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Answering questions about the 'Connected Communities' plan to reform zoning code

A street in Pendleton, a small neighborhood near Over-the-Rhine.
Becca Costello
A street in Pendleton, a small neighborhood near Over-the-Rhine.

The Cincinnati Planning Commission will consider an ordinance to update the city zoning code on May 17. If approved, City Council could vote on Mayor Aftab Pureval's "Connected Communities" plan as soon as early June.

Pureval is leading the zoning reform effort known as Connected Communities, focusing changes in neighborhood business districts and along major transit corridors. The ordinance is co-sponsored by Council Members Reggie Harris and Jeff Cramerding.

The measure has sparked significant public conversation, both supporting and opposing. A petition organized to oppose Connected Communities gathered 315 signatures, according to organizers. A separate petition organized to support the measure also gathered 315 signatures; organizers say a handful of additional signers who live outside Cincinnati expressed support. Both were submitted to the Planning Commission as part of a packet summarizing public feedback, and both will continue accepting signatures as the process continues.

RELATED: Mayor Pureval wants to redesign Cincinnati. Here's what that could look like

The ordinance itself is about 80 pages long, plus another 70 pages of maps.

The city's Department of Planning and Engagement is leading community engagement. Several resources for understanding the plan are available on the city website, including:

Here are answers to some common questions about the legislation.

Connected Communities

What is zoning?

Municipal laws that regulate how property can and cannot be used are referred to as zoning. You can learn more about Cincinnati's zoning code on the city's website.

Why do some officials want to change Cincinnati's zoning code?

Mayor Pureval and Council Member Harris say the city cannot continue to grow without allowing denser housing, especially near public transit.

Early zoning codes across the country were used to create and preserve racial segregation in the face of U.S. Supreme Court rulings striking down more overtly discriminatory laws. The effects are largely still intact today, with many Cincinnati neighborhoods still deeply segregated by both race and income.

Plus, the nationwide housing crisis is exacerbated by complicated and often outdated regulations, developers and city officials say.

"If we stick with the status quo, Cincinnati will be the next city that is completely unattainable to live in for working class Americans, and then the city will join other cities across the Midwest, in shrinking in population and economic opportunity," Harris said.

Harris and Pureval say the majority of the city requires residents to be able to afford the most expensive type of housing, referring to single family homes.

What areas of the city would change if Connected Communities passes?

Connected Communities is primarily focused on specific areas with defined boundaries: neighborhood business districts and seven major transit corridors.

Neighborhood business districts are recognized by the city through an outside organization: Cincinnati Neighborhood Business Districts United (CNBDU). Not all 52 neighborhoods have an NBD; there are currently 39 business districts in 33 neighborhoods. The plan also includes a quarter-mile buffer of each NBD (about a five-minute walk).

Areas targeted in the Connected Communities plan for comprehensive zoning reform.
City of Cincinnati
Areas targeted in the Connected Communities plan for comprehensive zoning reform.

The seven major transit corridors currently have a Metro bus route with 24-hour service:

  • Hamilton Avenue
  • Reading Road
  • Glenway Avenue
  • Gilbert Avenue
  • Madison Road
  • Westwood Northern Boulevard

Two of these corridors, Hamilton and Reading, will eventually host Metro's Bus Rapid Transit service with buses stopping every 10 to 15 minutes at limited stops, dedicated travel lanes and customized traffic signals to increase speed.
Changes along Hamilton and Reading also include a half-mile buffer on either side (about a 10-minute walk).

The specific areas targeted in Connected Communities span just about every type of zoning in the city, including some areas that currently only allow single family.

How would Connected Communities change rules for housing?

Housing with up to four units would be permitted:

  • in every neighborhood business district, plus a quarter-mile radius
  • along Bus Rapid Transit routes, plus a half-mile radius
  • Along other major corridors only on lots facing the street

RELATED: Council approves 'accessory dwelling units' to allow more housing in single-family zones

Rowhomes would also be allowed in all areas currently zoned SF-2, which is the single-family zoning district with the smallest minimum lot size.

City of Cincinnati

How would Connected Communities change rules for height and setback?

In zoning, height refers to the maximum height of all buildings, and setback refers to the minimum distance a structure must be from property lines.

Connected Communities would eliminate density restrictions in NBDs (but not including the quarter-mile radius) and along major corridors (including the half-mile radius).

Buildings constructed along a major corridor could get a one-story height bonus, unless it's within a single family zone.

How would Connected Communities change rules for parking?

Zoning code requires a certain number of off-street parking spaces depending on the use and size of the building. Multi-family buildings, for example, require between 1-1.5 spaces for every unit; requirements for commercial buildings are based on square footage.

Connected Communities proposes two changes that would apply city-wide:

  • No parking minimums for existing building renovations
  • Reduce residential parking minimums to one space per unit (current requirements are between one and two depending on the specific zone)

The plan also includes eliminating parking minimums for all uses along major corridors (plus a half-mile radius for the two Rapid Transit routes), and relaxing parking requirements in NBDs (plus a quarter-mile radius).
For new commercial buildings in the NBD zone:

  • Less than 5,000-square feet: no parking required (current exemption is less than 2,000-square feet)
  • Above 5,000-square feet: requirement will be half of the current rules, which vary depending on the type of commercial property

For new residential buildings in the NBD zone:

  • Buildings with 10 or fewer units: no parking required
  • Buildings with more than 10 units: half a parking space per unit required (current requirements are either 1 or 1.5 depending on the specific zone)
City of Cincinnati

Does Connected Communities ban new parking?

No. The plan would eliminate or reduce mandatory parking minimums, but would not prohibit a developer from building as much parking as they want.

Would zoning on my street change with Connected Communities?

You can look at your street in two places to see if zoning would change, showing each individual parcel in the city:

Does Connected Communities get rid of single family zoning?


What is "middle housing?"

This term is used to describe housing in between a single family home and a large apartment building. It can include a duplex, a four-family, cottage court, and more.

What would happen in neighborhoods with form-based code?

About 10 years ago, City Planning Commission and City Council approved the use of form-based code to allow neighborhoods to design zoning requirements specific to their neighborhood, which are focused on creating predictable outcomes for things like building facades, sidewalks, and parking. Four neighborhoods have implemented form-based code: Madisonville, College Hill, Walnut Hills, and Westwood.

Form-based code would take precedence over changes in Connected Communities.

What is "affordable" vs. "Affordable" housing?

You may hear someone differentiate "affordable housing" from "capital A affordable housing." Definitions of affordable vary greatly depending on the source.

"Capital A" Affordable housing usually means income-restricted, meaning tenants have to prove they meet a certain low-income standard in order to live in the unit. This kind of housing requires significant public subsidy to cover the cost of building and maintaining income-restricted housing.

Other housing may be "naturally occurring," meaning the rent is affordable to low-income households because the average rent in the area is within that range.

Officials say Connected Communities will make housing more affordable by making it easier to build housing, therefore increasing supply and slowing down the increase of rent and home prices.

RELATED: Cincinnatians wary of 'Connected Communities' plan to overhaul zoning at first public meeting

Does Connected Communities include financial incentives for building affordable housing?

No. The city's Department of Community and Economic Development proposed an overhaul of commercial tax abatements in 2022, suggesting ways to better incentivize affordable housing.

Pureval says those changes are still a priority for 2024, but will be discussed separately from Connected Communities.

What is "human-scale development?"

This is one area where Connected Communities proposes new regulation rather than reducing or eliminating existing rules.

There would be increased requirements for landscaping, plus parking for bikes and electric vehicles. The city would conduct a review of the auto-oriented zoning districts, and of rules related to the location of parking, dumpsters, and driveways.

The sewer system has problems. Would more density make the problem worse?


Most of Cincinnati has a combined sewer system, which means sewage from residences and businesses share the same pipes with stormwater runoff. During heavy rain events, the system can become overwhelmed, causing a combination of this untreated sewage and stormwater to overflow into waterways like the Mill Creek. It can also cause sewer backups into residential basements.

(Note: residential sewer backups are sometimes caused by too much stormwater in the combined sewer system, but they can also be caused by blockages or deteriorating pipes. The Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati reports that most sewer backups they investigate are not caused by lack of capacity in the sewer system.)

MSD Director Diana Christy says she often hears the reaction that more density will cause problems for the sewer system.

"It's just not that simple," Christy told WVXU. "A lot of our problems are due to wet weather. So we do have capacity for density in many areas, but that has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. And that process is built into the permitting process and the planning and development review that you go through with the city. So, these projects are evaluated with respect to existing connections and any increases in flow."

Christy says there are some cases where MSD doesn't have capacity for the intended use, although it's rare.

"Then there are things that private developers or communities that are developing areas can do," Christy said. "Sometimes it's improvements with the development itself. There may be some pumping that is needed, or some additional infrastructure, and we have a process where private developers can build the needed improvements for the public infrastructure, and then we can take that over following the completion of the project."

How much community engagement has happened for Connected Communities?

A report created by the Department of Planning and Engagement says the city hosted 34 events over the past two years, engaging about 2,500 residents.

"Engagement from events held in 2022 identified the problems within our zoning code that needed addressing," the report says. "The feedback from the 2023 events directly informed the strategy, scale, and direction of the policy proposals. The 2024 events were meant to hear feedback on the proposal and refine specific elements of the proposed policies."

Engagement also included online public surveys, meetings with about 60 "professional stakeholders" in fields like housing development and advocacy.

See the full engagement report below:

Did officials write the ordinance a year ago?

No. The first version of the ordinance was published on the city website April 11, 2024, and was mistakenly labeled with a transmission date of April 17. 2023. City officials corrected the error a couple weeks later.

Didn't City Council already vote down this ordinance two years ago?


Former Council Member Liz Keating proposed an ordinance in early 2022 that addressed some of the same topics and sparked considerable backlash.

The ordinance would have removed or increased density limits in certain zoning types throughout the city, including multifamily (but not including single family). It came before Council just a few months after most current council members took office for the first time, and died in committee after intense and contentious debate.

Who has to approve of the plan, and when will those votes take place?

The ordinance will go before the Planning Commission Friday, May 17, at 9 a.m. The seven-member board will vote to give City Council a recommendation to approve or not approve the ordinance. The Commission could also table the measure until a future meeting.

After Planning Commission's vote, the ordinance will go to City Council. At the regular Council meeting on May 22, Mayor Pureval will refer the measure to the Equitable Growth and Housing Committee, which includes all nine council members. The committee meets every other Tuesday at 1 p.m.; the earliest it could be on on the agenda is Tuesday, June 4.

If a simple majority of five council members vote in favor of the ordinance, it will continue to full City Council for a final vote the day after. City Council meets weekly on Wednesdays, with public comment starting at 1:30 p.m. and the official meeting starting at 2 p.m. or when public comment ends.

If Planning Commission votes to recommend approval, the ordinance needs a simple five-vote majority in City Council to pass. If Planning Commission votes to recommend not approving the ordinance, it will need a six-vote majority in City Council to pass.

How can I tell officials what I think of the plan?

The Planning Commission will meet Friday, May 17, at 9 a.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall.

You can register to give public comment online at least 48 hours in advance:

You can also register to speak in person the morning of the meeting.

City Council's Equitable Growth and Housing Committee meets at 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 4, in Council Chambers at City Hall. You can register to give public comment virtually by 2 p.m. on Monday, June 3.

If the ordinance passes out of committee, City Council will consider it on Wednesday, June 5. You can register to give public comment virtually by 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 4.

You can also contact council members directly:

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.