Walnut Hills wants development, but not at the cost of its residential neighborhoods

Posted at 7:39 PM, Mar 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-11 19:39:27-04

CINCINNATI — The leader of the Walnut Hills Area Council is close to asking the Cincinnati city planners to create additional development control districts to protect residential areas from commercial developers.

It's a problem a number of neighborhoods in and around Cincinnati face: Keeping residential neighborhoods for residents.

A portion of Walnut Hills sits on one side of the I-71 and Martin Luther King Boulevard interchange. On the other side of the interchange is the planned Innovation Corridor in Avondale, which is expected to be a $1.5 billion research, technology and office development.

"We know development possibly could come through MLK," said Clarence Taylor, president of the Walnut Hills Area Council. He said the area council has already designated the areas along Gilbert Avenue, McMillan Avenue and Lincoln Avenue for business development as part of a re-investment plan.

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati city planners have put in place an interim development control overlay district for a section of Walnut Hills that borders I-71. It will last for one year.

"What an IDC does for us is gives us the opportunity to basically develop properties, develop land use, to discover what's going to be best for our community," said Taylor.

According to city documents, the overlay district will require a review process for new construction permits and certificates of compliance that involve a change in use for the building. That process is in addition to the normal reviews and approvals required by Cincinnati Zoning Code or other laws. The City Planning Commission is the administrative reviewer of applications.

"I see the IDC as a tool to determine what variances do we need to address when a developer comes in," Taylor said.

However, he is concerned about some residential areas of Walnut Hills — ones outside of the overlay district — that seem vulnerable to potential commercial development.

"If you don't know what your rights are and you don't know what you can do because larger companies in the city and development say, 'I'm coming in. We got a great deal,' you're stuck." Taylor said.

According to some online county property records of a couple Walnut Hills streets, many homes are owned by private citizens. However, WCPO noticed some homes owned by limited liability corporations (LLCs). In some cases, the LLCs were represented by law firms specializing in commercial real estate development.

"I don't want anybody coming on my street and saying, 'Hey Clarence, we need you to move out. We'll give you X amount of dollars. Can you leave?'" said Taylor, who has lived in Walnut Hills for over 50 years. "What if I don't want to?"

He said the area council has been discussing requesting additional development overlay districts in the southwest and northwest sections of Walnut Hills. No formal request has been made yet, but he expects resistance.

"Oh, yes I do, because we're talking profit and the lack of profit," he said.

According to Taylor, the area council is currently focused on maintaining a supply of affordable housing in the neighborhood, which wouldn't be as profitable as commercial development.

He said his hope is that people can live and work in the community they way they did in the past.

"I want to see that again," he said.