TOH doesn't meet city's own stated goals

After many months of presentations, discussion and review, the developer, Flaherty & Collins (F&C), has revealed the fundamental architectural failure of the now-approved Top of the Hill (TOH) design.

From the TOH page of the city’s website, dated July 2, 2019:

“Goals Established for the Project: The Developer and the City seek to collaboratively create a signature mixed use destination district that serves as a gateway to the City and a link between the City and the adjacent University Circle area of Cleveland. The City’s goal is that the development of the Project Site shall, at a minimum:

a. Creates a dense, vibrant, pedestrian-friendly commercial district that dovetails with the architecture and aesthetics of the surrounding neighborhood;
b. Provides a visual and symbolic entrance to the City; . . .
h. Effectively incorporates community feedback into the design . . .”

The project, as approved, fails—and fails critically—when measured against these goal statements. At the Oct. 10 Architectural Board of Review (ABR) meeting, F&C representatives took pains to create a metaphor describing the entrance feature of the 10-story tower as the welcoming entrance to the city of Cleveland Heights.

Cleveland Heights is a community of homes and buildings with both grand and modest front entrances. The creation of a welcoming and useful entrance requires a setback, giving a sense of space and distance between the street and the entrance. It also needs to be accessible to pedestrians, walking and arriving by automobile, conveying an easy and gracious welcome to guests and visitors. It is especially important for a high-density apartment building to have a front entrance that facilitates resident and guest pick-up or drop-off. This 10-story tower building’s position at the point of the property, and its shallow sidewalk-width setback from Cedar Road, does not allow for easy pedestrian approach or automobile accessibility.

I asked F&C representative Brendon Bogan where an Uber would pick up or drop off a resident or visitor. He said, “in the back of the building,” citing the inability of automobiles to stop at the building’s front entrance. A front entrance that does not or cannot welcome and greet visitors, guests, and residents is without a purpose. A building’s entrance, whether great or modest, defines its character, offering a clear and unambiguous statement of “WELCOME!” to guests and residents alike. Flaherty & Collins’ message of welcome: “Use the backdoor.”

On this alone the TOH design fails to meet the city’s goal statement.

I am astonished and disappointed that ABR approved TOH, as presented by the developer, supported by the city’s build-at-all-costs mentality. The failure I am describing is only one of many defects in the project. Again, and again, the city turns a deaf ear to citizens and professionals in the design community who continue to raise sensible and pertinent objections to the project’s plan and design, its flaws, and failures. The city and F&C would have avoided this failure and others had they conducted open community meetings and design charrettes, instead of the reported 37 stage-managed “meetings with the community.”

TOH does not meet the city’s own stated goals: “dovetails with the architecture and aesthetics of the surrounding neighborhood,” “provides a visual and symbolic entrance to the City,” and “effectively incorporates community feedback into the design.”

The Top of the Hill, as approved, most importantly does not say “Welcome to Cleveland Heights.” There is still time to stop the building of this impending and catastrophic failure. 

Michael Knoblauch

Michael Knoblauch, a 40-plus year resident of Cleveland Heights, is sponsor of Citizens for Great Design, and a former board member of FutureHeights. His three adult children are graduates of Cleveland Heights High School.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 10:44 AM, 11.01.2019