In an effort to reduce a budget deficit and make the city more “developer friendly,” in the words of Mayor Charles Luken, Cincinnati has abolished its planning department.
Eight staff members and the remnants of the city’s planning activities have been transferred to the community development department. The department will carry out state-mandated functions, such as zoning and historic preservation. Planning will largely be subordinate to economic development. An appointed planning commission will still advise the city council.
Eliminating the department was a top recommendation of the mayor’s Economic Development Task Force, which is chaired by Rob Smyjunas, a major big box developer. Two years ago, city planners delayed one of Smyjunas’ big box projects pending the completion of a neighborhood master plan, which ultimately forced the shopping center to be scaled back.
Smyjunas has plans to develop three more big box shopping centers and is now proceeding without interference from city planners. His latest project, a large Home Depot store that involves demolishing several homes, was approved by building inspectors at the behest of the mayor and despite strong neighborhood opposition. The now defunct planning department had envisioned multi-story buildings on the site with a mixture of uses including housing.
Ironically, Cincinnati was the birthplace of U.S. zoning when it became the first city in the nation to adopt a comprehensive plan in 1925.