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Does Over-the-Rhine Have a Parking Requirement Problem

In the summer of 2013 Rhinegeist opened to the world with huge fanfare. The massive former bottling plant for the historic Christian Moerlien brewery was the perfect open space for events, parties and general brewery related activities (like drinking, duh). Over the years the brewery has expanded, adding a rooftop deck, a restaurant, and event space. All the while, the brewery never added more parking aside from a small lot they use across of Elm Street. What has happened during this time is the construction of the Cincinnati Bell Connector and the addition of a Cincy RedBike bike share station in front of the Brewery’s entrance. However; the initial parking never increased. In order to be approved, the City of Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board granted the brewery a variance, or exemption, from the requirements of the city’s parking regulations that required a substantial amount of spaces be constructed to comply with the city’s zoning regulation.

Fast forward to 2018 and a restaurant/bar concept has applied to the Board to open in a space just up the street from the Brewery. The operators also asked for the exemption however the City’s Historic Conservator recommended denial citing the demand on parking. In the written recommendation she cited that the applicant was not close enough to parking at Findlay Market, available on-street parking spaces was not part of the equation.

And this week, when 3CDC applied to open a new bar at Elm and Race Streets, city staff asked for a lease agreement for exclusive use of 16 spaces at a new parking lot the developer was planning build across the street. With Over-the-Rhine being so close to downtown, with so many transportation options, and one of the largest historic districts in the country, why is the city being so forceful on parking?

Most of the reason stems from the city’s antiquated zoning code. Adopted in the early 1960’s and with subsequent updates being made, the foundation of the code is predicated on the rapidly suburbanizing American dream, one based on car ownership. Yet trends change and we find ourselves in a 21st century where desirability for car ownership is on a decline, and a premium on walkable urban development patterns. It makes no sense for our city to account only for automobile spots in their approval processes.

Five years ago, I did a story on UrbanCincy about downtown parking requirements. Since then, little has been accomplished to eliminate them, instead downtown added 2,000 parking spaces (it is unclear if the now demolished Pogue’s garage is in this count) to well over 37,000. Instead, the city has done little to change its policy. New city staff have introduced better ways to enforce the city’s off-street parking guidelines but a new zoning code dubbed the Land Development Code remains stalled for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, it seems like proposing parking requirement elimination is off the table so I propose a more flexible and realistic series of parking requirement reforms:

1. Introduce a shared parking ratio: It is silly to ask a bar, which operates primarily in the evening to provide dedicated 24-hour spaces. These spaces could be used by potential office users during the day. The intent is to realize a more balanced and efficient utilization of off-street parking. This could be done by reviewing the uses that utilize public parking and analyzing them through a ratio chart like the one below: [Bellevue FBC chart below]

Belleview Parking Occupancy table

2. Count on-street parking spots as part of requirement: On-street spots can be counted by measuring the full length of the allowed parking area and dividing by the typical length of a parking spot (as dictated by the zoning code). This will account for more realistic parking utilization.

3. Provide reductions for alternative transportation options: While being within proximity of a streetcar stop is already a 50% reduction for residential it could be argued that this reduction should apply across the board as we are discovering that a significant portion of riders are visitors to downtown who have parked elsewhere. In addition to expanding the streetcar reduction, reductions should also be considered for proximity to bike-share docking stations and metro stops that serve more than one bus line.

These recommendations do not include the increasing use of ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft or the introduction of Pedi cabs and golf carts into the urban setting. With so many transportation options for residents and visitors to the urban core alike, we should think more flexibly when it comes to parking spaces.

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