Business District Developments: February 18

The Westwood Coalition invites you to a community meeting on February 18.  We’ll share an update on developments since our report and recommendations in the fall and take a look ahead — what we and our represented organizations are working on now and what our next steps are for the business district revitalization.  Curious?  Want this update?  We’ve had many people asking us what’s next.  This will be a great chance to hear from Coalition representatives and special guest Elizabeth Bartley, Executive Director of the Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 from 7:00-8:00 pm

Westwood Town Hall, lower level, at 3017 Harrison Avenue, Cincinnati, OH

Street parking is available nearby, as are lots on Harrison at Urwiler and on Montana at Harrison.

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Westwood Recommends a Triangle and Related Improvements

The Westwood Coalition submitted its approved recommendations to city officials today, including the adoption of the Triangle option, pictured here, corollary improvements on Town Hall grounds and throughout the historic business district, and a planning process for the implementation of the improvements.  As we wrote in the transmittal letter to the Mayor, City Council, and department heads, we “…highlight the deep and wide participation of Westwood residents who have engaged richly in discourse about place making and the economic vitality of our neighborhood.  We look forward to working with [the city] over the coming years as we bring these recommendations to life.”  We also benefited from expert opinion that reinforced community insights and offered important perspective.  After months of research and community input, the Coalition is very pleased to have the approval of community groups and residents.

Now, our participating groups are rolling up sleeves to move from vision to planning to reality.  The Triangle, and other improvements along Harrison Avenue between Kling and the Cheviot line, will take more planning, public-private partnership, funding, and time, but we are well on our way.

The Triangle at the Intersection of Harrison, Epworth, and Urwiler Avenues

Westwood Triangle

Westwood Triangle

 

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.

Economic Baseline and Potential Impact: Moving Forward

On April 16, the Westwood Coalition hosted a community meeting. Guest speakers Elizabeth Bartley and Kathleen Norris gave the engaged audience a lot to consider about the current state and potential revitalization of Westwood’s historic business district. Slides from the presentation appear in the previous post. The Coalition welcomes comments on this post or via email at revitalizewestwood@gmail.com.

Ms. Bartley (School of Planning, University of Cincinnati) offered a research-based presentation on the business district and Madcap Puppets as catalyst for revitalization. She started with demographics of Westwood, including declining population, slow growth in property values, and a hollowing out of the middle class. Then she noted that this is not an unusual set of circumstances and asked what Westwood will do with its assets and opportunities. Next, Ms. Bartley answered “who is Westwood?” with a number of facts:
– Westwood has a sizeable concentration of families and people in their productive or working years.
– There are more marrieds with children, fewer singles, and fewer elderly than Cincinnati generally.
– In 2010, the median Westwood property value was $115,162 while Cincinnati’s median was $129,700.
– Westwood has a larger concentration of affordable housing that’s not in decline.
– In the area surrounding the historic business district and in Westwood, generally, there is quality housing stock.
– An inventory of businesses in the historic neighborhood business district shows speciality businesses, solid services, and regionally known and attractive businesses, many of which are locally owned.

Next, Ms. Bartley noted the benchmarking for revitalization, including:
– Community and stakeholder participation and investment
– Public and private partnerships
– Retail trade
– Catalysts like Madcap Puppets
– Pride of place

She noted that the Westwood Coalition has generated very strong community engagement, now acknowledged by city officials as a model of civic engagement. She pointed to the strong public-private partnerships, as evidenced by the Coalition and city planning processes, the organizations and businesses participating in the Coalition, and, notably, the city and private funding of Madcap’s renovation, with City Council’s commitment of $500,000. Ms. Bartley pointed to the long-time pride of place and neighborhood activation evident in recent years, commenting on the visible, vital sense of place.

Next, Ms. Bartley discussed the potential economic impact of Madcap Puppets as it brings 40,000 people a year to Westwood. Consumer spending associated with arts and cultural venues is $26 per person for locals and $40 for non-local visitors. This is in addition to spending specifically related to the venue, like ticket sales. This means that Madcap is expected to bring $1.2M in spending per year to Westwood’s historic business district. Ms. Bartley went on to note that Madcap performances will largely beout on the weekend and that new businesses will be needed to meet event attendees’ needs. She also pointed out the tax revenue associated with the anticipated growth in business activity.

Then Ms. Bartley briefly discussed the importance of the Coalition’s revitalization strategy, based on the neighborhood’s strengths and character and informed by the community’s answers to the questions “who are we?” and “what do we want?” She gave attendees food for thought including the importance of the gateways into the business district and the critical importance of focusing on the middle zone (or Main+Main) first. Ms. Bartley ended her remarks with points about the character of the historic business district: the civic heart, a walkable, compact area, good storefronts, good attractor businesses, and gaps and vacancies as opportunities.

Next, Kathleen Norris of Urban Fast Forward spoke about the way forward. She asked a number of attendees what they want from this meeting and from revitalization. Comments included a better sense of the timeline, safer streets, reductions in evidence of drugs, more police presence, people out on the street and shopping and socializing. concerns about failing businesses, and concern about the Heartbeat Motors building.

Ms. Norris pointed out ways to address the noted concerns, including traffic flow, eyes on the street, and busier shops. All of this will reduce robberies and burglaries and will strengthen community. She emphasized that change won’t happen overnight and will require ongoing engagement. She, too, spoke of the importance of a plan, but cautioned that the community shouldn’t take forever; a lot of the groundwork has been done.

Ms. Norris referred to Madcap Puppets as an anchor organization and encouraged attendees to see revitalization radiating out from there. She noted that the Coalition and businesses should understand who those 40,000 Mapcap visitors are and plan for them. Further, she commented, a business cannot thrive on weekend business alone, so she challenged attendees to use our own business district. Ms. Norris cited the competition from the Cheviot restaurant and bar district and shops and big box stores on Glenway but she emphasized that this neighborhood can support its own business district and approach. She commented on the benefit of volume and competition, remarking that, for example, Henke Winery would benefit from two more restaurants in the area.

In response to a question about the causes of negative impacts on neighborhoods like this one, Ms. Norris cited the historic shift to suburbia and the automobile. She noted that crime follows; it doesn’t lead. She also pointed to the trend away from suburbia and to urban centers and neighborhoods, preferred by young professionals.

Next, in response to a comment about problems caused by movement of residents from Over-the-Rhine to Westwood, Ms. Norris remarked that every neighborhood thinks it has riff-raff and it’s not a direct correlation, in any case. She encouraged Westwood residents to look to positive drivers and make community-building decisions, avoiding narrow-mindedness and futile dwelling on the past. She said that it’s not an unmovable issue and encouraged attendees to work on it in positive ways. She also remarked that Westwood has fewer young people than Cincinnati, generally, which she described as doom if the middle age demographic remains predominant. She pointed to young professionals and said that’s exactly what Westwood wants — young people who want to make a home in Westwood and who are engaged and community-minded.

Next, Ms. Norris pointed to Westwood assets, saying that we have a catalyst, space, tools, capacity, and community redevelopment and asset organizations. Illustrating her point with a story, Ms. Norris commented that a community has to support the heart of its neighborhood. She encouraged residents to be clear about what it wants, as has been happening through the Coalition’s efforts.

An attendee asked for clarification about housing values, noting the 2010 census data, and commenting that the values continued to decline. Ms. Bartley noted that for the purpose of Madcap’s economic impact study, the 2010 data are important for baseline.

In response to a comment about Westwood’s strategic plan, the speakers clarified that a neighborhood-wide strategic plan is different from a revitalization plan for a specific business district and requires a different approach.

An attendee spoke of her dislike for the form-based code and commented on the Ruehlmann building, expressing concern about some tenants.

Ms. Norris commented that neighborhoods were ignored, nationally, for fifty years while the suburbs flourished. She emphasized that it will take time, collaboration, and effort for the business district, and urban neighborhoods, generally, to turn around. She pointed again to the importance of welcoming young professionals, families, and the elderly to Westwood, noting that the value of properties in Westwood is attracting professionals.

An attendee asked about mechanisms for attracting private funding. Ms. Norris and Ms. Bartley both pointed again to the importance of a revitalization plan, such as those in the works in Westwood now. Ms. Norris pointed to the recent commitment of $500,000 by the City of Cincinnati to Madcap Puppets, as part of a public-private funding partnership. She commented on the Westwood Coalition’s commitment to and active engagement in revitalization planning, noting that one can see positive momentum in Westwood and remarking on the work Westwood has done to express what it wanted for its neighborhood business district and gaining more neighborhood control, as a result.

A question about the old firehouse at Epworth and Junietta prompted an introduction of Gerald Fortson from Cincinnati’s Trade & Development department. He announced that the City is on the verge of issuing a Request for Proposals that includes criteria intended to show respect for this historic building in the heart of the neighborhood business district. Further, Mr. Fortson noted that Westwood Historical Society and Westwood Civic Association have been invited to have a representative review proposals for the firehouse.

Remarking again that revitalization takes time, Ms. Norris illustrated this point by offering the example of Over-the-Rhine where it took three years and buckets of money to develop thirty five residential units and eight or ten stores. An attendee who is a real estate developer noted that there is tremendous value in a rising market.

Ms. Norris ended her remarks by saying that the important thing to keep in mind is that Westwood got into the revitalization mix several years ago. This progressive movement is creating momentum and moving Westwood forward. She urged the Coalition and the community to go after what it wants and to recruit strategically.

April 16: Current State, Necessary Conditions, Impact

As announced previously, the Westwood Coalition invites residents to a community meeting on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. at Westwood Town Hall. We will take a look at the current state of the historic business district and the conditions necessary for vitality and development. With presenters Elizabeth Bartley (School of Planning, University of Cincinnati) and Kathleen Norris (managing principal, Urban Fast Forward), we’ll look at the historic business district’s current and potential community and economic activity, the importance of place, the promise of public-private partnerships, and moving from here to there.

Also, note that in late May, the Coalition will host a community meeting focused exclusively on gathering community comments on the Westwood Square as the feasibility study moves forward. Watch for that announcement shortly!

April 16 Community Meeting

The Coalition invites you to a community meeting on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. at Westwood Town Hall Hold the date! We will provide a quick update on developments like the Westwood Square feasibility study and the Mayor’s support for revitalization. Then we’ll launch right into a look at the current state of the historic business district and the conditions necessary for vitality and development. With presenters Elizabeth Bartley (School of Planning, University of Cincinnati) and Kathleen Norris (managing principal, Urban Fast Forward), we’ll look at the historic business district’s current and potential community and economic activity, the importance of place, the promise of public-private partnerships, and moving from here to there.

See you on April 16th.

Notes from December 2 Community Meeting

At the December 2 community meeting regarding the Cincinnati form-based code and attended by approximately 60+ residents, the Westwood Coalition started with some context:

In its recommendations in September, the Coalition called for the application of the form-based code to the historic business district and said it would come back to the community with a refinement of the map or regulating plan, based on residents’ input. The December 2 presentation focused exclusively on that refinement. The City’s Planning department intended to recommend this application of the form-based code to the Cincinnati Planning Commission at its December 13 meeting.

Cameron Ross then provided an overview of the purposes and benefits of the form-based code, its development in Cincinnati, and the public process in which Westwood has been engaged.  He followed that with a detailed look at the proposed map of the business district, with an explanation of the building types and locations for each, emphasizing that the map represents Westwood’s vision and community input and provides an approach that is managed, retail-appropriate, championed, anchored, unified, and walkable. Mr. Ross commented that Cincinnati’s current zoning regulations only apply to what goes on inside a building while the form-based code provides predictability and community control over the tone and look of the area. Mr. Ross showed that the regulating plan focuses on a few blocks of more concentrated development (at maximum build out) in the center of the business district. He noted that Westwood has expressed a clear preference for buildings not higher than three stories. Single family housing wraps around the business district and is the predominant housing form in the area, covering over 60% of the area on the map.

In terms of specific building types, there is a small T3 Estate area at Harrison & Eggers, meaning that a large property there cannot be subdivided. The T3N designation dominates the area and is similar to current single family zoning. T4 butts up against the gateways; this includes single family and a diversity of uses. T5 is the type along the “Main Street”, offering mixed use potential, including residential, office, retail, and restaurants. This is central and consolidated. The form-based code would only affect properties seeking new construction and major renovations.

Next, attendees asked questions and offered comments:

Q. Would form-based code have prevented the street-facing parking and big set backs of, say, Walgreens and US Bank?
A. Yes. The businesses would have been sited better up the the street and the corner.

Q. Where do things stand with the proposed Westwood Square and any alternatives?
A. A feasibility study of a square is pending, including a careful examination of traffic, flow, turn radius, parking, utilities, and more.

Q. The Westwood strategic plan calls for a flip in the ratio of single family housing (currently 40%) to multi-family housing (currently 60%). Won’t think continue the status quo?
A. This would allow for the potential of the development of condominiums, apartments, and duplexes, as does current zoning, along with encouragement of other uses.

Q. Traffic along Montana approaching Harrison and along Harrison is heavy. How would parking be accommodated?
A. DOTE will study traffic patterns and volume. This proposal seeks to accommodate a safer, more welcoming zone by slowing down traffic through the business district.

Q. Is there a particular benefit to so much single family housing in the business district? Is there a benefit to keeping the application of the form-based code so narrow?
A. This is a starting point. A neighborhood could choose to expand its form-based code area, but this proposal seeks to strengthen this core area first as a catalyst for revitalization.

Q. Is the city’s Planning department doing any building or is this all just a map?
A. Planning sets the code or regulations. There are no designated development funds. This provides a framework for private development and possible partnerships.

Q. If the community wanted to make changes to the map, how would Westwood give input?
A. The same process would play out that is in effect today: Inquiries to Planning would be directed to the community council and to the Coalition. If a proposal meshes with the vision, the regulatory process is simpler because the sausage-making has happened at the front end.

Q. Does this allow for a big apartment complex to be build in the center of the business district?
A. There is the potential for that, as is the case with current zoning. Westwood is looking for multi-generational housing and mixed uses; that doesn’t necessarily mean subsidized housing. There are a variety of building types and any development could not exceed the height and other limitations in the code.

Q. In Hyde Park, that type of housing is desirable, flanking the business district. It has to do with what businesses are around it.

Q. Please tell us about the format of the Planning Commission meeting and how we can offer comments.
A. It will start at 9:00 a.m. on December 13. There is a consent agenda which will go quickly, followed by the discussion agenda. The Westwood proposal is first on that agenda. Planning will make a 20 minute presentation, followed by community comments. Fill out a speaker card if you’d like to speak.

Q. Along the churches in the area, there is the potential for taller buildings, correct?
A. There is the T3N building type around, for example, WUMC. But, yes, there is T4 across the street which could allow density, as is the case now with the MF zoning.

Q. Have you spoken with Mayor Cranley about this yet?
A. Not yet, as he just took office. It starts with the Planning Commission and then the Neighborhoods Committee, which will be chaired by David Mann.

Q. Speaking on behalf of one church in the area, we are supportive of people seeking housing in our neighborhood. How does the form-based code, in a broad sense, support the anchor institutions in the community?
A. It allows for a variety of uses for a variety of people with predictable building types and in harmony with a community’s expressed vision. It has the potential to fill in the business district’s missing teeth and to create the opportunity and activity a community wants.

Q. Does this plan have any bearing on subsidized housing?
A. No. Refer to the Myths and Realities sheet. HUD funding supported a planning process but has no strings attached for housing.

Q. Twenty five to thirty years ago, Aspen Village was nice but that changes. You say there are no HUD dollars attached but it could happen at any time as long as it met the code.
A. Yes, and that is true today with the current zoning laws. The difference is that the community can more clearly articulate its values and preferences using form-based code and the developer must work within set building types.

Q. Do we get anything different with form-based code than we have already?
A. A clearer expression of the community’s specific values, a sense of pride in the development that happens within the context of community values and predictable building.

Q. Could we get a five story building? Could we get it now?
A. Yes. Yes. But under form-based code, Westwood’s expression of its preferences would be clear to developers from the outset. There are also economic viability factors to consider.

Q. It seems that form-based code doesn’t do anything to actually create the reality of the pretty pictures we’ve seen.
A. Form-based code provides the regulating plan and helps to create conditions that make the development more likely. Those are aspirational drawings that would require private funding and development and possible public-private partnerships.