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
Read the full article at


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:

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.

Westwood Transect Map

At the Westwood Coalition community meeting on December 2,Cameron Ross, senior city planner, presented the refinement of the Westwood transect map, reflecting the proposed application of the Cincinnati Form Based Code to Westwood’s historic business district. We will post notes from that meeting later this week but here is the transect map as presented and as it will be recommended to the Cincinnati Planning Commission on December 13, 2013. Click on link below. Please comment or post questions here or to the Coalition’s email address.

Westwood Transect Map 11-20-13

Presentation from the July 27 Community Meeting

On July 27, 2013, a community meeting attracted over 150 Westwood residents for a presentation and discussion about Westwood’s historic business district.  The presentation, by Cameron Ross, senior planner, City of Cincinnati’s Planning Department, gave an overview of Cincinnati’s form-based code and its design and economic principles, a look at the community-driven design process thus far, and considerations for the business district.  You are welcome to view the presentation here and post your comments and questions.  We’ll post a summary separately of the data collected at that meeting and from surveys we posted online and at the library.