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Cincinnati may ban future surface parking lots Downtown

Council Member Mark Jeffreys (at podium) announcing his plan to prevent expansion of surface lot parking Downtown on September 16, 2022.
Becca Costello
Council Member Mark Jeffreys (at podium) announcing his plan to prevent expansion of surface lot parking Downtown on September 16, 2022.

No new surface parking lots could be built Downtown under an ordinance proposed by Council Member Mark Jeffreys. He says surface lots are poor utilization of land and Downtown already has plenty of parking.

But, he says the core of this proposal is a priority for people instead of “car culture.”

“What we get is what we build,” he said. “For too long we built our city for cars and what we get is cars and traffic; build a Cincinnati for people and we get people.”

City administration is considering a long-term change to zoning code to prohibit future surface lots. In the meantime, city officials are considering a three-month ban on new lots while the issue is being studied.

"So there'll be months for engagement and for stakeholders and communities to discuss the ordinance," Jeffreys said. "In the meantime, though, we want to make sure that during those months, and during that engagement, somebody doesn't come in under the wire and pull a permit to build a surface parking lot."

The Planning Commission approved the temporary prohibition Friday morning; it’s an Interim Development Control (IDC) overlay district. City Council gave the measure initial approval in Committee on Monday and will likely take a final vote Wednesday.

Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, a member of the Planning Commission, approves of the plan.

“I know that there are a lot of different viewpoints about parking; some of the residents are screaming that we need more, a lot of people are saying we need less because we're trying to be more walkable,” she said. “But the community engagement part of this is really important, and so the fact that we're going to do a study before any decisions are made, and then have engagement about it, I think is really wonderful.”

The Green Cincinnati Plan calls for discouraging Downtown surface parking lots.

“Creating these lots encourages the usage of single combustion vehicles that generate high levels of carbon emissions,” said Kylie Johnson with the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund. “Additionally, parking lots absorb heat, worsening the impacts of the urban heat island effect, and the summer urban areas of Cincinnati can be much hotter than nearby rural areas.”

There are just over 39,000 parking spaces in downtown Cincinnati, according to the latest Commuter Parking Availability report from the city. That includes garages and lots that offer monthly and daily parking. It does not include metered on-street parking.

Jeffreys says on average, just 37% of metered parking Downtown is utilized at any given time.

“In other words, over 60% of spaces are vacant, on average,” he said. “We don't need more.”

The change (both temporary and permanent) would not affect current surface lots or parking garages.

The IDC would not apply to permits for "minor" changes to existing surface lots — things like resurfacing, re-striping, new lighting, new fencing and new landscaping.

The IDC would apply to building permits, certificates of compliance, and certificates of appropriateness for new construction, alternation/modification/expansion, changes in use and site improvements.

Downtown Development zoning district (outlined in black and white)
City of Cincinnati
Downtown Development zoning district (outlined in black and white)

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.