Final Schematic Plan for Town Hall Park and Gaines Triangle

At a community meeting hosted by the Westwood Coalition on Monday, October 3, 2016, representatives of Cincinnati Parks and MKSK, landscape architects and urban design firm, showed residents Final Schematic Plan for Gaines Triangle and the park grounds at Westwood Town Hall. As Steve Shuckman, Parks Division of Planning and Design, noted, “The plan has evolved and gotten stronger with community input.” Area residents, the Coalition, and a project advisory council that includes Westwood residents all participated in the design and feedback process. Last month, the Park Board approved the draft plan, as did the Coalition, the latter noting a few areas of ongoing community discussion.

Clete Benken, MKSK, described a rich design process that included a dozen meetings, a study of the existing property, and listening. He noted that the design focused on the Coalition and community’s quality of life and economic development goals and residents’ hopes and dreams for the area. He described the project’s design parameters and the goal:

Create a community gathering place, a park which is the focal point for the neighborhood and catalyst for development, and a distinctive setting for historic Westwood Town Hall.

Mr. Benken cited some of the parameters: an inviting, multi-functional, multi-use space, with more flexibility than exists currently.  The planners sought to develop parking, open spaces, signage, plantings, and so on consistent with the direction set by prior community planning and in cohesion with plans for the business district, generally. The plan places value on open lawn spaces and visibility, seating, play space, flexible use, recreational programming, art, pedestrian flow and safety, and historic features of the property. The design team worked with the Department of Traffic and Engineering on pedestrian movement and crossings and Recreation on the recreational programming of the grounds. Parking and drop off is shifted to the west side of the building which opens up space for an amphitheater and play area and provides more accessibility. The team has had preliminary discussion with Recreation for possible retrofitting of lower level space to accommodate food service.

Next, Mr. Benken showed perspective views from various angles, included in the Final Schematic Plan slides. He commented on the planned children’s play area, its increased visibility, and the openness of the front lawn. The drop off space can be dedicated to food trucks during a festival, for example, with ample space for vendor booths for events like the Westwood Art Show. An inventory of the site’s trees was made and the planners indicated their intent to retain all of the contributing trees and the “must keeps” because of their health and value (specimen trees, shade, etc.) Noncontributing or diseased trees, or trees nearing the end of their life cycle would come down but the plans call for adding far more trees than would be taken out, with an eye toward a good urban canopy, carbon capture, and shade. Mr. Benken noted that signage on the corners of the site would be lower and elegant, without obstructing sight lines or being too commercial.

And he showed the plans for Gaines Triangle at Harrison and Epworth, with its flexible seating and shade trees, pointing to the efforts to tie the spaces together, including conceptual drawings for adjacent properties like Madcap Puppets and the WestCURC parking lot.  He did say that, while the City could not fund enhancements to the private properties, it can work with businesses on common design elements and goals. Curbing and decorative pavement material would visually link the areas and give the sense of a shared space, evoking the Coalition’s recommendation to mark this intersection as the center of the business district, our Main + Main.

There will be two more phases of design, to flesh out details, before the project goes out to bid. This will include the detail of drinking fountains, benches, seating, signs, information kiosks, and art. $4M has been appropriated by the City for this project. The construction is expected to begin in spring 2017 with completion in four to eight months, weather dependent, with possible final plantings in spring 2018.

A dog park is planned for the side of the park property facing Montana Ave and Westwood School. It would be a double-gated fenced area with hard surfaces to facilitate maintenance of the site. Reasons for the dog park include activation of a relatively remote area of the site with year round use and socializing by dogs and people.

A question was raised about maintenance of the grounds, including the dog park and the gardens. Mr. Shuckman noted that the maintenance costs study is about one week from completion and does take into account current maintenance costs of the park. He noted that he hopes the community will help with planning for maintenance, including, for example, the gardening done now by volunteers as a Westwood Civic Association initiative. Henry Frondorf, Coalition facilitator, remarked on a poll that the Coalition initiated, demonstrating a negative response to the inclusion of a dog park. Another survey suggested a positive response to a dog park. Comments seem primarily associated with maintenance concerns, which were somewhat alleviated by Mr. Shuckman’s description of the material planned for the surface. Other concerns included availability of yards and a nearby dog park and a commitment to dog play over children’s play space. Still, the dog park is in the plans and is not expected to negatively impact mature trees or create a maintenance problem. MKSK’s Clete Benken commented that dog parks develop a park’s patronage, activity levels, and safety.

A resident inquired about the playground area and whether it would be contained. The speakers commented on the playscape which will spark imaginative and challenging play. It is fairly small and would not be fully fenced, relying instead on perimeter landscaping and low walls. Several people commented that it seems small, perhaps too small. There was positive response to the play area in the heart of the park.

Another attendee noted the historical features of the site, including the veterans’ memorial, the tree planted in Sgt Eric Sierra’s memory, the Ohio historical marker, and the section of rail. All are being incorporated into the plans and retained because they are special to the community and the site. An attendee mentioned the Broadbeck Performance Pavilion, noting that Mr. Broadbeck saved the Westwood Town Hall building when its future was threatened. This plan development provides an opportunity to honor people especially important to the history of the site and the surrounding area.

Asked about interactive water features, Mr. Shuckman indicated early interest in including water but said that the maintenance and budget made it impossible, describing this as an unfortunate loss.

In response to a question about parking on the site, the speakers noted that the number of spaces is the same but it is safer and also more convenient for drop off as planned. They noted that the intent is to preserve parking for accessibility and convenience but not at the cost of dominating the site.

One resident inquired about the plans for the decommissioned firehouse and its link to the park grounds. WestCURC will bring a restaurant to the firehouse and is working on those plans in the context of neighborhood development and in alignment with the park site.

An attendee remarked that the stationary exercise equipment, like that in place at Harvest Home Park, or parcours workout stations could be a very attractive addition to the site, particularly given concerns about health.

Residents commented on infrastructure issues in the immediate area, such as lighting, trees, and sidewalks. Henry Frondorf, Westwood Coalition, noted the Coalition’s Infrastructure Committee, is addressing a cohesive plan for streetscaping and all that it entails. The speakers remarked that lighting is important around the park and they are working to eliminate dark spots. The parking lot along the west side of the building will be illuminated. A nearby property owner urged Parks to include perimeter trash receptacles to cut down on littering. The dumpster will be enclosed and located on the Epworth side of the property. Access to the Town Hall will be largely unchanged. The current door will continue to serve as the main entrance with an accessible entrance at the lower level and ADA compliant walkways.

If readers have comments and questions, they’re encouraged to comment here or email the Coalition. Steve Shuckman of Parks Planning and Design also welcomes comments. Once again, here is the presentation that accompanies this post.

The Coalition has been working on placemaking, infrastructure, and positioning work for the entire business district and will share more on that work in the months to come, as well as reports on this website regarding the timeline for the park grounds and Gaines Triangle construction. Thanks to all who made time to attend the presentation on October 3.

 

 

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Implementing the Vision

The Westwood Coalition invited business owners from the historic neighborhood business district (NBD) to a presentation and Q&A session on April 23, 2015 at Westwood Town Hall. Elizabeth Bartley, executive director of the Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (WestCURC), was the invited speaker. Members of the Westwood Coalition offered comments and engaged in discussion as well.  The focus of Ms. Bartley’s remarks, supported by these slides, was the implementation of the community vision for the NBD, as proposed by the Westwood Coalition.  She pointed to several of the key Coalition-led steps over recent years, including the community’s shared vision, adoption of the form-based code, and selection of the triangle-bowtie option. (Readers are invited to review the linked posts on this site for more information on these developments, in addition to other posts.)

Next, Ms. Bartley mentioned a number of developments in the NBD indicative of forward movement by people with a belief in the neighborhood and with the vision and capacity to move plans forward.  She named Mayor Cranley’s interest in programmed space on the town hall grounds, Bridgetown Brewing’s brewery plans, WestCURC’s imminent acquisition of the firehouse for use as a family-friendly restaurant, discussion of a café and/or coffee shop, Faces Without Places coming into the NBD, and the possibility of redevelopment of the Sontag Cleaners building without extensive remediation of the site.

Then the presentation turned to work in progress by WestCURC that is focused on the area immediately around Westwood Town Hall, or the southern section of the NBD.  Ms. Bartley showed a concept drawing that showed event space in the park surrounding Town Hall to program and activate that area. She also spoke of the Coalition’s recommendation for cohesive streetscaping throughout the NBD, continued Transportation & Engineering review of the possibility of closing off the west section of Urwiler, and programming Town Hall to meet wider community needed and to restore its historic character.

The design development phase for the work mentioned above is estimated to cost $500,000 (Triangle development plan analysis and overall design development), while the build phase for this same area is likely to cost $6,000,000.  These expenses illustrate the need to concentrate efforts in one section of the NBD first as well as the desirability of, and reality of the need for, both public and private development partnerships. Ms. Bartley mentioned a number of free and low cost planning resources employed already in Westwood, then describing and sharing the summary that WestCURC submitted in April to the Neighborhood Business District Improvement Program (NBDIP).

The NBDIP peer review process will include a tour of the NBD in May 9, followed by presentations from May 18-20, with announcements of awards in June.  WestCURC is inviting letters of support for the proposal.  Interested residents, business owners, and organizations should contact WestCURC for more information.  Organizations represented by the Westwood Coalition are invited to review and comment on WestCURC’s NBDIP application.

Following the presentation, Ms. Bartley, Westwood Coalition members, and attendees engaged in a brief discussion.  Comments and questions included the following:

  • WestCURC’s acquisition of the firehouse and its plans for opening a restaurant (WestCURC will issue a Request for Proposals for a family-friendly restaurant.)
  • Madcap Puppets’ timing for occupying the Bell Building: Fall 2015 for use of the building for offices and workshop space and a year later for the theaters
  • The need for coordinated marketing and promotion of the NBD to heighten its visibility and attract prospective residents, developers, and shoppers
  • A desire to see more of the franchise or corporate businesses engaged in these discussions
  • A suggestion to have monthly NBD business owners’ breakfast meetings
  • A nod to the plans for a cohesive look to the NBD, even while accomplished in phases
  • WestCURC’s offer of free business resources and advisors to Westwood’s business owners
  • The benefits of city support, including Council, for Westwood’s revitalization
  • How quickly will this happen? This initial phase is possible by summer 2017 with an aggressive strategy to attract funding and conduct the planning and development.
  • People are eager for visible change. We’re reminded that OTR developments were in the works for fifteen years.  Although Westwood’s NBD is not of that scale, it does take time.

Thanks for your interest in these presentation materials and notes.  Please contact the Westwood Coalition or Elizabeth Bartley for more information.

Report and Recommendations Regarding a Westwood Square

The Westwood Coalition has issued its report and recommendations regarding a Westwood square. As the report notes, “[t]his report summarizes the Coalition’s community-focused review process and feasibility study devoted to the concept of a “Westwood Square” and makes recommendations based on input received. The Coalition, as part of its outreach, worked closely with representatives of the City’s Transportation and Engineering Department to examine a number of potential options for a Westwood Square for presentation to neighborhood organizations, businesses, and residents. Options in conceptual form were developed by City staff, with consideration for traffic, safety, function, and general feasibility. The Coalition then coordinated a series of public meetings in Westwood, with representatives of the City’s Transportation and Engineering Department in attendance, along with other City staff and outside development experts. The purpose of the meetings in Westwood was to gain insight into residents’ opinions, on which this report’s recommendations are based.”

The recommendations are made to the four organizations that have representatives to the Coalition. Once those organizations respond, the Coalition will share the responses and next steps, which will include a formal set of recommendations to City officials.

Which option or variation is recommended, you ask? It’s the Triangle option, for a number of reasons, detailed in the Coalition’s report and recommendations. It’s important to emphasize, though, that the recommendations include corollary and complimentary development along Harrison Avenue throughout the neighborhood’s historic business district and on the grounds of Westwood Town Hall. We hope that you will read the full report for the context and the details. (It’s only four pages long.) Please offer any comments here or via revitalizewestwood@gmail.com or to any of the four organizations.

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.

Report and Recommendations

At its September 24, 2013 meeting, the Westwood Coalition reached consensus on a report and recommendations.  Please read it!  The report offers an introduction and background, a summary of the process used and findings from the several community meetings, and a set of recommendations.

Westwood Coalition Report and Recommendations, September 2013

We welcome your comments here or via email at revitalizewestwood@gmail.com.  The Westwood Coalition includes members of the business community and members who represent four Westwood organizations.  The organizational representatives will present the report and recommendations to their boards, requesting a response within thirty days.  In October, the Coalition will meet to review the responses of the organizations and make a recommendation to the City.

Keep the dialogue going!