, it is the provision of parking that is the limiting factor.

“We think the market demand for residential is higher, but most people who have seen our plans want more parking,” Heekin told UrbanCincy. “This is hopefully where the streetcar will help.”

In theory, this is absolutely where the streetcar should help. But in reality, this is where the neighborhood’s walkability, bikeability and existing bus service already help. In fact, City Hall has thought so much of these aspects that it has reduced minimum parking requirements along the streetcar line, and throughout the center.

Heekin says that his development team is hopeful the project’s residential tenants will not have as much a need for cars, thus creating an opportunity to turn some of those spaces over to public use – perhaps for people visiting Findlay Market.

But it is this hope, and lack of confidence, that creates such predicament for Cincinnati’s development community. While the city is becoming more transit friendly, many see the market still demanding one to two parking spaces per residential unit, and even more for commercial retail, which has become a regional draw in Over-the-Rhine in recent years.

Having been focused on developing projects on green field sites in suburbia for several generations, challenging urban infill projects are still new to Cincinnati’s development community. This is made most obvious in Over-the-Rhine where development is at a fever pitch, and developers must deal with both the conflict of building new or preserving old, and developing around cars or not.

Source 3 Development seems to be on the right track, as compared to many other recent development projects, but the conflicts remain clear.

Heekin says they hope to break ground on the project this fall, with residents and businesses moving in a year after that. Perhaps between now and then, Cincinnati’s development community will become more comfortable with building truly urban projects that preserve and complement the city’s historic assets, and take full advantage of the walkability, bikeability and transit service offered throughout the city.