An Initiative A Day 4.1: Encourage a higher frequency of mixed-use development and a range of diverse, affordable housing options

On February 25, the NEOSCC Board will be voting on the the Vibrant NEO 2040 Vision, Framework and Action Products.  With just under 40 days to the vote and 41 initiatives in the vision, we thought it would be good to create a countdown to the vote.  Everyday over the next 5 weeks,  we will be sharing an “Initiative A Day” with you so you can gent a better understanding of the vision and framework!  If you would like to read all of the Initiatives, you can download them here Vibrant NEO_Recs&Init_010114.

Show your support for Vibrant NEO 2040 by adding your name to our Champions of Vibrant NEO 2040 list here!

Recommendation 4: Encourage a higher frequency of mixed-use development and a range of diverse, affordable housing options


It is ironic that the Euclidian form of zoning should claim Northeast Ohio as its birthplace. The landmark Supreme Court case emerged from a landowner’s challenge of an effort by the city of Euclid, Ohio to enact a municipal land use ordinance. In those days, the principal concern was with keeping noxious industries contained and separated from residential neighborhoods. But it had the long-term effect of embedding a horizontal separation of land use and rigid management of density as cornerstones of planning practice and regulation nationwide.

With shifting lifestyle preferences and stressed municipal budgets, municipalities are now finding benefit in turning Euclidian zoning on its head – encouraging intensification of land use through small-lot residential development and mixing of uses in single developments. This equates to more revenue for cities and towns, and thus a more favorable fiscal balance with the demands imposed by infrastructure investment and maintenance and the ever-shrinking transfer payments from federal and state governments. It also helps to diversify the range of housing choices as well as improve a community’s affordability to individuals and families at different income levels.

TOOL: Greater Circle Living: Greater Circle Living is a housing assistance program that operates through forgivable loans. The program aims to improve access to affordable housing, assist individuals in wealth building, reduce commute times and costs, and enhance quality of life by offering employees of eligible non-profit institutions an opportunity to live and work close to world-class cultural institutions and services in the University Circle area in Cleveland. It also seeks to increase awareness of the incredible housing opportunities available in the area. The program is a partnership between Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals, Judson Manor, Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Foundation and the City of Cleveland.

TOOL: Toolbox for Regional Transit and Land Use Impacts: This toolbox report contains analytical methods for testing the regional impacts of transportation and land use policies. It has a wealth of information on analytical framework, evaluation methods, case studies and bibliographic references. The toolbox is designed for use by metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), state departments of transportation (DOTs), and other analysts who wish to assess a range of impacts in regional transportation and/or land use planning.

TOOL: The Location Affordability Portal (LAP) is a cost calculation tool that allows users to estimate housing and transportation costs for neighborhoods across the country. The LAP hosts two cutting-edge data tools: the Location Affordability Index (LAI) and My Transportation Cost Calculator (MTCC). The LAP will help consumers and communities better understand the combined costs of housing and transportation associated with living in a specific region, street, or neighborhood and make better-informed decisions about where to live, work, and invest.

Municipalities in Northeast Ohio should consider the following initiatives related to encouraging mixed-use and affordable housing development:

Initiative 4.1: Include mixed-use designations and/or planned unit overlay districts in zoning codes throughout the region.

WHAT THIS MEANS. Data from leading real estate research entities such as the National Association of Home builders, the Urban Land Institute, and the International Council of Shopping Centers point to a durable shift in market preferences toward walkable forms of urbanism where people can live, work, and play without having to drive for every trip purpose. The practical implication of this trend is an explosion in interest in, and development of, mixed-use real estate products.

“Mixed-use” refers, broadly speaking, to a development typology wherein residential and commercial land uses are integrated. This mixing of uses can take place in the envelope of a single building or at the scale of an entire community, with streets and other forms of public realm integrating the various uses. Civic, natural, and occasionally light industrial uses also find themselves in the mix. Municipalities throughout the country have adopted mixed-use zoning, including many in Northeast Ohio.

Planned unit overlay districts are also a popular zoning and development tool employed in both urban and rural contexts. Planned unit developments enable developers to build master-planned communities without the stricter density and lot size controls of traditional Euclidian zoning categories. Planned unit developments can be mixed-use, but the two are not mutually dependent land use constructs.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT. Changing zoning codes to allow mixed-use developments by right is an important step in creating a regulatory environment in which developers can build what the market increasingly demands – dynamic places accommodating living, working, and entertainment activities. These developments provide municipalities and counties with more diverse revenue streams from sales, income, and property taxes, and tend to hold value better than traditional single-use retail products. Mixing of uses is also a major characteristic of transit oriented development (see initiative 2.2), which tends to feature higher densities of housing and commercial programs to support investment in transit service. The value of the planned unit development overlay district is less about the quality of the space created, and more about the process and fiscal efficiencies created for developers and municipalities alike.

GETTING IT DONE. This initiative must ultimately be led by local jurisdictions, as it concerns their land use regulatory power. Furthermore, the meaning and form of “mixed-use” in Oberlin or Medina County is different than it is in Cleveland or Akron. Municipalities should make sure their codes and regulations are friendly to a mixing of uses, but take care that those regulations respect the character of place and market realities. NEOSCC and its consortium partners at MPOs and COGs can play an important catalyzing role by surveying and facilitating dialogue between municipalities and counties on different approaches to regulating mixed-use development.

A good example of regional planning leadership on mixed-use development can be found in Atlanta. Atlanta’s MPO and COG, the Atlanta Regional Commission, published a compendium of mixed-use development guidelines for its member governments as part of its “Livable Centers Initiative.” The compendium includes an exposition of generally accepted first principles of mixed-use development and a matrix comparing different approaches to managing mixed-use developments within the region and in peer areas (footnote:

TOOL: Planned Development Overlay (PDO): Planned Development Overlay zoning districts are areas with one or more lots, tracts, or parcels of land to be developed as a single entity, the plan for which may propose density or intensity transfers, density or intensity increases, mixing of land uses, or any combination thereof, and which may not correspond in lot size, bulk, or type of dwelling or building, use, density, intensity, lot coverage, parking, required common open space, or other standards to zoning use district requirements that are otherwise applicable to the area in which it is located.

American Planning Association’s Growing Smart Legislative Guidebook: Model Statutes for Planning and the Management of Change (Chapter 8.3)

 TOOL: The City of Youngstown recently updated their zoning code and a section is dedicated to overlay zoning districts (i.e. Chapter 1102.03).


Municipalities, Townships; Metropolitan Planning Organizations, Councils of Governments

Target Community

Strategic investment areas, asset risk areas, cost risk areas

Implementation Complexity


These recommendations, initiatives, and products, are not one-size-fits all and some aspects of the initiatives won’t be applicable everywhere in the 12-county region. The Vibrant NEO 2040 Vision, Framework and Products are intended inspire and guide decision-making at the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Council of Government, and local levels to ensure that land use, transportation, and environmental considerations are simultaneously addressed by their processes. Ultimately, the implementation of Vibrant NEO 2040 is up to Northeast Ohio’s communities and residents. But regardless of the applicability of each initiative to any particular part of the region, the goal for each community within the Vision is the same: stability, prosperity, and a high quality of life for all of its residents.

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