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Height, Parking and the Future of The Short North

Brent Warren Brent Warren Height, Parking and the Future of The Short NorthA view of the IBEW development from Price Avenue — rendering by Brian Kent Jones Architects.
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Kaufman Development’s proposal to build a 10-story mixed-use building on the site of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in the Short North received a lot of attention when it was first announced in July. Situated just down the street from Borror Properties’ White Castle development, the proposal would add height and density to a part of the neighborhood that is already seeing unprecedented changes.

Columbus Underground recently sat down with company founder and CEO Brett Kaufman. He went through changes made to the proposal that will be presented to the Victorian Village Commission this month – which does include a reduction in height – but also spoke to broader questions about his approach to neighborhood outreach, the importance of “pushing forward” in terms of design, and why plentiful parking is still a necessity for mixed-use developments in Columbus.

CU: Can you take us through the changes you’ve made to the project?

Brett Kaufman: We’ve felt like we’ve had a fair amount of positive dialog with the neighborhood, and that there’s been some overlap in the feedback we’ve heard from both the commission and the neighborhood, and we’ve tried to modify the project to respond to their comments.

Along the Price Avenue side, we’ve pushed the building back. Before, we were in line with the Salon Lofts retail center to the east, now we’re meeting the setback that’s in existence to the west of the project, and have carried that all the way across the Price Avenue side of the project.

Also, we’ve tried to conform the architecture and some of the materiality so that it’s a little more consistent. There was some commentary that there was too much going on, too many different styles…so we’ve taken some of the brick that was used on the Price side and we’ve mirrored that towards the condo portion, in the middle of the project, so that it all flows a little more and reads as one design.

On the commercial side, on Second Avenue, we’ve decided to continue the use of brick that matches the existing IBEW building, so that that red brick now flows through the entire commercial side. Before we had a metal panel, which was a little more contemporary.

In terms of height, we’ve essentially brought the middle portion of the project down two stories. So its now at an eight story height, similar to the middle portion on Price.

The other big change is we are going to keep more of the IBEW building. So we’ve got some columns that come down around the façade of the existing building and we’ll be building over it – the new building will still come out, about in line with the Wood Companies building to the east, but the IBEW building will be carried into the new building.

So we tried to make it a little more uniform, a little less dense, and to preserve more of the architecture and setbacks of the neighborhood.

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A view of the IBEW development from Second Avenue — rendering by Brian Kent Jones Architects.

CU: When these types of projects are discussed, a lot of emphasis is put on height. This site in particular, being off of High Street, has been criticized for bringing too much height into the neighborhood streets, what are your thoughts on that?

BK: I personally am a big believer that quality is the most important thing – quality materials, quality design, thoughtful development that includes mixed use, that thinks about how things are parked and how buildings are preserved and incorporated. When you go to a city like Chicago, or any real urban neighborhood in cities across the country – and it’s not just in the core of the business district, it’s in the historic neighborhoods around the central business district – there is height, and there is density, and it’s still beautiful, and traffic is not a problem, parking is solved for, and there is a mix of design and uses and densities throughout the community. It’s also not all along one street, it mixes into the neighborhood, and it adds character…and it works.

I think that for this site in particular, where we have a vacant lot and parking lot that is zoned currently for about 200 feet, height should not be the focus of the project. We have tried to be very thoughtful about how we buffer, creating lower density along the street, and stepping back from the single family that’s adjacent, so we’ve got three and four story height kind of buffering the project on both Price and Second, pushing the height as far to the east and closest to High Street as we can.

We personally feel like the project has been really well thought-out. It’s really important to us to have something that adds value to the city, to this neighborhood – that is our goal, that is our mission as a company, to bring projects to the city that are really positively impactful.

That is the filter for all of our projects, are we doing something that’s going to make a difference for the people that live there, the people that work there in the neighborhood, the community, and the city?

CU: You’re working in so many different neighborhoods – downtown, New Albany, Dublin, Franklinton – and have proposed very distinct projects in each of them. What’s your approach to these developments…how do you get a sense for a neighborhood and what kind of project would work there?

BK: A lot of it is spending time in the neighborhood, and really getting to understand it, to know it, and to meet the people that are living and working and involved in the neighborhood. We’ve done that in every area that we’ve built in. Really, we only build in neighborhoods that we are are excited about being a part of, so it’s got to have some kind of a fabric of culture that is exciting for us. The project in Dublin is in their innovation district, it’s around research and development and tech, and that, to us, feels exciting. Franklinton is swimming with all kinds of culture and creativity, and downtown has got an energy that you can only find in a downtown

I’ve lived in a number of different apartments and homes in the Short North area for many years, and our office has been here now for almost six years, so we walk up and down these streets daily. Through the process on this project we started to meet the neighbors, the various civic associations, and started to understand and hear their interests and desires and concerns.

Ultimately, though, we try and design something that feels like it belongs and also is pushing forward. We want to build things that look like they’re in context but also look like they’re going to be additive to the community.

Kaufman's Franklinton Development — Rendering by NBBJ.

Kaufman’s Franklinton Development — Rendering by NBBJ.

CU: What do you say to people that just don’t want to see an influx of people and cars into their neighborhood, that might be against the idea of added density in general, no matter what the project looks like or what type of materials are used?

BK: You know, the reaction that we’ve had from the neighborhood has really not been that. People generally have said look, if it’s going to get developed, then we want to make sure that it’s developed in a way that takes our concerns into account, and that it’s developed by somebody that we can work with. Honestly, the neighbors on Price and Second that we’ve met with that have given us input on this project have been very open and good to work with. We have not had any of that ‘absolutely no, we don’t want it no matter what.’

I am sure that there are some people that would rather it not change, but in this case they acknowledge that it’s a parking lot that’s going to get developed, and to make sure it’s done in a way that they are comfortable with.

CU: Is some of the focus on height coming from the commission, then?

BK: I don’t know if that’s the case, either. You know, we’ve only been in front of the commission for one meeting, so I don’t know to what extent the commission feels that height is the driving decision-marking factor. We’ve tried to accommodate the feedback that we received, and it’s not insignificant. The project on the surface might not look much different than the last version of it that we presented, but that’s because the broader feedback that we received – and, in general, the sense that we got from the commission – is that there were a lot of things they liked about the project.

Lowering the height is a significant change, that setback is a significant change when you think about how that impacts the parking. For us to move that setback back changed how we parked the entire project. We will likely have to go underground (to accommodate the parking), but we haven’t made that final determination yet. The extent that we’re going to try and incorporate the IBEW building, the materiality changes that we’ve made, these are significant changes, and they are changes in direct response to what we heard from the commission.

I do think that there are probably some people that are against this amount of height off of High Street or anywhere in the neighborhood. I don’t know that that by itself is the issue yet, but we are addressing the other concerns first, and we’ll find out if it is.

CU: What are your thoughts about parking in general? Downtown, we’ve seen vastly different approaches to how much parking is included in different developments. Do you think Columbus is at a point where you can start building projects with less than the maximum amount of parking?

BK: There’s yet to be a project built that did not park. So there are some people now talking about doing projects that park less or don’t park, but nobody has done it yet. Having it start, having it complete, and having it work are all things that I think will be critical for us as a city to start to change how we develop and park projects.

In this case, we’ve got two uses that, in our opinion, demand parking. People that are going to own condos at the price points that we are talking about are, for the foreseeable future, going to want to be able to park their cars. I don’t think that’s changing, and we certainly are not going to take that risk at this point.

We also know, by recent experience, that for commercial office, parking is still important. So, we believe for this project in particular, and in light of the broader parking concerns in the Short North, it’s important we park this project. We’ve gone to great lengths to do that – we’re parking the residential at two spaces per unit, and the commercial is approximately three spaces per 1,000 square feet, so we will then also have that parking open to the public in the evenings.

CU: Anything else you’d like to add?

BK: I will say that we’ve really appreciated is the feedback that we have received from the broader community, including on Columbus Underground. We actually read the comments and engage in that dialog and believe that those people are voices that are educated and that matter in our community, and we’ve received great support and feedback. I think often times there is more attention given to the people that don’t support development, but if you actually look into it, there’s more support, I think, for dense, high-quality, thoughtful projects. That’s something we’ve really felt and experienced and been super-appreciative of.

For more information, visit www.livekaufman.com.

Renderings by Brian Kent Jones Architects.

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