New code prohibits bad development

Any zoning code (form-based or conventional) has restrictions of Use that must be fair and legal. For example, it is not legal to allow some retail uses while not allowing others. If a community wants to allow high-end retailers in its business district, its code must also allow second-tier retailers. What a form-based code does, that conventional codes usually do not do, is set restrictions based on form, building type and frontage type (such as building placement, front door placement, storefront requirements, etc.). It was these requirements – embedded in Cincinnati’s form-based code – that kept a poorly designed, second-tier, discount store from moving into one of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods recently.

Bad development that has occurred in some of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods in the past is now prohibited under the new form-based code. We have too many neighborhood business districts where the “front” of a building was built as a windowless concrete block wall or where a building was set back from the street by a quarter acre of asphalt parking. These developments have a detrimental impact on the welfare of the neighborhood – not because of the uses within them but because of the form the buildings took.

Jeff Raser, principal, Glaserworks Architecture & Urban Design
on cincinnati.com
Read the full article at http://www.cincinnati.com/story/opinion/contributors/2014/04/04/new-code-prohibits-bad-development/7331569/

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Council 7-2 Vote for Westwood NBD Form-Based Code

At the Cincinnati City Council meeting today, council members votes 7-2 to favor of the Westwood application of the Cincinnati form-based code. Voting for the recommendation: Council members Seelbach, Simpson, Sittenfeld, Winburn, Young, Murray, and Mann. And voting against: Council members Smitherman and Flynn. The form-based code application in Westwood’s historic neighborhood business district (NBD) will go into effect in thirty days.

Seven Westwood residents spoke in support of the form-based code, citing thorough research, community engagement, protections provided to single family housing, alignment with the strategic plan, and more. Joining in the public comment period was Caleb Faux, of the Planning Commission. He commented that dissent in Westwood is essentially a misunderstanding; the form-based code remedies the concerns about current zoning voiced by some of these concerned citizens.

Although two council members expressed negative impressions of aspects of the form-based code itself, council members were unified in their remarks on overwhelming community support, transformational change in Westwood, and a commitment to partner with the community to bring development and investment to Westwood’s historic business district. Mr. Seelbach commented on room for disagreement in public discourse, but he condemned divisiveness and unproductive behaviors, as did several other council members. Ms. Murray, Mr. Sittenfeld, and Mr. Winburn all remarked on their respect for the community’s exhaustive research and engagement, the value of the Coalition, and council members’deference to the neighborhood. Mr. Mann noted that the form-based code includes use restrictions, remarking that it’s inaccurate to say that the code does not regulate for use. Ms. Murray spoke of her community council experience, commenting that the cooperative nature of the Coalition is noteworthy and should be ongoing. Mr. Young pointed out that, while the form-based code is new to Cincinnati, it works well in other cities.

In discussion before the vote, Mayor Cranley voiced his strong support for the Westwood Coalition and the public process in Westwood around the revitalization efforts. He commented positively on the proposed Westwood Square project and said that he intends to help to make it happen, including a proposed ordinance for financial support for Madcap Puppets as an anchor organization on the Westwood Square. Mayor Cranley noted that it takes money to revitalize, including both private and public funding. He identified perceived shortcomings of use restrictions in the code and concerns about acceptance of the code by the local development community, but the bulk of the Mayor’s comments celebrated the Coalition-led process and the collaboration and vision demonstrated in Westwood. Mr. Cranley urged continued work by the Westwood Coalition and applauded the commitment of WestCURC on the business district. Mr. Winburn pledged his support as chair of the Budget Committee to stand with the community and support the Mayor in identifying economic development support for Westwood’s historic NBD.

Mr. Cranley announced his intention to hold a press conference in Westwood next week to underscore his support for the revitalization of the historic NBD, Mapcap Puppets, and development of a Westwood Square.

Up next: the Westwood Square feasibility study and consideration of specifics of economic development.

Council Vote Delayed on Form-Based Code for Westwood

The recommendation to approve the application of the Cincinnati form-based code to a portion of Westwood around the historic business district was on the agenda for today’s City Council meeting. However, Mayor Cranley chose to table the issue until next week’s meeting, at which time, per Council rules, it must be addressed. You may recall that on Monday, February 10, the Neighborhoods Committee of City Council voted to recommend the Westwood application of the form-based code. Per Council rules, that vote meant that the issue was to be voted on by the full City Council this afternoon but the Mayor, who sets the agenda, decided to delay. The Westwood Coalition will monitor developments and share them here.

The Cincinnati City Council will next meet on Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. in Council Chambers, Room 300, City Hall, 801 Plum St, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

Westwood residents are welcome to continue submitting expressions of support for Westwood’s application of the form-based code and for revitalization, generally, to all City Council members via this email address: CityCouncil@cincinnati-oh.gov

Math Quiz!

1. Which building height would be taller?
a. 55 feet
b. 85 feet

Did you guess 85 feet? That’s right! 85 feet is the maximum height of a building in Westwood’s business district under CURRENT zoning code. The application of the Form-Based Code to this same area results in a maximum height of only 50-55 feet, thus reducing the maximum size of a building in our business district, while also imposing Westwood’s preferences for form, thus retaining Westwood’s special character, and allowing a mixture of uses.

Ready for another question?

2. Which ratio best describes the homeowner-occupied vs. rental unit ratio described as desirable by the 2010 Westwood Strategic Plan*?
a. 60/40
b. 40/60
c. 50/50

Did you guess a. 60/40? You’re right! And that’s what the Westwood application of the Cincinnati Form-Based Code will achieve in the historic business district, assuming the maximum possible build out of the designated areas. The application of the code designates 60% of the area as T3 which is single family housing. The concentration of mixed use along Harrison Avenue is friendly to residents who want to shop and eat and seek services in the area, to developers looking for clarity about a neighborhood’s interests, and to the historic, lovely nature of the surrounding housing stock.

*The Strategic Plan identifies the 60/40 split in Goal #1, Housing and Neighborhood Development. It calls for the revitalization of the business district in Goal #4.

Total Land Area for Form-Based Code in Westwood

Did you know that the proposed application of Cincinnati’s Form-Based Code in Westwood is just 105 acres, or only 2.7% of the total land area in Westwood?  Because the Westwood Coalition recommended an incremental approach to focus the application intentionally on Westwood’s historic business district (Westwood historic Main Street and focal point), without diluting the effort across a large area, Westwood’s application of the FBC would be the smallest area of the first four neighborhoods, as compared to 187 acres in Walnut Hills, 155 acres in College Hill, and 150 acres in Madisonville.  Each neighborhood is indicating its preference based on neighborhood priorities and desire; in Westwood, we’re keeping it tight, focused, and achievable.   

Walnut Hills Gains City Council Approval of Form-Based Code for Neighborhood

At this week’s Neighborhoods Committee meeting and then the City Council meeting, the ordinance was passed regarding Walnut Hills’ application of the Cincinnati Form-Based Code to its business district.  This council action amends the official zoning map of the City of Cincinnati to reflect the rezoning of approximately 187 acres of Walnut Hills’ business district to transect zones laid out in the Form-Based Code.  Like Westwood, Walnut Hills has enjoyed significant community engagement and a commitment to bringing about positive development in line with community values and desires.

Westwood Ordinance Assigned to City’s Neighborhoods Committee

At its meeting on January 15, 2013, Cincinnati City Council assigned the ordinance submitted by Charles C. Graves, III, Director, City Planning and Buildings, to the Neighborhoods Committee and as recommends by the Westwood Coalition following months of community input. It reads as follows:

23-201400041 ORDINANCE, amending the official zoning map of the City of Cincinnati to reflect the rezoning of that portion of the Westwood neighborhood of Cincinnati generally within the compact walkable area surrounding the Neighborhood Business District, as identified in Plan Cincinnati, from various conventional zoning districts in Title XIV of the Cincinnati Municipal Code, “Zoning Code of the City of Cincinnati,” to various transect zones set forth in Cincinnati Municipal Code Chapter 1703, “Form-Based Code.”

A public hearing will be held before the Neighborhoods Committee on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. in Council chambers.