New Residential Project, City Summit, Presented to Design Review Board

Rendering of City Summit Viewed from the Southeast (Rendering from DIA)
Rendering of City Summit Viewed from the Southeast (Rendering from DIA)

As Design Review Board meetings tend to go, the one this week featured some very significant developments for downtown.  I previously covered the one at Hill and Locust, but a second was also presented. The two have some commonalities and some differences. Both are on Locust and both on an attractive geographical location — one on the river and the other on the highest point in downtown. They also feature apartments.

That is where the differences begin. The project at Vine and Locust is planned by a local developer, LawlerWood (DBA City Summit, LLC) with local architects, Design Innovation Architects and lead architect Oren Yarbrough. The projects also offer vastly different scales, with this project coming in at five stories and including eighty-nine units.

Map of Proposed Development Site (from the Design Review Application)

While that may seem like a small number of residences compared to the previously discussed project, it is much larger than other well-known downtown redevelopments. The JC Penny Building (about twenty units), the Holston (forty-two units) the Arnstein Building (twenty units), Gallery Lofts (thirteen units), all have significantly fewer residential spaces. This project also includes the demolition of the Carpenters Union Building (circa 1946).

The proposed building features five stories and 89 apartments and includes 3 studio units, 51 one-bedroom homes, and 35 two-bedroom apartments. While the Hill and Locust project focuses on luxury apartments, the focus here is more mid-level and to be more affordable, provides homes, hence no building amenities. Like the other project, this one is designed to have ten percent, or nine units, of work-force housing. Those units can be secured using a voucher and are good for any home in the project.

Carpenter’s Union Building North Side
Carpenter’s Union Building South Side

The primary orientation of the building is toward Vine Avenue with architectural elements designed to draw from the row homes across the street, particularly the more modern town homes on Vine. Most units will have balconies. The building will be L-shaped, with the full block taken along Vine and Locust.

A small service and parking area is included at the rear of the building and the building has a small carved out area to accommodate that. The primary pedestrian entry would be through this section, as well. The limited parking would not be full-time for residents who park across the street. The parking lots formerly on the space would be taken by the new construction.

The first story of the building would have a brick veneer, while the remainder of the exterior consists of “painted cement board, arranged in alternating bands of horizontal shiplap and vertical panels.” Each unit would have double-hung windows and sliding glass doors opening onto balconies. It is surrounded by other residential properties in the form of Ryan’s Row (1980s), City House Town Homes (2020’s), and Summit Tower (1980) and each present quite a different architectural aesthetic.

Commercial space on the street level is not required due to a rezoning requested by the builders two years ago. That rezoning changed the property from grid guidelines to Boulevard guidelines which do not require commercial spaces.

Rendering of City Summit Viewed from the Northeast (Rendering from DIA)
Rendering of City Summit Viewed from the Northwest (Rendering from DIA)
Rendering of City Summit Viewed from the Southwest (Rendering from DIA)

The primary conversation in Downtown Design Review focused on the first recommendation listed by city staff reviewing the project prior to the meeting: “Revisions to exterior cladding to incorporate additional masonry or other materials which meet the guidelines to “relate to the scale, durability, color, and texture of the predominate building materials in the area.”

The surrounding structures, from the residential to the Catholic Church just down the street are masonry-heavy, mostly brick and stone buildings. While this one has brick along the bottom, design staff indicated they would like to see more attention given to the materials used on the upper floors with an eye toward better design and more congruity with the surroundings.

Oren Yarbrough presents to the Design Review Board

Mr. Petre pointed out that those buildings were (mostly) built in a very different time and construction costs for similar materials have risen significantly. The tension between providing affordable (in the broader sense) housing and desiring elevated architecture came through in the conversation with Mr. Petre suggesting the materials used got them to the point financially that they needed to be.

While acknowledging that tension, staff requested that the project return to design in order to find revisions which might make the building more durable, attractive, and consistent with its surroundings. For the second time in the meeting, a vote on a major project was postponed.

Prior to the meeting Mr. Petre told me that the project had been delayed for twenty months waiting for interest rates, costs, and supply chain to stabilize, all of which he feels have happened to a large enough degree to proceed. While there are still steps to be taken with codes and a coming application for a PILOT, he said he hopes construction can begin in Spring 2025 with an estimated 16 to 18 month “build cycle.” It is unclear whether this delay will impact that schedule.