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Everything posted by GRCentro

  1. Quite a bit of work was already completed awhile ago. Aside from the shopfronts, the entire building envelope was stabilized, including a new roof and a full masonry restoration -- really well done, actually. I believe most of the interior was gutted, too.
  2. Some additional images here. Must it be so excessively ugly? http://woodtv.com/2018/01/03/downtown-gr-developers-reveal-plans-for-studio-park-hotel/
  3. You're absolutely right. This is something I struggle with, too. I do support preservation as a means of economic growth and cultural conservation, but often wonder how successful our prevailing model really is at doing so equitably. There has been some recent literature that criticizes historic preservation as another pattern of classist gentrification. There's not much in the discussion (as far as I have read) that offers a sensible balance. (If anyone has reading suggestions on this topic, please let me know!)
  4. Good question. In time, I think approval for the residential portions of Green Crane's development will be considered an error. I no longer sit on HPC and didn't vote on the Donald Place project, though I am sad to see it discarded. While the final design was not great (in my opinion), it was good and had opportunity to be massaged into something excellent. The flat roofed proposal seemed like a particularly strong possibility with similar local precedents, both old and new. More importantly, I'm sad to see it go because this neighborhood really does need more homes for people at that income level. My understanding was that this design was to be a prototype for other Lank Bank developments. If that is true, then I would hope that the time and money invested in this particular proposal is not entirely lost, but can be applied to future home construction. Please no. We already have plenty of examples of neighborhoods that were erased and rebuilt with exactly that sentiment. None are places we are proud of a few years later. It's also not a fair attitude to the many Wealthy Heights families (both owners and renters) who do love their neighborhood and who work hard to maintain it.
  5. Interestingly, there is little to no automatic protection for a resource listed on a national or state historic register. The "teeth" of preservation enforcement is almost always at the local level. What a national historic designation can do is prevent the use of federal funds to harm a listed resource (1966 National Historic Preservation Act). The saving of Heritage Hill from wholesale demolition in the late 60's was a classic use of this mechanism. Regarding the church building at Diamond and Hermitage, don't expect big changes anytime soon. A demo by neglect hearing simply opens a legal process that will eventually allow city contractors to enter the property and provide stabilizing repairs if the building owner is unwilling or unable to do so. I expect they'll end up patching the roof, but little more will change until there is a building owner with the resources to do so. The increasing stack of fines and liens tends to force out owners who don't have the will or means to keep up. There are several other active demo by neglect cases in the neighborhood, but they're still eyesores. It's a long process.
  6. The owner is appealing the demo request to the state preservation review board. Can't recall when they are next meeting. Sometime this spring.
  7. I'm surprised no one dug this up yet. Concept images for 1157 Wealthy.
  8. Had the owner requested full demolition in advance, I would guess that it would have been approved given the overwhelming evidence that demonstrated a public safety risk. In such an instance, any new construction would be evaluated separately and it could very well be contemporary in style, a la 12 Weston, for example. In this case, the owner of 746 wants to keep the existing facade and requested to rebuild like for like. The "building" is already fully leased and I'm sure he is eager to get this thing rebuilt asap. The greater concern that this story has revealed is how easily a less-than-scrupulous building owner might succeed in demolishing a structure in a historic district. Find a few apparent structural problems, get a convincing letter from an engineer, over-zealously misinterpret verbal permission from the City and then ask forgiveness later when the physical evidence is gone. Penalties for preservation violations are currently one-size fits all. As is, demolition of an entire building would be treated no differently than, say, a homeowner removing a door or installing a fence without permission – a puny fine and notice of correction. City staff and attorneys are working to develop an enforcement system with penalties more commensurate to the scale of the violation. Hopefully, the penalties for an unauthorized demolition will soon be so severe as to dissuade any “misunderstandings”.
  9. A very good question. I asked exactly the same thing at the meeting. Part of HPC’s mandate is to protect historic materials. Given that 99% of the building is gone and none of the exterior materials are original – the siding, trim, windows, the odd little brackets – what are we aiming to protect by keeping the façade? Only a few sticks of framing and sheathing that still stand are original to the building. And reconstruction would certainly be easier without it. The majority HPC opinion was that even if the materials themselves don’t warrant a particular protection, the streetscape and pattern of fenestration they hold does. That is, the façade preserves the original window and door sizes/locations, the composition of solids/voids and the relationship of this building to its neighbors. The façade is a placeholder. Even more interesting, the building owner wants to keep the façade for more pragmatic reasons. As silly as it may seem, the reconstruction project is legally viewed as an addition/renovation of an existing structure as long as the façade still stands. Were the façade to be removed, the building project would be considered new construction, immediately requiring a whole different process of permitting and review, including a few hurdles that could prove difficult, such as parking requirements in a commercial site plan review.
  10. Here’s the scoop from the meeting. The building owner, contractor, architect and City staff were present, plus written testimony from the engineer. City staff presented a detailed history of the property complete with images, court docs and building inspection reports. Here’s a rough timeline of events for those who enjoy the post-mortem details of the death of building: Building has been vacant since early-to-mid 1980s. Code violations begin appearing in 1992, escalating from notices and fines to multiple criminal misdemeanor charges and a demolition by neglect proceeding. The previous building owner slowly began addressing the exterior code violations but consistently refused City officials entry to examine the interior. As the building was uninhabited, the building owner was completely within his legal right to do so. By 2003 the exterior was brought to code and all pending cases against the property were closed. Routine exterior inspections by City staff show clear deflection and bowing of the east wall by 2006. Timeline photos of subsequent inspections demonstrate continuing movement over the course of the next 10 years. In early 2016 the new building owner receives permission to demolition the unstable the southern portion of the structure, rebuild the east wall, including the foundation, and rehabilitate the entire exterior. The structural plan was bizarre. Floor joists of various sizes and spacing ran in different load patterns in different rooms. Charred beams showed evidence of a fire at some point in time. The steel beams and posts were clearly salvaged from a different structure (installed after the fire?) and the primary beam extended straight through the exterior west wall into the sunlight alley, with the post bearing on its own footing beyond the main foundation Here's where it gets interesting: in late 2016, as the building is gutted, it is discovered that the majority of the east wall studs had previously been spliced with as much as a 4 inch space between them. The wall was essentially held intact by the sheathing. Compounding this problem, the roof had a major pre-existing leak that had been funneling water down the east wall and into the basement. City building inspectors refuse to enter the building until it is stabilized. The problem accelerates in early January when concentrated winter thaw and rainwater from both the roof and the alley erode the soil beneath the east wall foundation. The conclusion from an emergency inspection by the architect, engineer and City staff recommends a greater scope of demolition. The building owner is given permission for structural demolition as necessary to stabilize the structure. Fast-forward to late February: to the horror of all, the building is almost entirely demolished. City staff acknowledge that the demolition is more than they anticipated. The building owner and contractor testify there was no safe way to stabilize the building without removing all the interior floors, the roof and the much-maligned steel beam. The architect, engineer and City staff support this opinion. HPC grants a notice to proceed in demolition retroactively citing the obvious safety risk. Conditions require that the front façade remain and that the building be reconstructed to exactly as it previously stood...well, minus any historic sagging, of course.
  11. Ha - right! One of them was even knocked over while I was watching, but the beam still didn't fall. The operator tried working around it for a while, but too much debris was in the way. He gave up for the day. ...but all without HPC permission or even a demo permit from the city. So much for my "let's give 'em a chance" optimism.
  12. Well, this is a surprise. Looks like your source was right, GRDad.
  13. No offense taken, GRDad. By the same logic, however, just being "not a builder" doesn't give anyone a strong stance from which to make extreme statements about the owner or contractor's credibility based on a photograph. Old buildings often come with unusual surprises. There is an architect for this project and an established contractor (Copperrock, I believe), plus diligent City staff making sure the public is safe and building code satisfied. I say let's give them all the opportunity to do their jobs before reaching for the tar and feathers. But, maybe that's just my optimism. As far as the 6x6s, I'm guessing they are plenty for temporary support. I just looked up the compressive strength of two 12' unbraced 6x6: about 35,000 lbs.
  14. Neither. Being a builder myself, as well as a member of HPC, I made a visit out of curiosity but didn't have the opportunity to talk with anyone onsite. Here's a photo I took through the doorway. You can see the second floor joists bearing on the steel beam which itself bears on a steel post, completely independent of the wood stud wall. After my visit I made an inquiry with the City and was told that the footing around the post (which had previously settled unevenly) began to sink even further about four weeks ago. I was assured that the City is monitoring the project, but as of yet, there is no anticipation of demolition. Just now I reviewed the application that came before HPC early last summer. The architectural drawings describe new windows and new siding on the entire East elevation, as well as substantial repairs to the foundation and the possibility of re-framing the entire wall. It would seem that serious structural problems were known in advance, though it is all playing a bit more dramatically in appearance. I don't know the building owner or contractor, but I'd rather not whip up a hailstorm of fury based only on a presumption of negligence.
  15. I don't believe the exterior stud wall is actually load bearing in this case. I peaked inside and saw that all the floor joists run parallel to the East wall, bearing instead on a large steel girder that spans the entire width of the building. A steel post which supports the girder began sinking due to an insufficient footing. The girder is temporarily supported with jacks. I think the stud wall was removed intentionally so it wouldn't interfere with jacking the girder back in place. I would assume the jacking will be slow and take at least several weeks -- it's never a good idea to rapidly move a substructure.
  16. Hmmm. That is news to me. That would require a demolition permit which, to my knowledge, hasn't been pursued. The rear addition was already demolished, with permission. And the plan all along was to replace all the siding and a number of windows. In that sense, perhaps only the front facade will remain "as is", though I don't think they intend to take down the entire structure.
  17. I took a closer look at this building recently. It definitely looks scary, but is (temporarily) stabilized. Apparently an inadequate footing beneath a steel post (barely visible in the photo, about halfway down the building) began sinking. What you can't see in the photo is a large steel girder that supports the second floor joists. Although deflecting severely, the girder is being temporarily supported by jacks. It appears that the east wall studs were intentionally removed as to not inhibit the jacking. Since my visit, the alley has been barricaded, the sidewalk blocked and scaffolding erected. I'm sure this is all ending up far more expensive than the owner had imagined, but hopefully the project is back on track.
  18. I think there are a couple persistent myths related to new construction in a historic district. One goes something like, preservationists want everything to look old. This is untrue. NPS Preservation Standard 9 explicitly states that "...new work should be differentiated from the old..." Standard 4, as x99 alludes to, also rejects "a false sense of historical development." Reading that, a second common myth assumes that new construction has a carte blanc do just about anything so long as it isn't copying the appearance of buildings constructed in previous periods of history. This is also untrue. To answer that Standard 9 continues, "The new work will 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." So, new construction must simultaneously demonstrate both differentiation and compatibility with the existing historic character. The battle usual revolves around the interpretation of these requirements. Contemporary materials, building technologies, ornamentation (or more likely, lack thereof), or modern interpretations of historic forms are often permitted -- differentiation, not surprisingly, is usually not very difficult to achieve -- so long as their application isn't incompatible or detrimental to the existing historic fabric. Though written for Philadelphia, this document is really helpful in unpacking the challenge of new construction guidelines. Parts One (Steven Semes is the undisputed national authority on this topic) and Six are general and are particularly worth a read.
  19. Preservation law is written to make demolitions within a historic district very difficult. And with good reason: we learned from previous mistakes. Before protection was established too much was lost due to short-sighted interests and ill-conceived notions of "improvement" (old City Hall, anyone?). Remember that not too long ago most of Heritage Hill was considered a dump. And perhaps it was. Property value was low and vacancy high. Decades of deferred maintenance and poor treatment is ugly. But, in older buildings, much is often recoverable. A huge portion of the Hill nearly met an untimely end with the bulldozer. Now it is one of the largest, most intact urban historic districts in the nation. Exactly. There are only four instances in which a demolition could occur: 1. The building is deemed a threat to the safety of the public or its occupants. 2. Retaining the building is a deterrent to a major improvement project of substantial benefit to the community. 3. Retaining the building imposes an unreasonable economic hardship for reasons beyond the owner's control. 4. Retaining the building is not in the interest of the majority of the public. Outside of proving one of these conditions (emphasis on prove), a demo ain't gonna happen. Edit: I realize this thread is getting far off topic. Perhaps it is time for a new Historic Preservation thread? Development in our historic districts continues to heat up and I'd love for the preservation theory and practice (and complaints!) conversations to continue. Mods, is there an easy way to move some of this content to start a new discussion?
  20. Alright, nerds, I've got you covered. 1. 10 Ionia. Proposed changes received a generally favorable response from the Commission. Applicant is asked to return with more detailed drawings and color renderings. They have the option to request an advisory discussion or formal review. 2. 12 Weston. Approved with submitted changes. 3. 733 Wealthy. Alternate option (shown below) that would involve reconstruction and slight relocation of lower cornice was approved. 4. 616 Wealthy. Demolition denied.
  21. The owner, Don, has been there decades. He used to own a number of properties in the area, including the larger building across the street, and still rents the upstairs apartments. He curates and restores his antiques extremely well - this is no junk shop! It is definitely worth a stop in. Though, it doesn't seem to gain a following due to limited hours/steep prices/slightly cantankerous customer service. I think he is a bit miffed that all the new development, and its increased congestion, hasn't done much to improve his business. A bit grouchy, yes, but he still likes his spot. He has little incentive to move.
  22. Neither can overrule the other, per se, though they often defer to each other for clarification. For example, if zoning may allow for a building of a particular height by right, but should HPC find the height of a particular application to be inappropriate, Planning would not override it. Similarly, should HPC approve a proposed building, but Planning reject it for failing to meet zoning requirements, HPC cannot override their decision. There are a few odd exceptions that allow HPC to override, say building code. For example, residential guardrails may be lower in historic districts.
  23. I'm happy to report on HPC decisions after they are complete. The applicant presented four different elevation options for the dominant facades. The interior plan for units on the South facade is particularly challenging due to unusual floor divisions. The Commission approved only one of options (option "4" in the application packet, perspective shown below). The conditions refer to specific, but comparatively minor requirements for cooling tower placement, window operation, window muntins, window sash material, frame depth and ganged window patterns on the North facade. 12 Weston was approved in massing and height concept, though the applicant must return to revise or clarify a few design elements. Specifically, transparency on the Weston street facade, masonry post pattern and dimensions on North facade, sign band expression line between first and second floors, and cornice detailing. I'm guessing you are already aware of this, GRDad, but for the benefit of those who aren't, be sure to check out the meeting calendar on the City's website: http://grandrapidscitymi.iqm2.com/Citizens/calendar.aspx. There you are able to view all the documents submitted for each meeting, plus past meeting minutes. It's a great resource for those who want to see all the details.
  24. For the most part, I really enjoy reading UrbanPlanet, though it is often said that online debates are a fruitless waste of energy. I believe that is here the case. I'll stay out your way.
  25. The thickness of my skin is not the issue. I'm fine with your preoccupation that HPC be disbanded, though I believe your rational is based on misconceptions and your expression is needlessly inflammatory. However, tongue in cheek or not, singling out a Commissioner for being a woman and suggesting that she take up a cause of women's voting rights instead of performing her appointed public service has nothing to do with a proposed urban development. It is wrong in any context and I will call you out for it.
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