Friday, December 4, 2015

No surface parking lots in downtown!

No surface parking lots in downtown, that is at least the opinion of UDARP as they confirmed Thursday when they reviewed a new apartment building on the corner of Eutaw and Mulberry Streets. The project is part of a land disposition by BDC, awarded to a team headed by Amsale Geletu, the CEO of PMS parking. PMS currently runs the surface parking lot on the property that her development team would obtain from the city for the housing proposal.
This view looking east on Mulberry at Paca Street shows the problem of
the missing tooth on the left side, exposing the proposed corner building from
a side that isn't really a facade

When architect Donald Kann unveiled his design  for schematic review at UDARP on Thursday, the panel quickly honed in on the fact that only the easterly and deeper lot had a building on it while the westerly shallow lot sitting across from a gas station remained a parking lot.
The site plan shows the difficulties. The lot north of the corner lot is
also surface parking but not owned by the city, the lot on the west (left) is
separated from the corner-lot by an alley street and it is very shallow

Gary Bowden set of the barrage of questions and criticism by asking: "Are we in 2015 still building surface parking lots? It seems like such a 1950s approach. Gap tooth. No matter what lipstick you put on it, it is a gap." David Rubin added: " If you make it a gap then make it programmable not a decorated parking lot." To which Richard Burns added: It would be much better if there were a bar of single loaded housing or whatever. If you don't do a building you need to do a much stronger edge" (than the low wall and planting strip that is shown as screening the lot).
the proposed  Mulberry Street elevation with the surface parking lot
clearly visible

For a moment the review panel actually focused on the facades of the proposed six story corner building, but once they had decided to be critical, they kept going: Richard Burns mused if the corner building "couldn't be set two, three, four, five feet back to allow a wider sidewalk and some street trees, a suggestion which made it hard for Gina Merritt, the development consultant, to stay in her seat in the audience. "The masonry reads like just cardboard on the facade", Burns added for good measure. 
The Franklin Street elevation with retail at the bottom and what UDARP
described as a fake penthouse on top

David Rubin added: "How the building meets the street looks rather fortified. That planting against the building is superfluous." About the surface parking: "Get rid of some parking."  Disagreeing with Richard Burns he suggested: "don't build a tall wall" and added for emphasis: "what you have adds nothing to the neighborhood. It is anemic. It's suburban."

David Harsign, also on the panel added few comments other than to say he agreed with his colleagues.

Pavlina Illeva is frequently the sharpest critic of the UDARP panelists and this round was no exception: "This as a long awaited infill is extremely substandard" she intoned and continued: "You make the vacant lot permanent. This hasn't been properly investigated. You have given up!" She had already worked out a design solution in her head: "Put the western parking under the building on the east and create a meaningful retail area on the western side." About the exterior design of the building she was equally harsh: "Again a preconception!  'that is what we have done before so we do it again'," she mocked the architect. She didn't think there was a need for the fake penthouse impression that comes from ending the brick below the top floor. "Look at the other buildings around", she admonished. "You are bringing a language from an area where this is relevant to here where it isn't".

She reminded her colleagues and herself regarding the various suggestions that had been made about how to make improvements to the surface lot: "We are talking about mitigation when we should solve the problem".  
a typical floor plan of the five apartment levels at the corner unit

The project did not advance to the next level and has to come back for another schematic review. It remains to be seen if UDARP will stand its ground regarding surface parking or succumb to the developer argument that "the numbers  just don't work" for anything else.

The issue of surface parking lots in downtown would be forbidden by the latest draft of the new zoning code currently under review by City Council. The parking industry has submitted an amendment to eliminate that provision. Another hearing on the new code is scheduled next week. Comments can still be submitted to the Council.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

ArchPlan had been the architect for the team prior to the submission of a proposal to BDC which included design concepts and massing studies. Those concepts did not leave the west lot undeveloped.

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