Cincinnati Leaders Approve City’s Third Form-Based Code in Walnut Hills

Last week Cincinnati City Council approved the form-based code for Walnut Hills. The unanimous vote marks the third neighborhood to adopt this new regulatory tool for neighborhood redevelopment. Yet even after several years of development, many do not understand the basics about the new land use planning tool.

First of all, a form-based code is type of regulation that is developed by community stakeholders to guide future development or redevelopment of a community. Under a form-based code, new developments are typically configured to mesh with the character of the community’s vision.

Form-based codes get their name because it creates a type of regulation that typically focuses more on the form of the building and its relation to the public realm (i.e. the street) rather than the usage of the building. Development under the code occurs “by-right” and means if a new development complies with all the code’s provisions it can be built without having to go through the extensive and sometimes drawn-out process of traditional development.

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Over 700 American cities have adopted some type of a form-based code, with Miami being the largest city to completely adopt this type of code. Near by they have been used in Nashville and Columbus to spark development in revitalizing areas of their inner cities.

Former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (D) championed this movement locally and actually led groups of local officials and business leaders to Nashville to study the results of their form-based codes in 2008 and 2012.

While some cities have used these tools to encourage pedestrian friendly, mixed-use developments where none exist, older more established cities such as Cincinnati have opted to implement them in order to ensure that new development integrates seamlessly into the historic charm and character of the city.

Bellevue, KY became the first municipality in the Cincinnati region to adopt this type of regulation in 2011.

Cincinnati first began pursuing the idea of developing a form-based code in 2009. After receiving funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, city staff selected Opticos to lead in developing the new code. Dan Parolek, principal of Opticos, wrote the book on form-based codes, quite literally.

After conducting a city-wide charrette in May 2012, the City of Cincinnati worked with Opticos to refine the code and prepare it for adoption. The form-based code was adopted in early 2013. From there staff from the city’s planning department worked closely with neighborhoods to craft the regulating plan map.

Four neighborhoods were included in the initial implementation schedule: Madisonville, College Hill, Westwood and Walnut Hills. Both Madisonville and College Hill have fully adopted the code with Walnut Hills being the latest. Westwood appears to be the next neighborhood poised to adopt the code after winning unanimous support from the city’s Planning Commission in December 2013.

Mayoral Election Will Impact Cincinnati’s Planning Future

Cincinnati is in the midst of revitalization. There have been several significant accomplishments achieved since 2007 when the city’s Planning Department was reconstituted. Initiatives such as Plan Cincinnati and the development of Form-based code have united regional leaders and communities to help build a shared vision of the city’s future.

These efforts could be affected drastically with the election of a new mayor on November 5th.

Qualls: Focus on vision and and consensus building:
In her time as Mayor in the 1990’s and when she returned to City Council in 2007 Roxanne Qualls (C) has been the leader in implementing a bold vision for Cincinnati through planning policies. In the 1990’s, Qualls lead the effort to narrow Fort Washington Way which allowed for the expansion of downtown and the conversion of the riverfront into a showcase for the city.

The award winning Banks Master Plan owes its existence and implementation to Qualls’s dedicated leadership in establishing the Riverfront Steering Committee which developed the plan. By the time Qualls returned to council the plan had advanced through Mayor Mark Mallory (D) who formed The Banks Working Group and began implementing the plan in 2008.

Qualls has also been active in developing Plan Cincinnati, the city’s recently adopted comprehensive plan. But since her return on council she has been more closely associated with bringing form-based codes to Cincinnati.

Since 2007 she has led several groups on tours to Nashville, TN and Columbus, OH to learn more about form-based codes and how they benefit cities. Last month, that vision became reality when Madisonville became the first city neighborhood to adopt the form-based code regulating plan.

The Cincinnati form-based code is a comprehensive land use regulation that was developed by the city through years of community participation. It is a code that emphasizes that new development be constructed in a form that integrates into the traditional character of the neighborhood.

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Cranley: Focus on removing barriers for developers:
Running against Qualls is former council-member John Cranley (D) who served on council from 2001 to 2009. He resigned from council in 2009 to pursue building a private development in East Price Hill.

The Incline Square project, located next to the Queens Tower apartment building, was envisioned to have a 22,500 square-foot office building be constructed along with a 58-unit four-story apartment building and restaurant space. Only the residential and restaurant portions of that development were built.

A review of Cranley’s track record on council had shown that early in his council career, he had been an advocate for making the city more “developer friendly.” In 2002, he was instrumental as chairman on the Budget & Finance Committee in dissolving the city’s long standing Planning Department, the oldest continuously running planning division in the country at the time.

The dissolution came over disagreements between the Planning Department and a developer in Oakley for the Center City of Cincinnati development. The unprecedented move generated a good amount of public outcry.

In 2002 Cranley told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “”The Planning Department was almost given the mission of causing problems, because it was completely divorced from economic incentives and any kind of market reality.”

However; Cranley did not oppose Mallory’s effort in 2007 to reestablish the department. He also signed a motion with Qualls on advancing form-based codes in 2008, but at a recent mayoral debate sponsored by the Urban Land Institute, Cranley strongly opposed them. He has also stated his opposition to planning and zoning, stating that the solution to neighborhood problems is money.

The outcome of this election will determine the future vision and progress of Cincinnati. That vision of progress is either one forged on grand visions and community outreach or one that favors minimizing regulations and oversight to increase development in the city.

$1.6 Million Home For Cats Opens in Madisonville

The Ohio Alleycat Resource & Spay/Neuter Clinic (OAR) expanded into its new adoption center in Madisonville last month thanks to a generous $1.6 million donation from the Joanie Bernard Foundation.

The facility, the Joanie Bernard Home for Cats, was named in honor of the life-long cat lover. OAR’s adoption center is located adjacent to the current spay/neuter clinic which still houses 75 of the rescue’s cats. The new building offers 4,800 square feet of feline housing, which is double the amount of the original spay/neuter clinic.

Joanie Bernard Home for Cats
The new $1.6M OAR Home for Cats in Madisonville opened last month. Photograph by Paige Malott for UrbanCincy.

Inviting glass windows, wood framed doors, and custom play equipment makes life comfortable for OAR’s cats that are in between homes. In addition, there are special rooms for kittens, elderly cats, and those with a medical condition. Each room features a screened porch, which allows cats to access a protected outdoor area on their own through the use of a pet-sized door.

Over 400 people stopped by the Joanie Bernard Home for Cats for its grand opening, with many families taking home a new feline friend. To help guests learn more about their cats, OAR includes the animal’s back story on each room. Experiences tug at the heartstrings from tales of lost kittens to an 11-year-old cat that was displaced when his elderly owner passed away.

Other details include the cat’s age, breed, name, and picture so that visitors may identify a cat that shares a communal room.

With a modern, clean atmosphere, the Joanie Bernard Home for Cats hopes to appeal to those considering pet adoption and make the meet-and-greet experience more interactive for both human and feline.

Currently, OAR finds homes for 300 cats annually. Charlotte E. White-Hull, Director of Development and Outreach for OAR, estimates that the updated facility will increase the number of cat adoptions by 25%. By expanding into the new facility, OAR’s spay/neuter clinic also looks to double its service to treat over 16,000 cats a year.

Smart Growth May Offer Cincinnati a Way Out of Its Structurally Imbalanced Budget

Land Use Budget ImpactsThe City of Cincinnati passed yet another structurally imbalanced budget late last week. At the meeting Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (C) and other council members admitted that the approved budget once again relied on a one-time fix to get the city through another budget cycle without significant layoffs and major funding cuts.

Despite having its hands tied in coming up with creative ways to find revenues, Cincinnati is not alone in dealing with this dilemma. Hundreds of cities across the nation are struggling with budget deficits with some much larger than ours.

Smart Growth America recently completed a national report, titled Building Better Budgets, with findings that could help many municipalities find long-term solutions to their budget crisis. The report makes three main arguments that smart growth development, described as compact, walkable and mixed-use overall save municipalities on upfront infrastructure costs, service costs and serve to increase the city’s tax base better than suburban style developments.

After reviewing a diverse collection of cities across America, such as Raleigh, NC,  Nashville, TN and Champagne, IL, the study found that smart growth development costs an average of 38% less for upfront infrastructure, saves municipalities an average of 10% on ongoing delivery of services, and generates approximately 10 times more tax revenue per acre when compared to conventional suburban development.

“These figures are conservative, and many communities could save even more,” authors of the report stated. “Smart growth development’s potential for lower costs and higher revenues means that many municipalities can operate smart growth development at a surplus rather than a deficit.”

How local projects stack up
Several projects on the horizon are poised to add to the tax base in Cincinnati’s urban core. Phase two of The Banks, dunhumbyUSA Centre, the 580 Building apartment conversion, hotels at the Bartlett Building and Enquirer Building, and proposed apartment buildings above Fountain Place and the parking garage at Seventh and Sycamore all offer the upfront infrastructure cost savings and long-term revenue advantages discussed in Smart Growth America’s report.

The redevelopment of the Pogue’s Garage into a 30-story apartment tower with a grocery store, and an 11-store Holiday Inn at Broadway and Eighth Street are two other projects that offer similar benefits, but are currently on hold due to the ongoing legal dispute surrounding the City of Cincinnati’s Parking Modernization & Lease Plan. Additionally, a slew of projects in Over-the-Rhine, Walnut Hills and Northside also appear poised to help stabilize the city’s finances thanks to their smart growth advantages.

Property Tax Yield

Not all is well, however, as many recent real estate investments throughout the city have taken the conventional suburban development approach. The Incline District in East Price Hill, Villages of Day Break in Bond Hill, Oakley Station in Oakley, MetroWest in Lower Price Hill, and developments along Red Bank Road in Madisonville all seem to be missing the bigger picture about the financial advantages of smart growth.

In addition to the actual footprint of the development, the report discusses the importance of a project’s site location.

“The per-acre measurement of tax revenue is extremely important because land is a precious commodity for every jurisdiction,” the report concluded. “It is true that in some cases the total dollar amount of tax revenue in conventional suburban settings can be very large, but those conventional suburban developments consume large amounts of land. Many cities in the United States have a constrained land supply and must husband their land resources carefully in order to protect their solvency.”

While many of the real estate investments throughout Cincinnati are being done in a smart manner, others seem to be squandering valuable urban land with suburban-style developments. The City of Cincinnati, and other cities around the region, might be able to make a long and sustained positive impact on their budgets by refusing to go forward with projects that offer an easy, short-term score, and instead demanding more sustainable development practices in their community.

Cincinnati’s Recommended Budget Calls for 201 Layoffs, Program Eliminations

Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney released his recommended budget that makes a large number of cuts to fill the $35 million budget gap left behind following the State of Ohio’s reduction of $26 million in funding to the City of Cincinnati.

The original budget proposal from Dohoney included $25.8 million from an upfront payment included in the parking lease and modernization plan, which would have also included $3 million in annual payments thereafter. This proposal was approved 5-4 by City Council, but was put on hold by a local court until opponents were able to file petitions and get the proposal put on this November’s ballot for public vote.

“Though a legal victory is being vigorously pursued, the ultimate resolution is not assured in time to affect what must be in place by June 1 to take effect July 1, 2013,” Dohoney explained. “Should a final legal victory be realized after July 1, the Administration would presume to move expeditiously to reverse some of the impacts of the cuts contained within the recommended budget.”

Cincinnati Mounted Patrol
Cincinnati’s mounted patrol would be cut entirely if City Council passes the recommended budget. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

The end result of these cuts includes the elimination of 66 police officers, 71 fire fighters, 64 city employees, and the elimination of 60 vacant positions. The recommended budget will also eliminate funding for the following items:

  • Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance ($150,000)
  • Urban Agricultural Program ($65,000)
  • Heritage Events Subsidy – Opening Day Parade, St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Black Family Reunion, Juneteenth ($36,000)
  • Camp Washington, Fairview, Filson, Spring Grove Village, and Ziegler Pools ($167,650)
  • Bush Recreation Center in Walnut Hills ($127,710)
  • Energy Management Program ($100,010)
  • Mounted Patrol ($95,000)
  • Community Prosecution Program ($83,857)
  • Delinquent Accounts/Receivables Program ($75,460)
  • Claims Program ($55,680)
  • Tire Collection Program ($30,880)

In addition to the elimination of these programs, no funding is budgeted for either 2014 or 2015 as a result of limited General Fund resources.

Furloughs for City Management staff will also take place, and the City of Cincinnati would also use a larger amount of projected casino revenues to balance this budget, even though Dohoney has recommended against that in the past due to the unpredictability of these funds.

“While balancing a budget deficit with mostly cuts is not preferred, the timing of the new fiscal year coupled with the timing of the litigation over the parking deal makes it the only real option with a number this large,” Dohoney stated in a prepared release. “Our goal is going to be to recall staff as soon as possible and provide the best customer service we can deliver for the citizens in the meantime.”

A number of other measures are taken in the recommended budget to help close the budget gap, but the large amount of savings is realized through personnel layoffs. Dohoney has also recommended that the property tax millage increase from 5.7 mills to its maximum allowed 6.1 mills to raise an additional $1.3 million annually.

To help engage the public in this budget process, Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (C) has scheduled three public hearings. The first will take place at the Duke Energy Convention Center on Thursday, May 16 at 6:30pm, the second will occur on Monday, May 20 at 6:30pm at the College Hill Recreation Center, and the final meeting will take place at the Madisonville Recreation Center on Wednesday, May 22 at 6:30pm.

“My priority for the FY 2014 city operating budget is to make sure that all Cincinnati’s neighborhoods are safe and that we continue to attack blight that breeds crime,” Qualls stated. “As chair of the Budget and Finance Committee I will work to further reduce the number of layoffs for police, fire and health department personnel, to ensure that we keep all our neighborhoods safe and clean.”

Cincinnati Recognized for Recent Planning Successes, Historical Achievements at APA

Last month the American Planning Association (APA) held its annual conference for planning professionals. The 2013 conference was held in Chicago and organizers made efforts to showcase planning efforts of The Second City.

The educational sessions at the conference are made up of presentations by planning officials across the country. A few of the sessions were hosted by Cincinnati Planning officials who highlighted some of Cincinnati’s recent planning successes.

Of the three sessions that featured Cincinnati city planners, one actually focused on the recently adopted PLAN Cincinnati comprehensive plan.

The Banks
Cincinnati and Hamilton County received a national award from the APA for the implementation of the Central Riverfront Master Plan and The Banks. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

The plan was approved by the city in October 2012 and is the first long-term comprehensive planning vision of the city since 1980. The seminar also highlighted Cincinnati’s rich planning heritage as the city carries the noteworthy distinction of drafting the first ever city-wide comprehensive plan in the 1925 Master Plan. That plan, along with the 1907 Kessler Parks Plan, envisioned a walkable cityscape with an extensive parks system.

However, after World War II, the city drafted the 1948 Comprehensive Plan which proposed several highways and urban renewal projects. The 1948 plan was successfully implemented but instead of the promised revitalization of the city, the highway system and slum clearance policies supported by the plan drove the city’s population to the suburbs.

“The highway was unfortunately a successful implementation,” explained Gregory Dale from McBride Dale Clarion Associates, “Sixty years later we’re still trying to repair the damage.”

Presenters also highlighted how the Cincinnati’s Planning Department overcame the problems of being dissolved in 2002 and reconstituted in 2007.

“In some ways I think maybe if we had not been eliminated as a departments, maybe there would not be that strength today, maybe it wouldn’t have woken people up to see the importance of planning,” recalled Cincinnati Senior Planner Katherine Keough-Jurs.

She went on to say that she noticed the involvement and passion of participants in the new comprehensive plan was a positive sign that citizens were concerned about the future direction of the city. The citizen participation in the new plan highlighted residents desire for creating and reinvigorating walkable neighborhoods and commercial centers.

“The plan is unapologetically urban,”  Keough-Jurs told session attendees,”In many ways our new comprehensive plan returns to the vision of the 1925 plan.”

At the conference the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County received an Excellence in Planning award from the APA for the implementation of the Central Riverfront Master Plan. That plan, which was first developed in the late 1990′s when the stadiums and Fort Washington Way were proposed for reconstruction envisioned a new mixed-use riverfront neighborhood called The Banks.

In 2011 the first phase of the mixed-use neighborhood opened to the public and the second phase is slated to begin construction this year.

The planning department’s most recent project, the adoption of the final draft of the form-based code is on City Council’s Livable Communities Committee Agenda today for their 1pm meeting.

The code was approved by the city’s Planning Commission on March 7. Once the code wins approval from the committee it will go on to the full council for a vote. The city’s planning department is looking to meet with the four demonstration neighborhoods – Walnut Hills, Westwood, Madisonville, College Hill – in the coming months to move forward with changes in the zoning map to implement the form-based code.