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.

New Corryville Store Design Reveals That Kroger Continues to Struggle With Urban Format

Located next to the University of Cincinnati and surrounded by some of the region’s largest employers, University Plaza has long sat as one of the most underutilized pieces of commercial real estate in the city.

With demolition work well underway, a new University Plaza will soon be realized, but will it be any better than what was has occupied the site since the early 1980s?

The public got the first idea of what that answer will be when the Business Courier published designs of what the new 92,000-square-foot Corryville Kroger will look like.

While no site plan has been released, the drawings show a two-level store that will face west toward Jefferson Avenue. The front façade will include numerous windows, while the other three sides would not. A drive-thru pharmacy will be located along Corry Street, and a surface parking lot will sit in front of the building, separating it from the street.

The front façade treatments and two-level store design are departures from Kroger’s previous urban store designs elsewhere in Cincinnati. The large surface parking lot, however, stays true to their typical development model and represents a departure from the earlier visions for the site that included a rooftop or structured parking facility.

In fact, the final arrangement for the redeveloped University Plaza site will most likely appear nothing like the original concepts first produced a decade ago. Over that time, dozens of concept plans have been developed for the site from the Niehoff Studio and three different professional design firms.

The Niehoff Studio has actually be researching the topic of urban grocery stores since 2002, and has published its findings on everything from the economic performance to the social impact and design of such stores.

“I applaud the initiative and risk taking involved to make this a two story format,” said Frank Russell, Director of the Niehoff Studio and Community Design Center. “This is a sensible solution to putting a sprawling large scale program on a valuable site in a dense urban setting. It relates better to the surrounding context which is multi-story, but it is very difficult to do from a functionality point of view.”

While the two-story structure is in line with the original recommendations, Russell says that the large surface parking lot is not ideal.

“That undoes some of the progressive intent of the two-story building design, especially at the important gateway corner of Jefferson and Taft,” Russell told UrbanCincy. “The best thing that I could say about that is that it is a land-bank for future structured parking and mixed-use development, notwithstanding a landscaped corner.”

While notably different than the original design concepts developed in the early aughts, the designs released yesterday appear to have not changed much from what was developed by CR Architects in 2008.

Kroger representatives say that the store will also feature an outdoor seating area, similar to what the company recently developed in Lexington. They also say that while the store will have two levels, customers will not actually use the second floor since it will be used for food preparation functions only.

Project officials say that the current store will close on September 12 so that it can be demolished. It is estimated that construction of the new store will take 12 to 14 months and open at the end of 2016.

As Construction Nears Completion, Apartment Leasing to Begin at The Gantry

Construction work has progressed quickly on the $13 million Gantry development since ground was broken in June 2014; and developers expect to start leasing apartments in the near future.

Located in the heart of Northside, the project has transformed what had long sat as an empty and vacated rail yard. It is also the site of what had long stood as a controversial proposal to develop a suburban-style Walgreen’s on the site, which was adamantly fought by Northside residents in the early aughts.

After the success in fighting off what was seen as a damaging Walgreen’s proposal, and the success of the American Can Lofts just behind this site, which opened in 2011, the location has only become that much more desirable.

“Their [Bloomfield & Schon] work for American Can, getting that project through – I know it was a grueling process – really paved the way for Gantry to happen, and enables us to thrive in this great neighborhood,” explained Jake Dietrich at Milhaus, at the groundbreaking last year.

“Some might say that we’re taking a chance on Northside, but in a way Northside kind of took a chance on us, because this kind of project doesn’t happen more times than once. So the fact that Northside was willing to let an out-of-town developer come in and work with them so closely just goes to show just how much this neighborhood cares and how much potential this neighborhood has.

Located at the northeast corner of Blue Rock and Hamilton Avenue, the Gantry was designed by CR architecture + design and is being developed by Milhaus. It includes three new buildings with 131 apartments and approximately 8,000 square feet of street-level retail space.

Wire & Twine was one of the first businesses to sign on for space at Gantry, and will open this fall.

While the new retail will fill in an important gap for the business district, it is the influx of new housing that has many in the historic neighborhood excited.

According to Gregory Martin, Vice President of Development at Milhaus, most of the framing is now finished inside the buildings, and that leasing on the studio, one-, and two-bedroom apartments will begin in July, with the first residents moving in this September.

Those interested in getting on the waiting list now can do so by signing up on the Gantry’s website.

The project has been designed to achieve LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. In addition to its green building features, the development will also take advantage of being located in the walkable Northside business district, and being directly across the street from one of Cincy Red Bike’s newest stations at Jacob Hoffner Park, as well as Metro’s new Northside Transit Center.

“Northside is a community, that if you haven’t noticed, is a community that is very, very much on the upswing,” said Vice Mayor David Mann (D).

Mt. Airy Looking to Transform Part of Colerain Avenue Into Walkable Business District

On October 30, Klosterman’s Dry Cleaners, in the heart of the Mt. Airy neighborhood business district, was torn down. Long seen as an eyesore, the demolition was heralded by community leaders hopeful that it would spark a revitalization movement along the quarter-mile stretch of Colerain Avenue.

The demolition project came as part of the City of Cincinnati’s most recent award-winning Neighborhood Enhancement Program where various departments work together to improve neighborhoods through blight removal and code enforcement. It was funded through a $55,000 grant from the Department of Trade & Development and acquired through the Hamilton County Land Reutilization Corporation.

This is the first phase of a more comprehensive plan to redevelop the district that was put together by the Mt. Airy Community Urban Redevelopment Enterprise (C.U.R.E.), CR Architects, Urban Fast Forward thanks to a $30,000 grant from the City of Cincinnati. The Mt. Airy Revitalization Strategy was completed in March 2013 and provides a four-phase vision to enhance the business district.

The 20-page report concludes that buildings separated from the street by parking on the western side of Colerain Avenue have diminished the quality of the business district. The authors of the report also point to the prospects of implementing a form-based code for the area.

“Ideally new construction in Mt. Airy would apply the principles of a form-based code, at least in such matters as relationship of the building to the sidewalk and the placement of parking,” the report stated. “This will protect and build upon the existing good of the business district and help to give Mt. Airy a unique character as a neighborhood.”

Leadership at Mt. Airy C.U.R.E. says that the demolished dry cleaner will allow for the creation of a new centrally located parking lot in the business district that will also function as a gathering space for community events. The second phase of work, which community leaders hope can be completed by the end of 2015, will make streetscaping improvements and look to address existing storefronts.

“The existing conditions of the facades and storefronts are not that good,” Gerald Fortson, Senior Development Officer at Cincinnati’s Department of Trade & Development, told UrbanCincy. “Upgrading them will allow property owners to attract the caliber of tenants the district desires.”

Phases three and four of the plan call for more aggressive action through the development of new structures along the western side of the street currently dominated by auto-oriented buildings.

As part of phase three work, a vacant lot and an existing 3,200-square-foot structure would be torn down and replaced by a new street-fronting 3,500-square foot retail building and a 24-space parking lot. Then, in phase four, two structures totaling 9,400 square feet of retail space would be razed to make way for a new 7,500-square-foot retail building that would also front onto Colerain Avenue. This part of the plan also calls for the creation of a new mid-block crossing for pedestrians.

“We hope to make this area a place that could encourage people to slow down and to see the business here,” explained Corless Roper, President of Mt. Airy C.U.R.E.

Over time neighborhood officials also hope to develop a wayfinding system and branding for one of the west side’s rare neighborhood business districts. If all goes according to plan, the whole revitalization program could be complete within five years.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Mt. Airy to rebrand and market itself in a new light, focusing on a safe and clean community that will draw our diverse neighborhood together, and eventually attract new businesses as we achieve the phases in our plan,” Roper stated. “Moving forward, we will creatively launch a campaign to raise funds in order to make our dream a reality, knowing that Mt. Airy is on the move!”