Building Code Changes May Allow Higher-Density Midrise Construction

Changes adopted in the 2015 International Building Code, 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 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.

Crossroads To Undertake $12M Restoration of Old Saint George in Clifton Heights

Old Saint George has sat vacant in Clifton Heights for many years, but will soon come back to life when Crossroads opens its newest church there.

The announcement was made earlier this year, but follows a string of news signaling that the urban regeneration of Cincinnati is more than skin deep. In addition to tens of millions of dollars in private investment flowing into the city, both jobs and population are growing. This has resulted in budget surpluses, growing enrollment at Cincinnati Public Schools, and a need for a new permitting center.

Crossroads will fill a space long occupied, and originally built, for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1874. It stayed there until St. George parish was merged with St. Monica parish down the street in 1989, and continues to carry on there to this day.

Since that time the building has sat vacant with a variety of proposals coming forward that would have restored the church for alternative uses.

Crossroads leadership say that their $12 million plan, which is celebrated by the Archdiocese, will not only restore the historic place of worship, but also bring it up to modern standards so that it boasts wifi and the audio and video displays that have become synonymous with Crossroads’ services.

“We’ll hold weekend services in this space, which will become the permanent location for our Crossroads Uptown site that currently meets at Bogart’s,” Jennifer Sperry, Crossroads Client Services Manager, told UrbanCincy.

“In addition, we hope for people to use our building as a community center, as it’ll be open throughout the week. We envision it as a space where students and locals can hold meetings, meet with project groups, pray, read, etc.”

The multitude of uses and variety of technology are all attempts to make inroads with younger individuals that have largely strayed away from religion throughout the United States.

At the University of Cincinnati, for example, Crossroads says that some 99% of students are not part of a church on campus. While they may attend churches elsewhere, such a huge gap also presents an opportunity for Crossroads.

Once complete, the restored Old Saint George will feature an 800-seat auditorium, a worship and community center, lecture venues, a coworking space with free coffee and wifi, and will see the structure’s grand steeples restored to their former glory before being burned down following a freak lightning strike.

Sperry says that they expect some 2,000 people to visit the facility on a weekly basis, which will be open seven days each week.

Unlike Crossroads massive facility in Oakley, Old Saint George is in a dense urban environment and is not surrounded by a sea of parking. As a result, church officials are expecting many of its visitors to arrive by walking, biking – a Red Bike station is located one-block away – or public transportation. But they also say that they are working with owners of nearby parking garages to determine if those spaces can be used during services.

The project is being funded mostly through private donations, but also through New Market Tax Credits. Project leaders say that several million more dollars need to be raised in order to complete financing, but also say that they are moving forward full speed ahead.

“The fundraising effort will be completed as part of a campaign that we’re launching this fall,” Sperry said. “We will use some of the initial money given in the campaign to finish the Crossroads Uptown project.”

Sperry says that the goal is to move into the restored structure by August 2016. Until then, she encourages those interested in learning more about Crossroads to attend their services currently being held at Bogart’s on Short Vine every Sunday at 7pm.

Episode #57: Cincinnati Parks Levy Community Forum

12108104_10207951084322137_3395139175612878665_nOn the 57th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we bring you our recording of the Cincinnati Parks Levy Community Forum held earlier this week at the Niehoff Urban Studio.

The forum featured Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Save Our Parks member Don Mooney, making their case for and against Issue 22, respectively.

During the forum, Mayor Cranley also discussed how Cincinnati and Hamilton County considered collaborating on a joint parks tax but that these talks were broken off by the city.

We’d like to remind our readers and listeners that Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 2015. Cincinnati residents can visit the Hamilton County Board of Elections website to find their polling place or learn more about early voting.

UrbanCincy To Host Definitive Debate On Proposed Parks Tax at Niehoff Urban Studio

Cincinnati Parks Levy Community ForumWhile the presidential election happens next year, there is plenty of excitement on this November’s ballot for Cincinnatians. In addition to the much publicized ballot item that would legalize marijuana in Ohio, there is also an item, Issue 22, that would raise property taxes in the City of Cincinnati in order to provide capital funding for park land and facilities.

The proposed 1-mill tax would be written into the City Charter, and become what is essentially a permanent tax.

Early on the proposal gained wide-spread support, but has since been riddled with controversies. As such, it has become one of the hottest news items of late.

For those not familiar, the proposal was rolled out and explained as providing a dedicated funding source to cover capital expenditures for a number of projects at Cincinnati Parks, including helping address an estimated $55 million in deferred maintenance.

Since that time, however, opponents have charged that the way the proposal is structured gives too much power to the mayor and that it would become a slush-fund with little to no checks and balances. Further adding to the controversy has been the heavy involvement of existing and former politicians that have come under scrutiny lately for potentially improper use of public funds to bankroll the pro-tax campaign.

On Tuesday, October 20, UrbanCincy will host a debate on the topic with Green Umbrella, Tri-State Trails and Queen City Bike at the Niehoff Urban Studio in Corryville. While other debates have taken place on the issue so far, this is the first and only debate that will feature Mayor John Cranley (D) – the initiatives most prominent proponent – live and in person.

Mayor Cranley will be joined at the event by Don Mooney from Save Our Parks. The due represent the leading voice on both sides of the equation. The idea is to gather the public for a community forum to learn more about both sides of the issue, regardless of where you may or may not stand on the matter.

I will be joined by Tom Neyer Jr. of Mainstream Strategy and University of Cincinnati history professor David Stradling to moderate the discussion.

The Cincinnati Parks Levy Community Forum is free and open to the public. It will take place from 6pm to 7:30pm at the Niehoff Urban Studio in Corryville. The location is well-served by Metro bus service and is within a block of a Red Bike station. Those interested in attending are kindly asked to register in advance online so that proper arrangements can be made at the venue.

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.