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Can or should this building be saved

  • 1.  Can or should this building be saved

    Posted 02-25-2021 05:17 PM
    We have been asked to help with an early 20th century brick building.   It is a small structure with 2 stories of residential above 1 floor of commercial store fronts. Over time it has become so out whack with modern codes that one wonders if it can or should be saved.

    With multiple sale of the property and land the building has come to have zero lot line clearances on all sides.   Of course there are windows and opening on all sides.  The stair leading from the street rises over 13 feet in a steep single flight to the second floor not in a rated enclosure.  There's a quasi second exit across a narrow wood exit balcony at the rear.   In short nothing works .  It is about to be surrounded on two sides with a new 5 story apartment building and it is in a historic district.

    The Owner wants to dress it up and keep people renting.  Parts can be made safer but the lot lines aren't going to shift?

    What are the responsibilities of the various parties: the Fire Marshal, Building Official, Architect, Government responsibility toward the public and each other with such a structure.

    ------------------------------
    Peter Carlsen AIA
    Carlsen & Frank Architects
    Saint Paul MN
    ------------------------------
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  • 2.  RE: Can or should this building be saved

    Posted 02-26-2021 05:27 PM
    Peter,

    I appreciate your questions and the implied dilemma.  As a trained professional, you are part of the stewardship of this building and, from what it seems, may determine whether or not it is passed on to future generations.



    As the Vice-Chair of the City of Austin Historic Landmark Commission and with a long career in preservation and adaptive reuse, there are times when we have recommended demolition as the best option.  I put my thoughts together a while ago to create a checklist of what it takes for me to be sure a building can't be saved:

    Here's the blog I wrote after that exercise:  "Is Demolition OK? Six Essential Questions



    Ben Heimsath
    cbh@heimsath.com

    HEIMSATH ARCHITECTS
    7509 Manchaca Road, Building #4
    Austin, TX  78745
    (512) 478-1621






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  • 3.  RE: Can or should this building be saved

    Posted 02-26-2021 05:42 PM
    Hi Peter:  First stop would be with the local planning dept to see if the building has any kind of local or national historic status.  If the building has national status, it can have some leeway from the code, but not a lot.  You mentioned it is in a historic district, if it is a contributing structure to the district it will likely have a DPR on file with the local municipality.
    Property line setbacks and construction type will be a negotiation with the Building dept and the Fire dept.  You may be able to protect openings with exterior firesprinklering or fire-rated glazing. Or the Owner could potentially acquire a "setback easement" from the neighboring property.  The Historic Building code does allow a historic building to meet a percentage of the current requirements for structure.
    You may wish to retain an architect experienced with Historic Rehab to assist if you are not comfortable with this type of project!
    Good Luck!

    ------------------------------
    Maia Gendreau AIA
    MBA Architects
    San Jose CA
    ------------------------------

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  • 4.  RE: Can or should this building be saved

    Posted 02-26-2021 05:48 PM
    Our small office finished such a project last year.  In our case, the building was one that could not be replaced.  Our project was a two story, 1912 historically significant Train Depot that had been allowed to deteriorate over the years.  Everyone wanted to save the structure including the City, the Fire Marshal, the Building Inspectors, the Owners and the design team.  It was well worth the effort. We met early and often with the City to discuss design alternatives and restrictions.  We had valuable input from all stake holders and we made amendments to the building for safety, for accessibility and practicality.  Our building was comprised of Upper Level Office Suites and a Main Level that was adapted to a vibrant Market Hall. We preserved the character of the building's exterior and honored the structure at every juncture.  The City worked closely with us as the building amendments came to life.  In our case, it took everyone's best effort to save this building and as a result, it will be around for at least another 100 years.

    ------------------------------
    Daniel Stalker AIA
    Architect
    Dan Stalker Architect
    Sheridan WY
    ------------------------------

    AIA Awards Housing 2021. the book is now available on Amazon! Buy now >


  • 5.  RE: Can or should this building be saved

    Posted 02-26-2021 08:08 PM
    Peter,

    I appreciate your questions and the implied dilemma.  As a trained professional, you are part of the stewardship of this building and, from what it seems, may determine whether or not it is passed on to future generations.

    As the Vice-Chair of the City of Austin Historic Landmark Commission and with a long career in preservation and adaptive reuse, there are times when we have recommended demolition as the best option.  I put my thoughts together a while ago to create a checklist of what it takes for me to be sure a building can't be saved:

    Here's the blog I wrote after that exercise:  "Is Demolition OK? Six Essential Questions



    Ben Heimsath
    cbh@heimsath.com

    HEIMSATH ARCHITECTS
    7509 Manchaca Road, Building #4
    Austin, TX  78745
    (512) 478-1621



    AIA Awards Housing 2021. the book is now available on Amazon! Buy now >


  • 6.  RE: Can or should this building be saved

    Posted 02-26-2021 06:24 PM
    Peter,

    The building sure sounds challenging.  You didn't mention if there was significant public desire to save the building.  I assume there is some interest, because the building is very old and situated in a historic district.  But, public desire doesn't pay the rent.

    If you take this project, you will have to consult the Existing Building Code to determine what is possible.  I don't believe the other parties you listed have any input until work has been proposed - nor should they.  That is, the owner has every right to continue the use of the building as-is, unless something "as-is" presents a clear and present danger to health, safety, and welfare.  But, once the owner proposes new work, the rules kick in.

    It seems to me that your services, at this early stage, should be framed as a feasibility study.  You take the owner's proposed wants and needs and determine the upgrades that will be required; the things that will be grandfathered; and the things that will be technically infeasible.  Then, you can approach a contractor about assigning a price to the work.  That way, you and the owner will know if the project makes sense.

    As long as you conform to the building code and your local zoning ordinances, you should be allowed to propose work to the building.

    Best wishes for a successful project,

    ------------------------------
    Robert Braddock AIA
    Principal
    Red House Architects, PLLC
    Arlington VA
    ------------------------------

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  • 7.  RE: Can or should this building be saved

    Posted 02-27-2021 01:42 PM
    Hi Peter,
    interesting problem, I like how you worded it, like a prompt in an essay-type of exam.
    In my opinion what you describe is shy of entering the realm of takings, eminent domain and possibly also title insurance.
    I would start by looking at the history of the lot, the structures original setbacks, and the fire requirements at the time, as well as how they may have been changed over the years.
    in second term, I would look for easements, and other setback restrictions imposed to now adjacent properties with respect to the historic structure.
    then determine how all these decisions came about, which parties made or allowed such decisions and how they now affect the historic property, it's use and its conformity.
    usually, the following parameters apply:
    - Non-Conforming structures are created by enactment of new zoning ordinances. or changes thereof. the consequences of such enactments are borne by the municipality and can be considered takings if they negatively affect the value or usability of a property.
    - Property Owners must comply with zoning regulations. Owners may apply for a variance. Said variance cannot affect adjacent property. if there is an existing non-conformity, it cannot be made bigger or worse through a variance process. the variance must be the minimum necessary.
    - the partial sale of land to adjacent owners cannot create non-conformities, nor make them worse. If the lot is now a zero-lot, there should have been a process during this sale, which dealt with correcting the resulting non-conformities before the sale could take place. Here is where title insurance starts to become relevant, as the title company should be the one looking at this sort of issues.
    It sounds as if your client does not care much about compliance, and did not care enough about it when selling parts of the lot. And he/she may she you as an obstacle.
    I would request clarification on these issues from the client, and offer a separate proposal for a feasibility study, which may result in the need to apply for variances, demolish parts of the structure, retrofits or a number of other things. You may need to work with a zoning/real estate lawyer as well, and do extensive research with fire marshal, property appraiser, municipal government, on top of the historic authorities and neighbors.
    As Architects, we are expected to learn and know about all of this, besides our specific craft. Sadly, we seldom get any recognition.
    Good Luck!

    ------------------------------
    Ivan Contreras, LEED AP, AIA
    Qualifier | Director
    CONTRERAS MUNOZ & CO
    Miami FL
    ------------------------------

    AIA Awards Housing 2021. the book is now available on Amazon! Buy now >


  • 8.  RE: Can or should this building be saved

    Posted 03-01-2021 10:49 AM
    Photo? 

    History Preservation Inc
    For all of your historical matters
    www.historicalmatters.net
    Phone: 202-618-9876
    Facebook/Instagram/Twitter: @HistPresInc



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