Westwood Square in Mayor’s State of City Address

In his State of the City address on September 18, 2014, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley remarked on the advantages of public-private enterprise at Smale Riverfront Park downtown, and its success, and offered a vision for a beer pavilion on the grounds of Westwood Town Hall facing the Westwood Square that is currently being considered.

Residents of Westwood who’ve engaged in deliberation about the revitalization of the historic business district know well that (1) places to socialize with neighbors are high on the list of desirables, (2) the Westwood Square will mark our center and encourage people to see what Westwood’s neighborhood business district has to offer, and (3) Town Hall and the businesses and organizations it faces are landmarks and treasures. As residents have been discussing in Westwood, we want a plan for the Square that has Harrison-Epworth-Urwiler as its focal point, our Main+Main, and that anchors this area surrounded by neighborhood assets like Town Hall, Madcap Puppets, Henke Winery, and area churches. We want something that is reflective of Westwood’s history and style. The Mayor’s proposal, pictured here, will certainly be explored. Comments? Post here!

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Coalition Gathering Development Perspective

The Coalition has used its last two steering meetings to invite input from experts familiar with neighborhood revitalization and with development. Guests were asked to comment on the options under consideration for a Westwood Square. They shared perspectives and insights into the economic development opportunities afforded by each option. They also commented more generally on what prospective developers look for in a business district. These discussions, in concert with the comments from residents following each recent community meeting, provide invaluable input into the Westwood Coalition’s decision-making process as it formulates its Westwood Square recommendations over the coming month. Remarks from the Aug 28 2014 meeting are available and will be followed shortly by those of the September 18, 2014 meeting.

The speakers emphasized the importance of community engagement and vision, of site control, and of a planning process. Several highlighted the value that the form-based code brings to a neighborhood business district. The Coalition asked them to offer perspective on the revitalization value that each option would bring to the community. Uniformly, Coalition members heard that the successful plan will be Westwood-specific, it will be community-anchored, realistic, and will build on the assets of the community. It will be successful when we find the right mix of public-private support and of local and regional business talent and commitment. The guests underscored the importance of business district as destination with a mix of businesses and programmed activity. They all congratulated the Westwood Coalition on the quality of the planning and input to date and then offered specific remarks on the options.

The community can expect the Coalition to make a report and recommendations in late October.

More on a Square at Westwood Civic Aug 19 Meeting

Westwood Civic Association has invited the Westwood Coalition to its meeting on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 to present the options under consideration for a Westwood Square, to answer questions, and to invite input. The meeting begins at 7 pm and will be held at Westwood Town Hall, 3017 Harrison Ave.

WCA has other items on the agenda so the Westwood Square portion won’t last all evening. Even if you’ve read all about this on http://revitalizewestwood.com or have attended other meetings, this will be a good session to attend because it’s a chance to hear more about the benefits and challenges of each option and a few ideas that have been suggested by residents. It’s also an opportunity to jump right into this community-led process of neighborhood revitalization.

Hope to see you on Aug 19. In the meantime, read over the presentation materials from an earlier community meeting. As always, please feel welcome to send comments to revitalizewestwood@gmail.com or via the revitalizewestwood.com website.

Facilitator and Ground Rules

At a steering meeting of the Westwood Coalition tonight, Westwood Works announced Mary Jenkins as its new representative, replacing John Eby who will serve in an alternate role.  The Coalition approved Mary Jenkins to continue in the role of facilitator, to set and facilitate meetings, to serve as the Coalition’s spokesperson, and to assign committee members and tasks.  The Coalition also adopted a set of ground rules, echoing its stated commitment in community meetings, to respect, support, participation.  Members of the Westwood Coalition committed to modeling mutual respect.  

In a related move, recent disparaging and personal comments, naming individuals, have been removed from this site, as the Coalition seeks to encourage respectful language, while acknowledging that some dissent is healthy to community deliberation.  See the comment on the last post for a more expansive explanation.

Westwood Civic Appoints New Coalition Reps, Removes Jenkins

The current president of Westwood Civic Association, Jim McNulty, has appointed Mary Kuhl and Becky Weber as WCA representatives to the Westwood Coalition. He also removed Mary Jenkins as a WCA representative to the Coalition, saying, “I don’t think the coalition process has been working to the benefit of Westwood. I believe in following our plan, which calls for A) Decreasing housing density, and B) That WCA is to be the entity that represents our neighborhood in all business with the city…”

WCA has asked the Westwood Coalition to present the current six design options for a Westwood Square (the designs that evolved through a recent feasibility study) to attendees at WCA’s mid-August meeting. While these are the same designs reviewed at June meetings of the Coalition and Westwood Works, this will provide another opportunity for public input to the Coalition and to guide WCA on its deliberations on the Square in anticipation of a Coalition recommendation.

Connecting Dots and Comments

Over 110 people attended the Westwood Coalition’s June 12, 2014 community meeting. Some attendees left after the presentation portion and only fifteen people handed in comment sheets that night. However, more responses have come in via email and the website. An accompanying document provides more detail.

A preliminary glance at the comments and the dots demonstrates that Option 1, No Build, is undesirable. Options 3 and 5 got high marks. Option 3 has a low number of negative votes*, as indicated by the 0-1 and 1-2 columns. Option 5 has more negative votes than Option 3 but not by many. Both Options 3 and 5 have comparable numbers of positive votes, as suggested by the 3-4 and 4-5 columns. While we will continue to assess this input, it seems to indicate the compelling vision expressed by these options and attendees’ interest in significant change in the business district.

Note that Options 1 and 6 received twice as many negative votes as any other option (as defined by the two left hand columns, 0-1 and 1-2). Option 6 has 100 more votes than any other option, suggesting voting anomalies. The exceptionally high number of positive votes, completely out of line with the total possible votes that option could have received, supports this judgment even if exaggerated to some extent as others were. Voting irregularities, as witnessed by a number of people, included pooling stickers amongst attendees, putting multiple stickers in a section, and ignoring the criteria. Any reasonable person would point to this as a bold and crude attempt to sway the vote.

Setting aside Option 6 for a moment, given the voting anomalies, and averaging Options 1-5, there was an average of 330 votes per board. Each person was given six dots per board (36 in all), suggesting that 55 people cast votes. We understand that this is not accurate but it provides a baseline. Now consider Option 6: 436 votes were cast, a 31% increase over the other options, suggesting that 72 people voted. There are 272 votes on Option 6 just for columns 0-4. Remaining consistent with the experience of the other boards (330 votes each), the column labeled 4-5 would have gotten only 58 votes, not the actual 164 dots. Suffice to say, the voting irregularities on Option 6 must be considered in context and with the narrative remarks that are submitted.

Further, an analysis of all comments received to date demonstrates strong interest in Options 4, 3, and 5, in descending order, and limited support for Options 6, 1, and 2, in descending order, when considering respondents’ stated preferences in emails, on comment sheets, and via the website.

What remains is very significant community interest in a Westwood Square and a dramatic change at that. The Coalition will need to review this report and the community comments before making a recommendation, but shortening the list to two or three options is fairly straightforward and the subject of discussion at an upcoming Coalition meeting. Please see the accompanying document for more detail.

*“Votes” is used in this document to indicate meeting attendees’ assessment via dots on a criteria chart but should not be construed as a firm vote since the Coalition continues to receive comments and gather analysis. Also, “voting” irregularities skewed this process and, thus, it must be taken with a grain of salt.

Westwood Square Meeting Notes

Mary Jenkins, Westwood Coalition facilitator and representative of Westwood Civic Association to the Coalition, welcomed attendees, numbering over 110 people. She introduced Coalition members, thanked staff from the Westwood School, and covered housekeeping items. Ms. Jenkins described the meeting as a presentation to be followed by community input, focused wholly on the Westwood Square concept. Next, she reviewed the origin of the Westwood Square: an idea generated originally through community engagement in design charrettes following identification of neighborhood business district (NBD) strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The City allocated $10,000 for a Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE) feasibility study. The design charrettes identified criteria for a Square which were validated through the Westwood Coalition’ community meetings over the past year. The June 12 meeting was an opportunity for DOTE staff and the Westwood Coalition to report on the study and invite community response.

Ms. Jenkins then described the intent for the evening: a DOTE-led look at six options, including no build and the original conceptual drawing shown in the media, followed by an assessment by residents of each of the options, based on identified criteria. She made several points before launching into a review of the criteria:
• Parking: None of the options would resolve the perceived parking shortage in and of itself. Parking will be addressed as part of an emerging multi-faceted plan for the NBD.
• Property: Neither the City nor the Coalition is promoting or planning to take property by eminent domain. Businesses in our NBD are treasures and people’s livelihood. The discussion about the Square is a consideration of future conditions and opportunities for the neighborhood and its businesses.
• Process: Westwood residents are driving the conversation. The City is contributing professional expertise. Residents are contributing knowledge and passion.

Ms. Jenkins briefly highlighted the conditions that the community is seeking to improve, and the desired attributes, in the NBD and specifically at the intersection of its Main + Main, or the heart of the NBD. These issues have been discussed and affirmed in various meetings and in the Coalition’s report in fall 2013.

Concerns
• Parking
• Public Safety
• A need for businesses more suited to the community’s preferences and needs
• Low business retention and vacant storefronts
• Limited places to socialize like restaurants, coffee shops and pubs
• Traffic volumes and speed

Desired Attributes
• A walkable, attractive business district
• Retail stores that offer a variety of consumer products and services with some emphasis on regional or independent shops
• A public or civic or green space
• The availability of nearby parking
• A number of options for casual and more elegant dining

Next up: Martha Kelly and Jeff Stine of Cincinnati DOTE co-presented on the six options considered during DOTE’s feasibility study which considered not only the viability of the conceptual drawing that has been in the news, but also several other possibilities given the opportunities and challenges of the NBD’s traffic and street configuration:

Ms. Kelly walked attendees through the criteria, detailed on the accompanying presentation. They include Safety, Neighborhood Quality, Economic Impact, Schedule/Coordination, and Cost. Each criterion has a number of components; for example, safety involves vehicular and pedestrian safety and other factors. Ms. Kelly explained that personal safety includes reducing places where a person might hide as well as crossing safety. She noted that the ability to get around the NBD includes bicyclists, pedestrians, drivers, and includes not only convenience but also reduced confusion.

Next, Ms. Kelly remarked that the creation of space should be considered in terms of its utility – whether usable, programmable space or simply green space, noting that individuals will have their own sense of preference based on perception of what benefit the space brings and how it might be maintained. In commenting on economic impact, Ms. Kelly pointed out that revitalization requires the community to ask if the investment in the Square creates conditions for economic sustainability. Commenting on parking, Ms. Kelly noted that some of the options make space for on-street parking but there should be opportunities for off-site parking as well, as demonstrated by some of the options. She cited traffic flow that is relatively light along Harrison as compared to ten years ago.

In terms of the construction process, Ms. Kelly commented that DOTE considers schedule, coordination, and cost, not among the criteria for the June 12 meeting. Some costs of a square such as this, like lighting and green space maintenance or programming, continue on beyond the life of the project itself, and are costs sometimes borne by business owners and local organizations. She noted that construction in phases is often possible and, depending on the project, can have short- and long-term impacts and benefits.

Before reviewing each option, Ms. Kelly noted that DOTE is open to variations and ideas and asked that comments come through the Westwood Coalition at revitalizewestwood@gmail.com or on its website. She commented that the $10,000 feasibility study funds are spent, but that DOTE could consider some changes to the maps and can address questions.

Please note that these descriptions are best viewed along with the images, and their context, in the presentation at https://revitalizewestwood.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/westwood-square-june-12-2014.pdf.

OPTION 1: No Build
As its name suggests, the No Build option involves no major reworking of intersections or traffic. However, this option could still create more welcoming gateways at either end of the NBD (like Montana & Harrison and Boudinot & Harrison) and make some modest improvements to the Main + Main at Harrison / Urwiler / Epworth. Further, there are opportunities for streetscaping, individual business or property improvements, signage coordination, lighting enhancements, bollards, and cooperative planning and cohesiveness. She noted the current long pedestrian crossings, pedestrian and traffic confusion, and sharp lefts at this intersection.

OPTION 2: The Original Small Square
Option 2 is the conceptual drawing that has appeared in the media and on the Coalition’s website. Depicted now in the slides to scale, it is 42’Wx144’L. It is surrounded by pavers and a 6’ sidewalk and includes a 22’x124’ grassy area. It meets the requirement of green space and might be landscaped or hardscaped but its year-round use should be considered. In the original drawing, on-street parking was shown, which would not be possible with turning angles for trucks. There could be confusion with close intersections and a mid-way pedestrian crossing would be needed. New development opportunities would exist between Henke Winery and the Square, with space facing the Square and a nice view pattern to the landmarks in the vicinity.

OPTION 3: The Large Square
This option includes a 148’ square. The intersection is smaller. It would require some building acquisition on both sides. There are opportunities for small development. It maintains the focus on the Main + Main. The space is sufficiently large as to suggest opportunities for programming the space, whether businesses or a center of community activity. It simplifies the intersection and maintains much of the area around the Square. The gateways to the NBD support this Square as its center. It reinforces the residential feel around the Square and creates an improved flow for traffic through the area.

OPTION 4: The Triangle/Bowtie/Mirror
This option would require acquisition of the old service station at the intersection. It would work well in tandem with a redeveloped performance space on the end of the Town Hall grounds. It creates a powerful presence. One of the spaces could be hardscaped while the other could be landscaped or green space. It ties the two spaces together and creates opportunities for programming and development. It would involve closing off Urwiler. Parking would be gained and additional parking will help to slow down traffic and aid in street calming. There are significant opportunities for the interaction of businesses with the space. Crosswalks would be simpler and could allow for alternating times for pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

OPTION 5: Central Harrison Square
This option creates a square such as the ones in Oakley or Hyde Park. Two paver areas would be flush with the street and the center space measures 60’Wx232’L, creating 13,204 sq. ft. There are significant development options and landscaping opportunities. Existing buildings along both sides of Harrison would be demolished under this option, creating new development area. It is the equivalent of four Bell (Madcap) buildings on one side and seven on the other, to give a sense of scale. Outdoor seating, cafes, and more are possible. It would impact residential properties as well, to create traffic flow and parking. Elder Alley would be vacated. The intersection is substantially improved and travel around the Square is reasonable. Angled parking would require even more space; this image depicts parallel parking.

OPTION 6: Town Hall Rotary
This option makes Town Hall the focal point, rather than the identified Main+Main. It creates a traffic flow via a rotary around Town Hall and highlights green space as the programmable area. Parking could be removed from the Town Hall grounds, moving it along the street. It is 2.4 acres, or 100,000 sq. ft. Development opportunities exist at the historic firehouse and some surrounding residential and commercial areas. Additional work would be possible at the Harrison/Urwiler/Epworth intersection. The main feature to consider is traffic flow from Montana. This option requires a one way rotary around Town Hall. It creates some concerns about traffic weaving as a driver enters the rotary from one point and wants to exit the rotary on the opposite side.

The six criteria used by attendees on June 12 are a condensing of the more extensive criteria shown in the accompanying presentation. They do not include cost or construction factors.

Criteria
1. Reduce speed / calm traffic while accommodating traffic
2. Define the neighborhood center, sense of place, usable civic space
3. Increase green space
4. Improve intersection safety
5. Improve pedestrian safety / connectivity
6. Foster economic development, provide business development potential

Attendees then went into the foyer and reviewed the six images, talking with friends and neighbors and asking follow up questions. Each person received 36 dots to apply to charts listing each option and the six criteria under consideration. Details of that process and the distribution of dots and comments will be added to this site this week.