Teran Residence – the history

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In April 2009, Rookwood Building Group was approached by a client interested in purchasing a residential building site in the historic Cincinnati hillside community of Mt. Adams. Formerly known as Mt. Ida, its name changed to Mt. Adams in 1843, after John Quincy Adams visited the area to dedicate the world’s most powerful observatory. Mt. Adams sits on one of Cincinnatis seven hills, with commanding views of Cincinnati and the Ohio River. The area was once a working-class neighborhood, populated with blue-collar employers such as an iron foundry, wooden shoe and fireworks factories, the Rookwood Pottery Company, a vineyard and limestone quarries. Mt. Adams once sat 100 feet higher before having its topography changed by mining activities.

Today, given the enchanting diversity of architecture, the steep, narrow streets and the scenic views of Cincinnati and the riverfront, Mt. Adams is highly prized by professionals working in the city and creative individuals such as writers and artists. Other than the commute to work, which for most is a short drive down the hill into the city, everyone walks.

Walk to the dry cleaners, the convenience store, Playhouse in the Park, Eden Park, and to the numerous restaurants and bars. Over the years, several serious attempts have been made to reconstruct the Mt. Adams Incline, running up the hill from the city to Mt. Adams from 1872 until 1948. Older properties suitable for rehab or demolition are overpriced when they do become available. The streets are narrow and parking is extremely limited. Builders frequently have to notify the police department to post no parking signs and, on occasion, shut down a street when large deliveries are scheduled. Typical lot widths in Mt. Adams are 25 feet, with zero to 3 foot side yard setbacks. Get a site located on a hillside and you’ve got your hands full.

After months of detailed research of every available property that fit within the client’s program, a vacant site was selected. The property is approximately 23 feet in width and 126 feet in depth, with 25 feet of fall in grade, front to back and right to left. Soil reports would later confirm the suspected bad to treacherous conditions found in many of the city’s hillside districts. So bad in fact that zoning will not permit any fill depth greater than 18 inches above existing grades. Cincinnati is known for its seven hills, slipping and sliding as they do. However, this is the good news, as all it usually takes to marginalize the issue is money, and lots of it. The client was somewhat fortunate in their purchasing negotiations, given the history of the property and the devastated state of the housing market at the time. The current owner the client was buying the property from had himself purchased the property only one year prior, as an investment. An investment to build a market home from architectural plans the (original) owner previous to him had prepared only two years prior. During the original owner’s negotiations with zoning and building officials, property swaps were made between the city and property owner, utility poles and lines were rerouted. All for the protection of an existing building to the east (right side) – the monstrous Art Academy of Cincinnati. The Art Academy building, a Romanesque Revival school house built in 1894 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was home to the Art Academy of Cincinnati, the museum school of the Cincinnati Art Museum. In 1973 it became the first home for the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Cincinnati’s first magnate school and the first school in the country to combine art studies with a complete college prep academic program. Nick Lachey and Rocky Carroll are two of the schools graduates.

Finally after two years of planning and negotiating, zoning was approved, construction plans were submitted for permitting, and a building permit issued. Having achieved this at a substantial expense, the original owner scraps his investment plans and decides to sell the property, after he had demolished the original house. Then comes along a new owner who gives up his investment plans after a year of watching the housing market fall to lows not seen in Cincinnati since the late 70’s and early 80’s. The client’s ownership of the property included the building plans from two owners past, as well as zoning approval and building permits. So, with this in mind, what the client was also getting was zoning approval and a building permit issued for the construction of a single family residence, within an approved zoning envelope. With the client’s building program established, a preliminary design and budget analysis was presented that was in compliance with the approved zoning envelope and the client’s general program. The initial review of the preliminary with zoning officials of the site plan, floor plans, building elevations and a color rendering was encouraging. As long as the project stayed within the approved zoning envelope, there shouldn’t be a problem receiving zoning approval for the client’s new design. Satisfied with the preliminary design and construction budget, and with the understanding of the potential zoning risks, a contract to purchase the property was successfully negotiated and the client purchased the property.

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