Overlay District Leads to Innovative Design

By Stephen Versen, MDA Zoning & Land Use Committee Chair

In last Summer’s edition of The Columns, we gave some background and an overview of the West of the Boulevard Design Overlay District. This ordinance, adopted soon after the neighborhood was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1994, sought to safeguard our neighborhood from inappropriate development. The purpose of this article is to share a real life example of the how the West of the Boulevard Design Overlay District has impacted our neighborhood.

In the late 1990s, a plan emerged to build six new housing units, known as Village Grove, along the south side of the 3200 block of Grove Ave. The site had been vacant since a large building on the site was torn down after a fire. The project’s architects, Johannas Design Group, looked to the West of the Boulevard Design Overlay District when designing these homes, specifical-
ly in regards to the facades. Here’s a list of the eleven design requirements and how the architects dealt with each:

  1. Existing Building Allowance: If an existing building is destroyed, a new building with a street facade matching that of the destroyed building is acceptable. This did not apply since the architect was not seeking to mimic the structure that once stood on the site.
  2. Cornice Height: If within 30 feet of an existing building, a new building’s cornice must match it. If within 30 feet of two buildings, the new cornice can neither exceed nor fall below the height of those cornices. If no building is within 30 feet, the cornice must be between 23 to 30 feet above grade. As there were no buildings within 30 feet, the architects used a height based off nearby homes.
  3. Building Width: For lots less than 30 feet wide, the width of the building shall be the greatest allowed by the zoning ordinance (minimum side setbacks maintained). For lots greater than 30 feet, buildings must between 20 and 30 feet wide. This was a Special Use where one lot was subdivided into six lots that were equal to the average lot width in the immediate area. A spacing of roughly three feet between buildings was used.
  4. Front Setback: The setback of the front facade from the street, excluding front porches, shall match the building on an adjacent side, but not be less than allowable by the Zoning Ordinance. Front setback aligned with homes on the block.
  5. Pitched Roof: Front facades shall have a pitched main building roof visible from the street. All of the homes have pitched slate roofs facing the street. It should be noted, however, that this guideline does not take into account, and therefore not many in the neighborhood.
  6. Building Material: The prominent building material on street-facing facade(s) shall be “standard” size brick, horizontal siding, or stucco. The predominant material on all street facades is brick.
  7. Fenestrations (The arrangement, proportioning, and design of windows and doors in a building): a) No sliding glass door or windows are allowed, b) first and second floor windows shall not be less than 15 square feet each, c) head height of first and second floor windows must be at least 7’ 6”, d) one decorative/accent window less than 15 square feet shall is allowed, and e) the windows must have operational sashes. Fenestration conforms to these requirements. There are no decorative windows, although some homes do have small oval stained glass in the entry.
  8. First Floor Elevation: When within 30 feet of an existing building, the new construction’s first-floor elevation shall match it; otherwise, the first floor elevation shall be a least 2’ 6” above grade. First-floor elevation is at least 2’ 6” above grade. This is not measured from the sidewalk, but from the grade closest to the front wall of the home. The building code requires minimum height crawlspaces, which added to the depth of the floor structure. This guideline can make it difficult for a multi-family dwelling to meet accessibility codes without the introduction of ramps, lifts, etc.
  9. Front Door: The main entrance (front) door shall face the street and be in the front facade. The front door faces the street.
  10. Front Porches: They are not required, but if present: a) no treated lumber shall be visible, b) porch columns must be 8” wide x 8” deep or 8” diameter, and c) the porch’s cornice must match those of buildings within 30 feet. Front porches do not have exposed treated wood, and the columns are 10” to 12” in diameter or square dimension, depending on which design was chosen. Although not within 30 feet of an existing building, the cornice and the remainder of the porches were designed to be consistent with the prevailing porches in the area in scale, materials and dimension.
  11. Accessory Building: Where a garage or accessory building faces a street, the prominent building material on the street facade(s) shall be “standard” size brick, horizontal siding, or stucco. This project had no garages or accessory buildings facing the street.