On Monday, Gary Osterfeld presented to the community council what he called “very preliminary” sketches for the attached buildings at the bottom of Strafer Street – along Columbia Parkway – which would likely be around 1,900 square feet apiece and could be either apartments or for-sale homes.
The site is currently undeveloped and is used as a small community gardening space. If he pursues the project, Osterfeld will be seeking a zoning variance from its current zoning classification of community commercial-mixed to residential mixed, as it would have no commercial component.
“The commercial market in Columbia Tusculum is not real good, despite what people may think,” he said. “The problem is, relative to the number of people, there’s more retail than there is need for it. There’s already more retail than there is people; so in order for businesses to come in there and be enough demand and for the businesses to be profitable, we need more people.”
Osterfeld also told the community council that Al. Neyer’sColumbia Square, which is located directly across Columbia Parkway from his proposed building site, took five years to fill with tenants. He also said that he’s been trying to market his site for about the same amount of time but “hasn’t had a single serious call”.
The site is also challenging because of its steep slope and six-foot retaining wall, which Osterfeld said the City would likely want to keep in place.
“The idea of the zoning in place – what they would like to see – is they would like to see retail on the street level, so that people can walk in the shops like Hyde Park Square or Oakley Square – or like most squares – and the upstairs is residential,” he said. “The problem with that is you don’t see hills in Hyde Park, Mount Lookout, Oakley. The other neighborhoods you don’t see built on a hill like this. So the topography does not lend itself well to what the City’s insisting be there.”
The earliest the project could begin is this fall. Price points are expected to start in the mid-$300,000s, based upon what Osterfeld has seen of the local market.
“My guess is that it’s probably going to be a younger, more transient market,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of steps, the price point’s not going to be like [the Cottage Hill development on] Strafer. I think that Strafer started out in the upper 3’s [$300,000s] and ended up in the upper 6’s [$600,000s]. I don’t see that happening. But we’re designing it to try to accommodate anybody. We’re going to be as flexible in our design as we can.”
Osterfeld said he plans to keep the neighborhood notified as the proposal navigates the maze of design, variances and permits.
“The City would like to have neighborhood support and neighborhood cooperation, as would I,” he said. “Your interest is what’s good for the community. So, I’m trying to help with that.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Buildings ablaze 10 years ago, now long gone. The former Queen City Barrel Company site is mostly empty, but not devoid of potential.
As you travel 1.5 miles from downtown along the Eighth Street Viaduct, you pass over the 18 acres of vacant land that welcomes you to Lower Price Hill. While new construction happening elsewhere in the city is constrained by existing buildings and streets, MetroWest Commerce Park is a blank slate 4.5 times the size of a typical city block, and almost as close to downtown as Findlay Market is to Fountain Square.
Though no tenants or buyers have agreed to terms on the City-owned property, Al Neyer Inc., Resurgence Group, and Colliers International are working to market the site. Highly contaminated from previous industrial uses, redevelopment of MetroWest has been years in the making, but the City has received notice from the Ohio EPA that the site is now clean enough for new construction. Sam Stephens, an economic development officer at the city, believes in the site’s potential.
“The project is not only about cleaning up the Queen City Barrel Company site, but more importantly facilitating a development that can bring productive jobs to Lower Price Hill and positively impact the environment,” Stephens told UrbanCincy.
The team marketing MetroWest believes it is an ideal location for manufacturing thanks to its easy access to I-75, active rail lines on site, and is within 1.5 miles of downtown. Furthermore, the Metropolitan Sewer District is nearby and can offer up to 50 million gallons of any water quality daily, potentially lowering the costs for businesses that require high water use that need not be potable.
In 2008, Cincinnati completed its Growth and Opportunities Study (GO Cincinnati) with a team of national advisers in economic development and real estate. The final study categorized the Queensgate/South Mill Creek Corridor as “a generally obsolete corridor,” but also noted that “recycling South Mill Creek into the hub of green production in the region, and perhaps the nation, is indeed a unique market opportunity that could catalyze development in this aging industrial stock area.”
Perhaps serving as a contradiction is that while GO Cincinnati recommends the corridor for mostly ‘drivable sub-urban’ development, it also specifically identifies Lower Price Hill as “a ‘walkable-urban’ place, which is experiencing the beginning of a revitalization.”
The current task is marketing the site to find a buyer or tenant. Imagesshown to promote the site look ripped from the context of a suburban industrial park, places that are not even remotely ‘walkable-urban.’ Even though, project team members say, these images are only intended to show buildable square feet, they could quickly become reality.
The GO Cincinnati Study cites industrial tenants’ primary concern to be purely functional, with little concern for aesthetics or prestigious location. It should then fall to the City to make sure what is developed is actually beneficial to Cincinnati and the surrounding neighborhoods. Does Lower Price Hill want to welcome people on the Eighth Street Viaduct to their community with dirty manufacturing rooftops cluttered with mechanical units?
When asked about the City’s vision for the site, all of the development parties emphasized there will not be heavy industry and welcomed any interested manufacturing or light industrial businesses. Given the site’s history, and the City’s spotty responsiveness to environmental concerns in the past, the neighborhood would be right to be weary of new industrial development.
Eileen Gallagher, Lower Price Hill Community Council Secretary, says that the neighborhood is open to a variety of businesses but would want express their opinions on any business, saying, “LPH would welcome positive, safe development that would utilize potentially valuable land, create jobs, expand the city’s tax base, and perhaps give training and employment to neighborhood people.”
A vision should be expected from the city, one to which residents can respond. GO Cincinnati began that vision, but the recommendation for a “green industrial park” is not being followed. The City has owned the property for almost a decade and has spent years marketing the site without finding a buyer or tenant. Stephens, however, puts the idea of visioning a little differently.
“It’s the city’s job to serve our citizens, not define communities,” Stephens explained. However, even if Lower Price Hill creates a vision, will the City listen?
Alternative Vision: Industrial Mixed-Use with Residential
MetroWest is a few hundred feet east of Oyler School, and another few hundred feet from the LPH Community School. Paired with Evans Field Park, it will be a gateway to the future Price Landing park and Ohio River Trail West.
Increasingly, developers are recognizing the potential benefits of light industrial mixed use as manufacturing becomes greener, lighter, and cleaner. A Los Angeles study showed tax income on mixed-use development to be five times greater than solitary industrial uses. With a prime location near downtown and access to transportation, it would seem that MetroWest is a great location for residential use. Perhaps even the Eighth Street Viaduct could once again allow access to buildings from the sidewalk.
Ohio EPA’s approval for development at MetroWest, however, came with a caveat: the site can only be used for industrial and commercial uses. While the site is approved as safe, residential uses are prohibited. City officials say that the decision was made to only clean the site to commercial/industrial standards because the remediation grant would not cover the increased cost of cleaning the soil to a residential standard.
Another problem is that the site is currently zoned Manufacturing General, which would limit residential use. While the site, as is, cannot be used for residential, the decisions leading to this circumstance now appear short-sighted. Cincinnati’s zoning code is changing; and MetroWest will likely become Industrial Mixed Use (IX) in the current draft of the City’s Land Development Code. This important change would allow for residential use on upper floors, except for the covenant with Ohio EPA.
The city could go after more grant money to remediate the site to residential standards, but this would require a total restart of the remediation process – something that may very well be a bridge too far.
Alternative Vision: Sustainable Dreams
Without changing the site plan in marketing images, these are a few solutions that could significantly enhance the property.
Densely plant trees around the building. Over time the ‘forest’ would help absorb air and noise pollution, and would be aesthetically breathtaking.
Where deeper soil is clean enough, water gardens surrounding buildings could help contain storm water and provide an ecological habitat to complement the Mill Creek and Ohio River.
Rooftop gardens could be used for edible or non-edible plants. If a nursery were created for native trees, any nearby resident could pick up a sapling (ash, maple, oak, walnut, cherry, locust) for free. In 40 years the neighborhood could be heavily forested. Alternatively, Kroger might be interested in a new distribution center with edible greens on their roof similar to what Whole Foods had done with one of their stores in Brooklyn, NY.
While much is not yet clear about the future of this site, it is evident that something will be built at MetroWest; and when it is, it will bring some amount of jobs to Lower Price Hill. The question now is whether a developer or industrial tenant will dictate the development, likely benefiting their own interests, or if the City of Cincinnati will work to enhance its environment with sustainable infrastructure and buildings that benefit Lower Price Hill.