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‘Connected Communities’ moves to City Council with Planning Commission support

Opponents of the Connected Communities proposal wore stickers to the Planning Commission meeting.
Becca Costello
Opponents of the Connected Communities proposal wore stickers to the Planning Commission meeting.

The Cincinnati Planning Commission voted 6-0 Friday to recommend approval of a proposal to significantly change city zoning code, after hearing about six hours of public comment on the measure. Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney abstained from the vote.

The ordinance is scheduled for a public hearing and vote in a City Council Committee June 4.

The “Connected Communities” plan is sponsored by Mayor Aftab Pureval, Council Member Reggie Harris (chair of the Budget and Finance Committee) and Jeff Cramerding (chair of the Equitable Growth and Housing Committee).

The proposal focuses most changes in neighborhood business districts and along major transit corridors. It would allow housing with up to four units, even in areas that currently only allow single family homes. It would also reduce or eliminate density caps and parking minimums for both residential and commercial developments.

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

Residents in favor of the ordinance say the city needs to loosen zoning to increase population. Some opponents objected to the community engagement process and say multifamily housing will destroy the affected neighborhoods.

"A lot of our neighborhoods really offer great quality of life, and I understand that there's fear that that would change," said Planning Commission member Daniela Beltran. "But I think what this is allowing is more Cincinnatians to have access to great quality of life. That's really at the root of this policy."

Other opponents say the plan doesn't do enough to incentivize affordable housing.

Planning Commission Chair Byron Stallworth had strong words for those who said the city didn’t do enough community engagement.

"I do take issue when people said 'nothing has happened, I don't know about it.' Outside of the mayor knocking on your door, what's it take?" Stallworth said. "Seriously. This has been in the news, people are talking about it; I get stopped in my neighborhood, my neighbors are talking to me about it."

Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney abstained from voting.

"There's so many things about Connected Communities that I like, but so many issues have been brought up that I feel we need more information and more input," Kearney said. "And so I look forward to more engagement."

Presenting the plan before public comment and commission vote, Council Member Harris asked Planning Commission members to be brave.

"I can tell you whatever pressure that comes to you during this meeting, I feel double every day. We continue to face a severe housing crisis that is holding back our community and hurting our people," Harris said. "I am asking for you to vote for Connected Communities not because it is easy, but because it is the right thing to do."

Mayor Pureval told Planning Commission the plan is urgent.

"Make no mistake, doing nothing is a choice," Pureval said. "If we do nothing, rents will continue to go up [and] we will continue to displace people. Connected Communities is the result of not just community engagement but also speaking with subject matter experts and learning what other cities are doing that have managed their housing prices."

Public comment

A total of 83 people spoke during Friday's Planning Commission meeting: 48 opposing and 36 in favor.

Reasons for opposition include concern about the public engagement method and timeline; changing the look and character of single family neighborhood;, increasing the number of renters; lack of parking; and more residents putting too much strain on city resources and infrastructure.

Michael Hauser of Mt. Lookout opposes the measure. "One of the reasons I oppose this, is that density in and of itself does not enhance anything. It increases crime, pollution, taxes, congestion, and a public safety hazard," Hauser said. "I do have to congratulate City Council on this, and the Planning Department — you have succeeded in connecting communities. As a speaker just said, you've brought the West End, North Avondale, Price Hill, Paddock Hill, Westwood, Hyde Park, Mount Lookout, Linwood, all on the same page. I don't believe we've ever been so connected."

Danielle Knobloch of Corryville supports it. "Do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Don't let it be the enemy of positive progress. I think something we can all agree on here is that we know the way things are isn't working. Rents are up. We don't have enough housing. We don't have to have the perfect solution for all of these problems in one go. We can and should pass Connected Communities and use it as a building block for what is to come."

Laura Hamilton of West Price Hill, is not in favor. "What this is, is a marriage of developers who want what they want, politicians who are willing to give it to them, and the unfortunate side effect of young folks who'd like to be able to afford their housing, and see better public transit and more options for transit being sucked into the deal under false pretenses."

Julie Garcia of Hyde Park shared her support. "I hope the [planning] commission listens to comments and opposition and take them into account, of course, but please don't give them undue weight. Your job is to do what's best for the city. So please give more weight to the clear evidence that these policies work and to the evidence that a majority of Cincinnatians consider housing affordability to be one of the most pressing issues facing our city and they want more middle housing."

Ricco Blackman, opposed: "People care, but people can't make it because of work, because they didn't know about it, [they need a] babysitter, whatever. But we have to do something about that. I look at the community engagement that was done — 2,200 people were reached. That's not a lot of people in a city that has nearly 300,000 people. So I would love to see better engagement when it comes to issues like this because this is a major issue. And considering Cincinnati is more than 40% Black people, I would love to see more people able to come to this meeting to speak their piece."

Timeline and how to give input

At the regular Council meeting May 22, Mayor Pureval will refer the measure to the Equitable Growth and Housing Committee, which includes all nine Council members. A public hearing to consider the ordinance is scheduled for 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.

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:

Updated: May 17, 2024 at 4:49 PM EDT
This article has been updated with comments from members of the Planning Commission and community members.
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.