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.


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.

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.

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.

Form Based Code Myths and Realities

The Cincinnati Form Based Code and, more specifically, its anticipated application to Westwood’s historic business district, has spawned some misconceptions or myths.  The Westwood Coalition offers our neighbors this two page list of myths and corresponding realities.  We hope that you will take a look, read more deeply in our Further Reading section, and share this information with friends and neighbors.  Feel free to email the Coalition with questions and comments.   Here is the list of Form Based Code Myths and Realities.

Mark your calendar, details forthcoming:  The next Westwood Coalition community meeting will be the evening of December 2, 2013.


What Would the Form-Based Code Mean for Westwood?

Come to the August 22, 2013 Westwood Coalition meeting as we continue  to explore opportunities for the revitalization of Westwood’s historic business district.  This community meeting will start at 7 p.m. at Westwood First Presbyterian Church.  We will focus exclusively on Cincinnati’s form-based code, following a very brief report of the survey findings from the July 27 meeting.  We’ll have a presentation on the FBC followed by some group work and Q&A.  We’ll ask, most fundamentally, what are the differences between traditional zoning code and the form-based code and, specifically, what it would mean in this particular business district. Thanks in advance for making time for more community deliberation around the future of the business district.