Design Commission Upholds Approval of St Johns Central Lofts (images)

The Design Commission has upheld the approval of the Central Lofts, against an appeal by the St Johns Neighborhood Association. The four story building, designed by Jones Architecture for owner Farid Bolour, will include 30 residential units over ground floor retail. The building will include 37 long-term bicycle parking stalls. No vehicular parking is proposed.

St Johns Central Lofts

The Central Lofts will be built on a 6,750 sq ft site at 8608 N Lombard St, facing the St Johns Plaza. The site was once home to the three story Central Hotel, the top two floors of which burned down in the 1920s. The facade seen today dates back to the 1970s. From 2012 to the 2015 the building was home to a bar named the Central Hotel.

St Johns Central Lofts

The building will be constructed out of heavy timber, with cross-laminated timber floors. The structural system was chosen in part due to the speed at which it can erected, which will minimize the length of disruption to the St Johns Plaza.

Exterior materials proposed include Cembrit fiber cement rainscreen cladding; curtain wall glazing and metal panels at the projecting oriel windows; aluminum storefronts surrounded by wood cladding with a charcoal stain; and painted steel canopies.

St Johns Central Lofts

St Johns Central Lofts

The Central Lofts were approved in a staff level decision on October 18th, 2017. The project was subsequently appealed by the St Johns Neighborhood Association, who raised concerns about the location of the main retail entrance; the use of fiber cement panels; and the degree to which the building responded to the context of the neighborhood.

On December 14th 2017 the Design Commission voted 4-0 to deny the appeal and uphold the approval. In the conclusion to their Final Findings, Conclusions and Decision the Commission found that the building will enhance the “unique and special civic plaza”:

The proposal sufficiently addresses its adjacent commercial context through the incorporation of extensive ground floor glazing, numerous retail entrances, deep canopies, ground-level material detailing and pedestrian-scale lighting. It addresses its unique and special civic plaza location through a unique fully-operable corner glazing element that allows the entire ground floor plaza corner to be opened, revealing a 38’ wide entrance. It addresses its two street frontages by surpassing the maximum ground floor glazing requirement on North Lombard Street, and achieving more than twice the required ground floor glazing required on North Philadelphia. Further, it brings glazing around to the ground level of the alley, enhancing the view from the St. Johns bridge and activating an otherwise underutilized public right-of-way.

The primary concerns of the appellant and public testifiers were the scale of glazing on upper floors, the cementitious cladding material and the lack of differentiation between ground floor entrances. The Design Commission noted the very specific description in P1: Plan Area Character that directs new development on commercial streets in St. Johns to focus on activation of the public realm through outdoor seating, ground floor storefronts and integration with the public realm. The Commission determined that this proposal had met all the desired Plan Area characteristics as well as all relevant Community Design Guidelines, and therefore warranted approval.

Building permits for the Central Lofts are under review.


26 thoughts on “Design Commission Upholds Approval of St Johns Central Lofts (images)

  1. Looks like this beautiful building will bring a whole new life to the plaza (although I know the neighborhood might prefer the old life, such as it is)

  2. What part of building a 30 unit apartment building in St John’s with no car parking makes any sense to anyone?

    • I believe there were car-stackers in the back of the building (accessible from the alleyway) in an earlier version. I wonder if that just didn’t pencil out.

      Fortunately, this site is a major bus hub, with buses 4, 16, 44 and 75 stopping at the plaza.

    • Well it obviously makes financial sense to the developer. Turns out there is a demand for housing units that don’t require you to pay for the premium of having a dedicated on-site parking spot.

      Also, less parking means potentially fewer vehicles commuting in and out, reducing traffic.

      Will some of these folks be using street parking? Quite likely, but isn’t public ROW street parking open to anyone?

      • The bus system in St. Johns has been gutted and is virtually worthless. And I guarantee that 95% of the tenants of this building will own at least one car. Sure, on street parking is open to everyone, but there just isn’t very much of it in downtown St. Johns. This building is even worse than The Union, but at least they added parking for their tenants.

        And let’s even get started on the design. Another ugly, generic, multi-use building, detracting from what little charm St. Johns still had. I’m not anti-growth, but for the love of Pete, why can’t anybody build anything that actually FITS in the neighborhood it occupies?

        • It is the 21st Century so I don’t see what’s wrong with having something more modern. There isn’t any particular style in this neighborhood, unless you mean the 1 story low rise buildings along Lombard.

          As for the bus service being ‘gutted’ it appears the 4 runs nearly every 20 minutes weekdays.

        • I live 5 blocks from here and take the bus system almost every day – to my job downtown, to New Seasons, and elsewhere. I am not sure where you get “gutted and virtually useless” from..

        • You guarantee 95% of 30 units, or 29 of them, will own cars?

          Want to place a bet? That seems like an easy one to win.

        • You mean the antiquated “blue collar neighborhood” that St. John’s used to be? That’s not a low blow either, that’s literally what the majority of articles and reference sources refer to St. John’s as. Sure, maybe I’m one of the few that feels it won’t really be that unfortunate that I’ll no longer have to stare at the crumbling facade of the Central Hotel while people camp out and belligerently drunk in front of it.

    • you could build this building anywhere. Put palm trees in the drawing and suddenly it’s a building proposed for LA

      Sure there’s street parking. Until you build up all the land with buildings that have no parking. They built that monstrosity on 7th in Irvington and the street parking is packed for 4 or 5 blocks. What happens when the next building is built?

      • I live right by 7th and Knott and there is ample parking post-construction. The only downside is the neighbors forced so many concessions from the developers that the ground floor commercial spaces were nixed. As for architectural uniqueness, you could pretty much put palm trees in front of any amber-preserved style you prefer and it’s a proposal for LA. Architecture is meant for living in, not a highlight to a unique way of life that is not actually unique.

      • Let me take this one:
        If our buildings don’t cohesively mesh together and seem to be struggling for a spotlight, what does that say about our community? Our towns and cities used to be based around schools and the church. What made our cities great still applies today and a building that seeks to stand out, for merely being an mixed-use space, is just based in corporate/individual narcissism. A beautiful city is closely-knit, homogenous community, through building methods & aesthetics, and through the mantra of its members. There’s a thoughtful response for you, Thomas.

        • Thanks cupcake. I don’t disagree with you and wouldn’t be the first to jump up and defend this building. However, It seems like a lot of the controversy relates to style, which is subjective and shouldn’t be a criteria for approval in my opinion.

          I’m tired of seeing comments like Mark Edington’s on this blog.

  3. What was the objection? Is there a link? height? views? parking? I am glad to see ground floor retail! And as a transit advocate, im happy to see no parking. We can help tip the supply and demand curve. And LOTS of exciting multi-model stuff is on the cusp of launching.

  4. The only city I know where every building “struggles for the spotlight” is Las Vegas. Most of the great cities have a number of stand out buildings, but those are surrounded by a bunch of plain, working buildings. Think Amsterdam and London. Even Rome, such an iconic city, is mostly full of 1900s – 1940s mid-rise structures that alone, don’t really have that much nuanced character to them. Even here in Portland, most of our “great” neighborhoods are full of pretty standard, cookie-cutter houses. It’s just that over time we’ve grown to love them.

    As Thomas mentioned, architectural style is subjective. You either go bold with a building (like the Burnside Bridgehead buildings) and people either really like them or really hate them. Or you go with something kind of bland, that doesn’t really excite anyone but also doesn’t horrifically offend anyone. That’s the nature of buildings. Many people thought the Eiffel Tower was the worst thing that ever happened to Paris when it was built.

    What really makes a great city or neighborhood isn’t the architecture, but the way the building interacts with its surroundings. We are luckily here to have quite thoughtful building guidelines that make most of our structures add, not subtract from their surroundings. Regardless of what you think of the specific materials or style, there won’t be a bunch of blank walls, fences, or anything off-putting. There will be reasonably nice landscaping. There will be retail and windows for transparent activity and natural light. All in all, I guarantee that most people will find the adjacent plaza more enjoyable with the new building compared to what’s there now.

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