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Cincinnati’s Mandatory Minimum Parking Requirements Stall $15M Development

An Over-the-Rhine development has hit a potential challenge after a 3-3 vote at last month’s Historic Conservation Board meeting.

Grandin Properties had been planning to convert the historic Strietmann Biscuit Company building, located at 221 W. Twelfth Street, to an 88,000-square-foot office building, but must now request a zone change since it does not meeting the city’s mandatory minimum parking requirements.

In a strange twist, the vote from the Historic Conservation Board actually threatens the historic nature of the building and the surrounding neighborhood, as providing the parking being requested would necessitate that a portion of the building be converted to parking, or a nearby historic structure be demolished to make room for a parking structure.

As such, the developer is requesting to rezone the property from CC-A (Community Commercial – Automotive) to DD-C (Downtown Development – Support), which would give Grandin Properties more flexibility when it comes to the provision of parking.

In a letter submitted to City Council, the developer indicated that despite entering into agreements with 3CDC to secure 175 parking spaces for the development, which is a five-minute walk from the Washington Park Garage and City Center Garage, a split vote for a parking variance may imperil the project if the zone change is not secured.

Further supporting the developer’s case is the fact that the 126-year-old structure is located within a short walk to numerous Red Bike and Cincinnati Streetcar stations; and the location’s Walk Score is 94 out of 100 points.

“We were aware of the long history of not enforcing strict compliance with the zoning code’s parking requirements in Over-the-Rhine for both rehabilitated and new buildings,” Peg Wyant, President and CEO of Grandin Properties, wrote. “This is why we were surprised when City staff took a very hard position and required that we have guaranteed control over parking spaces ‘for the life of the project.’”

The development was slated to move forward, despite losing out on almost $2 million in historic tax credits from the state last year.

Following UrbanCincy‘s 2012 report on mandatory minimum parking requirements, City Council moved to study removing parking requirements in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine; and, in 2013, the City amended the zoning regulations to allow for both neighborhoods to remove required parking minimums with the passage of a special parking district zone. However, there has been no establishment of any special parking district zone to-date.

Further complicating the matter of parking in Over-the-Rhine is the fact that a workable Parking Permit Plan has yet to move through City Hall. While neighborhood residents and business owners have spent months developing a variety of alternatives, each has met its demise with the threat of Mayor John Cranley‘s (D) veto, which he says is due to permit prices being set too low.

As a result, parking remains a hot topic in one of the nation’s fastest developing neighborhoods. Many local developers still believe there is a market demand for one to two spaces per residential unit, while transportation options and the walkability of the neighborhood continue to improve. The increased number of visitors, including both workers and those coming to shop and dine in the neighborhood, is adding increased pressure since many residents in historic buildings utilize on-street parking to store their cars.

The next step for the project is that it will go before City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee for its potential rezoning application.

Development News

Proposed Development at Fifteenth & Vine Lives Up to 3CDC’s Parking Promises

When 3CDC first began developing the 359-space Mercer Commons Garage in 2012, they defended their actions for building such an over-sized garage by saying they would share the spaces with other planned nearby developments.

Nearly three-and-a-half years have passed since that time, but it is now becoming clear that 3CDC has largely lived up to the promises they made at the time.

When first criticized by UrbanCincy, 3CDC noted that the spaces at the Mercer Commons Garage were meant not only for the $50 million Mercer Commons development, but also the office space at the Paint Building, Cintrifuse, and former Boss Cox building. In total, 3CDC’s former Vice President of Development, Adam Gelter, estimated that those projects alone would need 90 to 100 spaces.

In addition to that, 3CDC’s previous plans for the former Smitty’s site called for 30 to 40 residential units, which would also have their parking provided for at the Mercer Commons Garage. Since that time, those plans have evolved, and 3CDC is now proposing a 55,000-square-foot office and retail building, which, by law, would require 155 parking spaces – much more than would have been required under the previous residential scheme.

City officials say that a potential 77-space reduction may be permitted due to the existence of the nearby Mercer Commons Garage and Washington Park Garage, which have an availability of 141 and 14 spaces, respectively.

Should 3CDC pursue to utilize those two garages to their fullest extent, then it would be feasible for the non-profit development organization to avoid providing any parking at all in the $16 million project slated for the southwest corner of Fifteenth and Vine Streets.

In addition to being located to two nearby parking garages, this site is directly across the street from a Kroger grocery store, located a block away from the Cincinnati Streetcar’s first phase, and within blocks of several Red Bike stations.

With a Walk Score of 96 out of 100 points, the proposed unnamed development at Fifteenth and Vine Streets boasts one of the most walkable locations in the region.

If all goes according to plan, and 3CDC is granted their zoning variances by City Hall, then project officials say they hope to begin construction as soon as possible, with a project completion scheduled for mid-2017.

Business Development News

EXCLUSIVE: 3CDC Commits to Shared Parking Plan for Over-the-Rhine

Just four days after publishing an exclusive story which uncovered that the amount of parking provided at the Mercer Commons development exceeded city mandates and added approximately $4.25 million to the project cost, officials from the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) contacted UrbanCincy to offer more information surrounding the Mercer Commons Garage.

Many commentors on our previous story defended 3CDC and claimed that such parking provisions at the Mercer Commons Garage would allow for less parking at future developments. Adam Gelter, 3CDC’s Vice President of Development, echoed these thoughts and stated that future developments would in fact utilize the parking garage, although only some of those projects have been financed, and even fewer approved for zoning variances by the City of Cincinnati.

Work at the Mercer Commons construction site in August 2012. Photograph by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy.

In particular, Gelter, stated that the 359-space Mercer Commons Garage allows for one parking space at every unit within that development, but that those living at Mercer Commons would not be required to purchase a space. This, 3CDC asserts, will allow for the parking garage to be utilized more efficiently.

The debate becomes even more nuanced when the status of Over-the-Rhine’s historic district designation and ongoing comeback as a desirable neighborhood are taken into account.

“In a place like OTR, which is coming back strong but still has a long way to go, I think we want the neighborhood to be as welcoming as possible to visitors and to satisfy any concerns they may have about safety,” responded Kaid Benfield, director of Sustainable Communities for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “The key for a historic district, I think, is to keep the parking from occupying so much space that it interferes with the historic character of the neighborhood.”

In addition to the Mercer Commons development, 3CDC officials say that they are planning a 30- to 40-unit residential development at the parking lot where Smitty’s once stood. Furthermore, 3CDC expects the office tenant at the Paint Building to require 25 spaces, another 15 to 20 spaces at the former Boss Cox building, and potentially 50 spaces for office users at Cintrifuse. Furthermore, project officials say surrounding restaurants could use additional parking for their customers.

“Of the seven upcoming developments, only one has its own parking, and the rest have spaces assigned at either the Mercer Garage or Washington Park Garage,” Gelter explained. “We give condo owners a right to buy a monthly space, and we refuse to assign spaces so that we can turn the spaces as much as possible.”

To that end, Gelter explained that only six parking spaces at the Fountain Square Garage are reserved at any given time for its 250 monthly pass holders.

Rendering of the $53.5 million Mercer Commons development in historic Over-the-Rhine. Image provided.

The goal would be to reduce the number of surface parking lots needed to serve new developments throughout historic Over-the-Rhine, but 3CDC officials say that what has already been put in place will probably be difficult to undo.

“We would love to get rid of and develop the Twelfth and Vine parking lot, and we would like to stop building surface parking lots to the extent that is possible,” Gelter told UrbanCincy. “However, parking lots for condo buildings only are going to be very difficult to get rid of, so we don’t want to do that anymore.”

Gelter went on to say that one potential option would be to keep the Gateway Garage open to the public. Just over one year ago Kroger purchased the 950-space parking garage from the City of Cincinnati for $4.5 million, and currently experiences low usage rates outside of workday hours.

When it comes down to it, however, it appears as though the status quo for providing parking within the urban core will continue regardless of what policies come out of City Hall.

“Some of our upcoming developments have been approved for no on-site parking, and some have not,” Gelter conceded. “The goal would be to build structured parking to minimize the extent we need to use surface and street parking, but we have to take it on a case-by-case, and block-by-block basis.”

The first phase of construction at Mercer Commons is currently underway, and is expected to be complete by March 2013. Two additional phases of work are planned to follow.