Cincinnati City Council passes zoning reforms, including reduced parking mandates

Cars in a parking lot, parked diagonally, with the words "How Reduced Parking Requirements (plus zoning reform) Impact Neighborhoods and Housing
Cities nationwide are increasingly getting rid of parking mandates. With local governments not specifying a certain number of parking spots, developers say they can build more.

Will Reducing Parking Mandates Increase Housing?

Vehicles spend most of their time parked. And because of that, for years cities have dictated how many parking spots developers should include based on sometimes arbitrary numbers. But do those numbers still make sense and could reducing them allow for more housing and development? An increasing number of cities are getting rid of those so-called parking mandates or parking minimums, including Cincinnati. 

Cincinnati changes 

On Wednesday, Cincinnati City Council approved “Connected Communities,” a new zoning code that hopes to add density by allowing more housing and reducing parking, among other things. Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval and others say this is important because the city’s population has been growing for ten years. 

In Episode 3 Brick by Brick reported on how Cincinnati’s Connected Communities could house more people through “missing middle housing” in a podcast, video and article.  

Parking changes are also part of the plan. Cincinnati is eliminating parking minimums for existing building renovations and developments along major corridors (see map) and new construction within a quarter mile of neighborhood business districts. For the rest of the city, residential parking minimums are reduced to one space per unit. There are no changes to curb parking.  

Here’s a map 

You may be wondering how much of a difference eliminating parking minimums could make right here in Cincinnati. So did we.  Brick by Brick’s Hernz Laguerre Jr. found a possible test case in Camp Washington.  

Because Connected Communities is an “emergency” ordinance it could theoretically go into effect immediately, but the administration will likely take 30 days to implement the maps and update the websites. 

Not everybody is on board with the zoning changes. At a Planning Commission meeting May 17, more than 80 people spoke, including Director of the Mt. Adams Civic Association Steve Vogel. “Mt. Adams is an example of where there are unique differences. Again, platted in 1875, before cars were even considered. There are a number of houses that have no driveway or garage. They do require to park off-site,” he says. 

Parking is also a concern for the Clifton Community Council, known as Clifton Town Meeting. President Steve Goodin says the group wanted a six-month moratorium because it had too many concerns like, “With UC’s undergraduate population expected to grow by 12,000-15,000 students, we would start to see a lot of undergraduates kind of shoehorned in.” 

But Katie Frazier of Northside NEST says, “We think the time to act is now to ensure Cincinnati can produce the housing it needs to continue to support neighborhoods like Northside.” 

Some neighborhood groups say the city should have contacted them for revisions. Brick by Brick brought these concerns to the city and a spokesperson replied:  

“The Connected Communities policy was drafted based on significant engagement over the course of two years with residents, including property owners and renters, as well as local professionals who build, design, and fund housing. Engagement began with the 2022 Housing Summit; 2022 and 2023 were spent educating and listening to create the draft policy and 2024 was spent refining the policy…..The most significant changes based on public engagement were not applying these policies citywide as other cities have done, and instead focusing the changes where they made the most sense.”  

Here’s how the city says it integrated the community feedback: 

It turns out Cincinnati did reduce parking along the streetcar route in 2015 and land use attorney Brad Thomas says, “condominium projects on Race and Elm have benefitted from these changes.” 

How much parking do we have anyway? 

Believe it or not, even your bowling alley and funeral home are required to have a certain number of parking spaces, as dictated by the city they’re in and President of the Parking Reform Network Tony Jordan says that’s silly. “A car being stored in a space is about the least productive land use that you can come up with. So, pretty much anything is a better answer than use it to park a car.” Jordan says what’s even crazier is that those required bowling alley and funeral home spaces vary from city to city. 

In 2023 some estimates put the number of parking spots in the U.S. at more than 2 billion. That’s the same land area as Connecticut. 

Cincinnati 

Attorney Brad Thomas estimates Cincinnati has 1.3 million parking spaces. He averaged Philadelphia and Des Moines and included Seattle has a reference. That translates into 4.3 spaces per car in Cincinnati. 

Dayton 

The Parking Reform Network says parking makes up 29-percent of Dayton downtown parking. In Cincinnati it’s 21-percent. 

On a Tuesday in February 2024 the Dayton Daily News found only 63 cars parked in the city-owned Oregon District Garage which has about 1,735 spaces. 

Dayton Planning Division Manager Tony Kroeger says to those who say Dayton has too much parking – that’s not because the city is requiring it. He says people want to have parking where they live and developers want to include a parking solution. “We have conversations with prospective developers all the time and say, ‘Hey look, we don’t want to make you build more parking than you need.’ That’s not good for anyone,” says Kroeger. 

Dayton doesn’t require any minimum parking for housing units downtown and the city is continuing to look at its parking requirements outside of the central business district. 

What’s the problem with parking requirements (parking minimums)? 

According to Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, “We now have drivable cities without walkable neighborhoods.” He says parking mandates: 

Shoup says it’s gotten so bad cars have more space than people. He says an off-street parking space typically takes up 330 sq. ft. when you average the space and the driving lanes around it. He says, “One study that I know of tried to look at the square feet of housing in the United States. And when you define that by the population, we have about 800 sq. ft. of housing. With just three parking spaces per car, that’s a thousand square feet. So that’s more space for a car than a person.” 

There appears to be support nationwide to get rid of parking minimums. With a shortage of between 4 million and 7 million homes a national survey showed parking reform was among 10 policies people supported. 

Regional cities are making changes  

In Hamilton, Ohio there are parking minimums in many parts of the city but according to Planning Director Liz Hayden, not in the central business district and Historic Main Street/Rossville. However she says, there are many ways that requirements are halved or eliminated. “If it’s on a neighborhood business district corridor, if it’s close to a public parking lot, if it’s a shared parking lot,” there would be exceptions. 

Springfield, Ohio does have parking minimums but is considering revising them according to City Planner Vaidehe Agwan. 

Hamilton County Assistant Planning Director Steve Johns says many jurisdictions outside of the City of Cincinnati struggle with parking in their business districts and have created municipal lots. He wonders if that space could be better used. But he says Anderson Township is reducing the number of driveways to create shared parking opportunities. 

A Trend Across the Country 

Buffalo, New York became the first large U.S. city to eliminate parking minimums in 2017. Two years after it did that a study showed nearly half of all developments included fewer parking spaces and so did mixed-use developments. 

Minneapolis, Minnesota eliminated parking minimums in 2021. The city’s Planning Director Meg McMahan says it’s been immensely impactful, especially in the creation of more housing. She says, “That has unlocked infill sites that otherwise would not have been available for development because they need to provide on-site parking and there just wasn’t space.” 

Tulsa, Oklahoma had some opposition and because of that took a more targeted approach. It eliminated parking minimums downtown and reduced them 50-percent in surrounding areas. 

Limitations 

Buffalo Senior Planner Chris Hawley says he thought getting rid of parking minimums would decrease parking more. “I think one of the surprising things we discovered when we eliminated minimum parking requirements was really how many development projects were still providing a lot of parking, even though they were no longer required to do so.” 

Hawley says in some cases banks still require a certain number of parking spaces. 

Author Donald Shoup says some cities don’t go far enough. He says, “parking requirements are a fertility drug for cars,” and that cities should also update how they manage curb parking. He says cities can create even more public benefits if they also limit and charge the right prices for curb parking, and then spend the curb parking revenue to pay for added public services on the metered blocks. 

Cincinnati Councilmember Jeff Cramerding, who chairs the Equitable Growth and Housing Committee which approved the plan and sent Connected Communities on to the full council says, “This [Connected Communities] was a moderate approach. This is a test case. We could expand it and if some of the problems that people foresee come to fruition, we can make changes as appropriate.” 

Results  

According to Shoup, Champaign, Illinois got rid of parking minimums for apartments near the University of Illinois in 2015. The number of apartments per acre increased by 79-percent. 

Shoup himself noticed a 100-year old two-story office building in Hollywood, California. “And with the parking requirements removed it’s now an eight-story apartment building with 69 apartments, nine of them for low-income people and no off-street parking. Now, that would seem so unusual to be miraculous to see that kind of change so quickly.” 

Ohio Lawmakers are proposing a new fund totaling $100 million to $150 million a year to fund new housing construction. To qualify local governments would have to have three of 12 ‘pro-housing’ policies. One of them is having no minimum parking requirements for developments that include residential units. Ohio is facing a deficit of 267,000 affordable housing units. 

Will this and other changes in Ohio make a difference? And how long will it take? We, at Brick by Brick, will be following the progress in Cincinnati, statewide, and nationally to find out how removing or reducing parking minimums translates into more housing or transit-oriented development. Those outcomes will likely impact whether Cincinnati and other cities press for even more changes around parking.

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Ann Thompson – Host, Producer

Over the last thirty years in Cincinnati, Ann Thompson has brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported and anchored for WVXU, WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV and Metro Networks and freelanced for NPR, CBS and ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and she has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. She is a former News Director and Operations Manager. Ann has reported from India, Japan, South Korea, Germany and Belgium as part of fellowships. Ann thinks of the Brick by Brick project as “journalism for good.” She serves as host and producer. Ann lives in Anderson Township with her husband Scott. They have two boys. Jake graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2022 and Kurt attends West Point.