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.