Cincinnati's Downtown Surface Parking Lot Ban Extended to April

New surface parking lots may continue to pop up Downtown, despite a ban on permits for new parking lots.

click to enlarge Surface parking lots, like the one shown here, are an environmental risk, some Cincinnati City Council members say. - Photo: Stephen Muller, Pixels
Photo: Stephen Muller, Pixels
Surface parking lots, like the one shown here, are an environmental risk, some Cincinnati City Council members say.

City leaders are taking steps to reduce surface parking in the Downtown and Over-the-Rhine neighborhoods, but new lots will still be popping up in the near future thanks to applications submitted just before the ban went into effect.

Cincinnati City Council approved an ordinance banning permits on new surface parking lots for three months in the Downtown neighborhood and parts of Over-the-Rhine on Sept. 21. Council extended the ban from three months to nine months on Nov. 9 to gather more public feedback on the change.

Council member Mark Jeffreys, who proposed the ban, tells CityBeat council should make a decision on surface parking by April. He says there are many reasons to quell the expansion of surface parking lots.

“We know the impact of surface parking from multiple factors. One is from an environmental standpoint; it’s just horrible, it’s a heat island. It’s horrible for stormwater management,” Jeffreys says. “It’s also one of the worst forms of development from the city. We get very little earnings tax from that or property tax, versus if there’s housing there or an office building. Maybe there’s some retail there. We want to create a city that is people first, that is designed for people first, where people want to come to downtown. People don’t want to come to a downtown that is simply surface parking.”

Jeffreys tells CityBeat that in addition to the problems surface parking poses for the city, those lots also are not in demand.

“We have enough parking. There’s about 62% vacancy for on-street parking on average,” Jeffreys says. “You also have garages. [The county] is building another garage next to Findlay Market, 550 spaces, so there will be even more parking available.”

The ordinance will not banish current surface parking lots from Downtown, but it will prevent people from applying for permits for new surface lots through the end of December. The city is using the three-month study period to brainstorm ways to put a permanent end to new surface lots.

Despite the ordinance, new surface lots are still in the works in some areas of Downtown and OTR.

Where new surface lots may pop up

Greyhound announced at the beginning of November that it had moved the decades-old Downtown bus terminal 13 miles north to Arlington Heights.

The large parcel that once hosted the Greyhound terminal will be redeveloped into a temporary surface parking lot while Chavez Properties, the development group that bought the property, markets the lot for long-term use.

Chavez Properties purchased the property at 398 E. Galbraith Road well before the city’s ordinance was passed in September. Hamilton County records show that the group bought the parcel in October of 2021. A representative from Chavez Properties tells CityBeat that his purchase was a sale-leaseback to Greyhound in “a lease that both committed the property to Greyhound for years while allowing them the flexibility to change course and leave.”
“This nearly two-and-a-half-acre parcel is located in a highly desirable, visible and high-traffic area, and Chavez Properties is excited to help play a role in transforming the property and enabling it to reach its best-use potential,” Martin Chavez, managing partner at the firm, tells CityBeat.

Chavez Properties’ urban parking company Park Place Parking will manage the surface parking lot while the site is marketed for a long-term use, such as for a hotel, retail or housing development.

Jeffreys notes that anyone can build a surface parking lot Downtown even after a ban is passed; the permit holder would just have to build something else on the lot after two years.

“There are times when a building collapses or something happens where you need to find someone to come in and buy it and develop it, and that might not happen overnight,” Jeffreys says.

Another surface parking lot that has the potential to pop up would sit where the Davis Furniture building stood; it was demolished after the roof collapsed this summer.

Jeffreys says the Stough Group, which owns the former Davis Furniture lot at 1119 Main St., filed a permit application for a surface parking lot the day before the council unanimously approved the ordinance on Sept. 21.

"We introduced this on a Friday, and then we voted on it on a Monday, and then council approved it on Wednesday and he filed literally the day before,"  Jeffreys says. “I just think it’s disrespectful to the public. They have a legal right because they came in under the deadline, but that doesn’t make it right.”

As of press time, the Stough Group has not responded to CityBeat’s requests for comment about the permit application.

Jeffreys says that, despite submitting an application before the deadline, the Stough Group isn't guaranteed an approval from the city's Department of Building and Inspections and the Department of Transportation.

“The permit owner needs to show a plan for, you know, how are they going to have access points,” Jeffreys says. “If you think about the geography of the place, it sits in front of the streetcar platform, so there’s really not a direct access from the street. So the owner would need to figure out a way to get access in there.”

Jeffreys says another developer slipped a surface lot permit application to the city hours before the deadline, this one at 112 W. Court Street between Elm and Race. He says there’s a reason people have rushed to obtain approval to build a surface lot.

“They’re very profitable. Because, think about it – you don’t have to build anything. All you have to do is put a person in there – or not even that, a machine – and then you’re getting however many dollars per day where your costs are minuscule," Jeffreys says. "It’s not like you have to build anything. You just put a bunch of asphalt over a piece of land and stripe it with paint."

Follow Madeline Fening on Twitter: @Madeline_Fening

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