CINCINNATI -- For years, Peter Hames and his neighbors in Over-the-Rhine have been waiting for some sort of plan when it comes to parking in their rapidly growing urban core neighborhood.
"That I know of, we have been waiting for at least seven years," Hames said. "We've made official requests, filling out forms, applying for grants that the city issues for community budget requests. We've done that."
Just last week, though, Cincinnati City Council put in motion plans to establish a residential parking permit plan and to lift parking requirements for developers building in the neighborhood. For Hames and his neighbors, it appeared the years-long wait could finally be over.
Well, sort of.
Hames said the measures approved during council's Sept. 19 meeting address some short-term problems, but fail to account for OTR's continued growth in years to come.
"What's really needed for Over-the-Rhine is a comprehensive, long-range, long-term parking plan," he told WCPO.
At the core of Hames and others' continued frustration is what Hames called a lack of "authentic" engagement from City Hall in drafting the parking plan.
"If you look at what they produced, they've really ignored the input we have given them," Hames said.
Living in OTR, parking in OTR
After years of lobbying -- and two failed attempts by City Council to pass a residential permit plan for the neighborhood -- the council last week approved two measures. One creates some long-awaited guidelines for who can park where and when in the mixed-use district through a special permit parking plan for residents living in the neighborhood.
This is the piece Over-the-Rhine resident and community council member Margy Waller said she's been waiting for since moving to the neighborhood six years ago.
"It's definitely a good thing for the neighborhood," she said. "Particularly for people who have been living here for a long time and didn't have a new garage built with their new house."
Out of nearly 1,300 on-street parking spaces throughout roughly 50 blocks between Central Parkway, Sycamore Street and Liberty Street, 500 will become permit-only spaces. The remaining 790 spaces will be metered.
Waller said without a permit plan, finding parking is a battle for residents.
"The community council does agree that, right now, we're fighting everyone for those few spots," she said, referring to competition for parking spots not just among residents, but visitors to the entertainment district, as well. "We live here, and some of us have no alternative parking space and no means to rent a space."
But Waller feels the plan approved by City Council falls short with its two-tiered pricing structure: a standard $60 rate and a $25 option for residents living in affordable housing.
"One of our principals was that we did not want a two-tiered system," Waller told WCPO. "It means that people who are in low-wage jobs are going to have to make the trek to City Hall, prove that they're 'poor,' and somebody at City Hall's going to have to make that assessment, which takes time and money.
"It's just not a good plan."
More people, more parking?
A second measure passed last week lifts previous regulations requiring that developers provide a minimum stock of new parking spaces when building or rehabbing in OTR, Downtown, Pendleton, and portions of Mount Auburn and West End.
"There are formulas within the previous zoning code that said if you put up 10,000 square feet, you have to put up so many parking spaces," Hames said. "They eliminated that requirement."
Philip Denning heads up the city's Department of Community and Economic Development and, with the city's planning department, drafted the plan. He said the parking minimum requirements could be inhibiting new development.
"Over-the-Rhine is our most dense neighborhood, and the reality that parking minimums as they exist today are having some unintended consequences," Denning told City Council. "The reality is they need to provide those spaces under the current regulations, whether or not they need it for their business."
That costs developers money, Denning said, and his department has already had to issue more than 30 exceptions to the parking minimum rules in order to keep builders invested.
Denning also said that parking minimums have incentivized the demolition of existing buildings in the neighborhoods to make room for additional off-street parking spaces.
Underlying the new parking rules is a push to make the city's urban core more walkable and less reliant on cars. Bike share, scooter share and the streetcar all fall in line with this aspiration, as well.
But Hames doesn't think removing the parking minimums is a viable long-term solution.
"From Econ 101, if you, in the face of increasing demand, do not increase supply, then the price goes up. The price keeps going up," Hames said. "I think it's going to be the worst-case scenario."
Hames said he's worried Over-the-Rhine will eventually suffer from "gentrification by the absence of parking plans" because demand for parking isn't going away in the near future.
"There will be people who move in here who will demand that there be parking where they live, and so that will continue to increase the price of those housing units," he said.
He also worries that the DCED isn't thinking big enough.
"It's disappointing that in their study they didn't really look at any alternatives that you would expect in a comprehensive look," Hames said. "Over-the-Rhine has a pretty healthy supply of either vacant lots or vacant buildings that could be used during the short term while some larger plans are developed."
Neither Waller nor Hames feels the city administration did enough to engage residents in Over-the-Rhine.
Regarding the parking permits, Waller said it's a step in the right direction, but still misses a critical component. She worries the OTRCC's recommendations are falling on deaf ears.
"It's not -- It's better, but it's still not exactly what we want," she said. "We think we can come to an agreement that we can support. We didn't even hear back from City Council about that."
Hames said his efforts to participate in the planning process were "rebuffed again and again and again."
"I don't think they've made authentic efforts to engage us," he told WCPO. "It was more than a year ago that I asked them to get us involved, and they rebuffed my efforts."
OTRCC President Maurice Wagoner began documenting a trend of "inadequate notice and engagement" from the city administration in letters to City Council and other administrators earlier this year.
"We are confused about why there has been no stakeholder and resident input to this process," Wagoner wrote in a letter dated April 26.
A few weeks later, on May 15, Wagoner wrote to Denning: "OTRCC is deeply disappointed by the city's engagement thus far in the dialogue about parking in OTR."
These concerns prompted the City Planning Commission in July to hold the proposed parking changes until the DCED and Department of Planning had more time to engage the neighborhoods affected.
"The last time this was considered by the Planning Commission, they asked us to go back, do more engagement and reconsider what we were thinking, and we did," Denning told City Council during a Sept. 18 committee meeting. "We listened with open ears and really took to heart the perspective we got from residents but also from businesses and from the administration."
Since July's pause, the DCED held five public hearings:
Aug. 6: Pendleton Community Council
Aug. 20: Mount Auburn Community Council
Aug. 21: West End Community Council
Aug. 27: OTR Community Council
Sept. 11: OTR Chamber of Commerce
Still, in a Sept. 13 letter to City Council, Wagoner doubled down on his concerns over a lack of timely engagement.
"While our membership has considered the policy options for a Residential Parking Permit many times, we have not had an opportunity to discuss the proposal we learned of on September 12. While this proposal is much closer to aligning with our principals, there are some important differences," Wagoner wrote.
The new parking rules weren't the only time some OTR residents felt left out of the loop, Waller said.
"The decision by City Council to keep the Over-the-Rhine Community Council out of the discussion about community benefits with the FC Cincinnati stadium -- that stadium is going to be right there," Waller said, pointing to the current location of Stargel Stadium on Central Avenue. "It is closer to many of us than many residents of the West End, and yet we were not given the right to be part of the community benefits agreement.
"City Council did not use their leverage to help us," she said. "They still could, but we'll see."