City fails community on TOH

Concerns expressed at Top of the Hill (TOH) Architectural Board of Review (ABR)  meetings have been ignored. At the Feb. 6 meeting, I represented the Historic Resources Committee of the American Institute of Architects Cleveland Chapter (AIACLE) and observed that the project, as designed, fails to follow any of the guidelines for new construction in a historic district. The project is fundamentally unchanged from that original design.

The U.S. Department of the Interior states that new construction in a historic district should “be differentiated from the old and will be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment.” The TOH project fails every such benchmark and is not compatible with the historic district’s massing, materials, size, scale and proportion.

The massing is not appropriate to its context, with a 10-story building across the street from one- and two-story residential and commercial buildings. Its heights and floor areas are not remotely similar to adjacent buildings.

The proposed materials—metal panels, utility brick and vinyl windows—are inappropriate to Cleveland Heights and this site. And they are cheap, not at all reflecting “luxury” as claimed by the developer, Flaherty & Collins Properties (F&C). The architectural details bear no similarity or respect for the neighboring buildings.

The developer’s motivation is maximum profit. In a 2018 focus group meeting, residents suggested that the large buildings be separated into various buildings “so that it looks like it—the development—was incrementally developed.” This would have also brought the massing and scale of the development into at least a degree of compatibility with the historic district. F&C’s written response indicated that they don’t give a damn about compatibility and creating a project that fits its context because their design is developed to achieve “a cost-effective framework. Creating separate buildings would decrease efficiencies, increase costs and reduce density.” Instead, the project provides a single, small elevator for a 544-space garage, and a single, small elevator in a four-story, Y-shaped apartment building with 142 units and a public corridor that is 525-feet long.

That this project can get this far and be approved indicates that the ABR has failed to apply any recognized standard for assessing the massing, floor area ratios, and heights, and [failed to consider how] the project’s design detracts from or competes with [existing] buildings [that reflect] the district’s character or its “Period of Significance.”

The project has failed to address these deficiencies because the damage was done when the city adopted its ordinance on Oct. 22, 2018, that mandated excessive density and massing from the work of an ad hoc committee that lacked ANY participant with an awareness of, or sensitivity to, standards and guidelines for development in an historic district. Consequently, the developer knew that it could get away with these abuses.

The city’s ABR lacks strong, capable architects who can discern and articulate the issues requiring remedy from the developer, and the city’s “leaders” and staff lack an understanding of and respect for the architectural vernacular and character of the city’s historic districts.

This project has received exemplary and thoughtful input from a significant number of members of the community. Their respectful input to elicit respect from the TOH developer and architects for the architectural heritage and vernacular of the city has been disregarded. They have been ignored and insulted by the city and the developer.

History will record the actions and inactions taken on this project by representatives of the city and the ABR. 

William Eberhard

Architect William Eberhard is managing partner of Eberhard Architects LLC, and a member of the Historic Resources Committee of the Cleveland Chapter of the American Institiute of Architects.

Read More on Opinion
Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:42 AM, 11.01.2019