Building Code Changes May Allow Higher-Density Midrise Construction

Changes adopted in the 2015 International Building Code (IBC), combined with advances in wood technology, may soon allow for taller midrise buildings at lower costs than what has previously been possible.

The importance of the changes to the IBC should not be overlooked, since it serves as a model building code throughout most of the United States. This means that states and local jurisdictions who lack the expertise to develop their own building code typically adopt a code written by an independent standards organization such as the International Code Council.

In fact, all 50 states and the federal government now use variations of the IBC, with the exception of Chicago which remains as the only major city in the United States with its own proprietary building code.

Under current codes, and with typical construction technology, the upper limit for a wood-frame building is five stories atop a one-story steel or concrete “podium” base that may include retail spaces, parking and/or other functions – essentially treating the two components of the building as two independent structures. What the revised IBC does is allow for the height of this podium base to be increased to more than one story, and recognizes the use of newer technologies such as cross-laminated timber in building construction.

This update does not yet apply to projects in Ohio, as the state has not yet adopted the 2015 version of the IBC. Also, height limits set by the IBC are distinct from those set by local zoning codes. In the case of a conflict between the provisions of two or more applicable codes, the more stringent provisions typically apply.

Such “One-Plus-Five” buildings are becoming increasingly common in American cities as neighborhoods within urban cores once again become desirable places to live. Local examples include U-Square at The Loop in Clifton Heights and the Gantry Apartments in Northside, both designed by Cincinnati-based CR Architecture + Design.

This building type and the forthcoming code changes offer a number of opportunities and challenges for urban neighborhoods.

The code changes are potentially good news for both the environment and affordable housing advocates. Wood construction, when it utilizes sustainable sources, is far less damaging to the environment than steel or concrete construction. It is also far less expensive, allowing new housing to be built and sold at a lower price point than would otherwise be possible.

The biggest concerns with multifamily wood-frame construction typically involve fire safety and noise transmission. Fire sprinkler systems are required throughout such projects; and while no fire protection system will ever be completely fail-safe, sprinklers prevent small fires from becoming large fires. In addition to the sprinklers, fire-rated assemblies prevent a fire from spreading from one portion of the structure to another. For example, the two-hour rated wall typically required between apartments usually consists of two layers of 5/8″ drywall on each side of 2×4 studs.

These and other measures also help prevent sound transmission between apartments.

As anybody who has lived in a large apartment building can attest, noisy neighbors can be a constant source of frustration and often form the bulk of complaints to the landlord. With wood-frame construction, the addition of resilient channels between the finish ceiling and the joists above, as well as a thin layer of concrete between the sub-floor and finish floor, can drastically reduce sound transmission.

None of this is intended as a commentary on the architectural merit of such projects, nor their appropriateness in particular neighborhoods. Building codes such as the IBC are almost solely concerned with matters of life safety and accessibility, while matters regarding density and appropriateness for a particular neighborhood would fall under the purview of local zoning codes.

As for architectural merit, such matters are up to the developer, the architect, and the community. Good taste isn’t something that can be dictated by statute.

City Officials Gathering Public Feedback On $718,000 Westwood Trail Extension

The Cincinnati Department of Transportation & Engineering is taking public input on the proposed second phase of Westwood Trail. A public meeting was held last Wednesday, at the recently christened District 3 Police Headquarters on Ferguson Road, at which the proposed route was presented.

At that time it was explained that things are moving forward thanks to a $500,000 Federal Transportation Alternatives grant for the $718,000 project. The remainder of the budget, officials say, will come out of Cincinnati’s capital budget.

The new half-mile extension is proposed to connect to the existing loop trail at Dunham Recreation Center; and run approximately 1,200 feet between the Kroger parking lot and the Gilbert Dater/Western Hills High School sports facilities to the south. Engineers and planners with the City say that a cross slope on this portion of the route presents a challenge, so the path is to be cut into the slope, with a new 8-foot high, 355-foot long retaining wall.

Along Ferguson Avenue, the sidewalk in front of the newly constructed District 3 Police HQ was built as shared use path, and has a width sufficient to accommodate people walking and biking. The trail will then continue north on Ferguson, and west on Glenhills Way to Western Sports Mall.

City officials say that the existing sidewalks to the north and west of the police substation are not the width required for a shared use path and will need to be rebuilt. This may be, in part, due to the fact that the Bicycle Transportation Plan adopted in June 2010 called for on-street bike lanes along Glenhills Way, not a shared use off-road trail like what is now being proposed.

City Hall has not currently identified the funding to build the next extension of the trail to the west of the Western Sports Mall, but officials say that the intent is for it to eventually extend northwest to the Green Township Trail, and east to the Lick Run Greenway.

These extensions would incorporate the Westwood Trail into a larger regional trail network, including the Mill Creek Greenway. The work also fits into the Cranley Administration’s aim of prioritizing trails over on-street bike facilities.

DOTE officials say that they will be taking public feedback on the proposed trail alignment, and connections to local community institutions, until Wednesday, December 2. Those that were unable to attend last week’s meeting can submit their feedback online at:

Construction is projected to begin in the spring of 2017.

Federal Reserve Finds Cincinnati Out-Performing Many Of Its Regional, National Peers

The Vice President and Senior Regional Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland‘s Cincinnati Branch, LaVaughn Henry, says that the Cincinnati Metropolitan Statistical Area continues to show positive signs in recovering from the Great Recession, and is moving toward a position of long-term growth.

At approximately 2% higher than its pre-recession level, Henry says that per capita GDP in the Cincinnati area is out-performing other nearby metropolitan areas, along with the rest of Ohio.

Likewise, the unemployment rate is lower in Cincinnati than other metropolitan areas nearby. It is currently 4.1%, the lowest level in a decade. However, employment is still nearly 2% below its pre-recession level in the Cincinnati region.

The construction industry has seen large employment gains in the area, driven by increased home sales but also by Cincinnati’s ongoing center city construction boom.

Henry reports that the region’s manufacturing is also growing healthily, surpassing the growth seen both nationally and state-wide. This growth, he says, reflects increased demand from the aviation and automobile sectors of the U.S. economy. These two sectors, however, only account for 4% and 10% of the metropolitan GDP, respectively.

Larger sectors like transportation and utilities, while still seeing growth, are increasing at a slower pace.

Cincinnati Preservation Association Dolls Out Awards For Local Preservation Excellence

The Cincinnati Preservation Association gathered earlier this month to honor the best projects and professionals when it comes to preserving the region’s historic building stock.

The 51st annual meeting was held on Sunday, November 8 at the Renaissance Cincinnati Downtown Hotel, which is located inside the landmark Daniel Burnham tower at Fourth and Walnut Streets. The event itself was held inside the hotel’s stunning grand ballroom that had previously functioned as a banking hall.

Twelve awards were handed out to owners and developers of historic buildings throughout the region that CPA believes have substantially restored or rehabilitated those structures in accordance to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Those projects include the following:

  • Archdiocesan Archives Renovation – Archdiocese of Cincinnati | Chameleon Architecture | Danis Building Construction
  • Beasley Place (Over-the-Rhine) – Over-the-Rhine Community Housing | CR Architecture + Design | HGC Construction
  • St. Michael the Archangel Parish Buildings (Lower Price Hill) – Education Matters | Brashear Bolton Architects | HGC Construction
  • 408 Overton Street (Newport) – Mansion Hill Properties
  • The Crown (Over-the-Rhine) – Crown Building LLC | Hampton Architects | Premier Tri-State Roofing
  • J.H. Rhodes House – Benjamin and Kristen Walters | Preservation Architecture Services Team | Benjamin Walters/Chris Holtman/Jeff Niemis/Joel Stafford
  • Taft’s Ale House (Over-the-Rhine) – Ale House Landlord | Drawing Department | HGC Construction
  • Chatfield College OTR Campus (Over-the-Rhine) – Chatfield College | Emersion DESIGN | Endeavor Construction
  • Clifton Library (Clifton) – Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County | McClorey and Savage | Motz Engineering
  • Probasco Fountain (Clifton) – City of Cincinnati | Clifton Town Meeting
  • Frida 602 (Covington) – Lucky Twins LLC | Don Biendenharn
  • Stonelick Covered Bridge – Clermont County | Smolen Engineering | The Righter Company

In addition to the project-related awards, two special education awards were also given out to those who, according to CPA, have produced quality programs, publications, inventories, or have promoted the awareness of historic preservation.

The first went to CPA volunteer Jeanne Rolfes, who was described as being one of the area’s most innovative volunteers when it comes to historic preservation. This recognition was largely due to her request of funds and subsequent development of a virtual tour for those who are too old or unable to participate in typical walking sessions about historic preservation.

CPA officials say that the program, called Cincinnati Memories, has been so successful since its launch in 2008 that it has been expanded twice and now brings in much needed revenue for the non-profit organization.

CPA awarded its prestigious President’s Award for Service to Preservation to architect Dave Zelman for his years of service and critical leadership roles in such efforts as the West Side Preservation Summit in 2010, annual spring home tours, River West Working Group, restoration of a National Register-listed Matthew McWilliams House on River Road, and assistance in saving landmarks like Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Sedamsville and an ancient stone house in Sayler Park.

Will Marriott-Starwood Merger Affect New Hotels in Cincinnati’s Center City?

A new AC Hotel by Marriott is coming to The Banks, and a Starwood-affiliated Aloft Hotel is being built at  Newport on the Levee’s latest phase. But with the news announced earlier this week that Marriott is buying Starwood, a few questions have been raised about the future of these two hotels.

Does it make sense for the combined company to operate both of these hotels, which will target similar demographics, in such close proximity? And will Marriott, which now controls 30 hotel brands, maintain both the AC Hotel and Aloft flags, or will one of these two new hotels be forced to rebrand? If so, the change won’t take place in the near future, as hotel experts predict it will be a “minimum of three years before any brands disappear.”

Read more about which hotel brands may be on the chopping block at Forbes.