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A Proposal to Redevelop #72 Conkey Avenue

For discussions opposing the planned demolition of 72 Conkey Ave.,
Go here. And here.

The structure is currently scheduled for demolition, so this proposal is late, very likely too late. But whatever its fate, I feel it is important to draw attention to what is being lost.

In purely financial terms, for want of the timely investment of $60,000 including purchase, a property that could produce some $2,000 monthly rents, with a payback of perhaps 5 years, is being destroyed. From an urbanist point of view, it means the loss of density, diversity and history – yet another blow to the vitality of yet another neighborhood.

Where does it end?

I. Introduction

The building on the southeast corner at the intersection of Conkey and Clifford Avenues was built in 1879 and was quite possibly the neighborhood’s first corner grocery. At the time, the neighborhood was on the city’s northeast edge as it expanded outward, encroaching on the Irish immigrant farms of an earlier generation.

Here is an idea of what the Evergreen Tract looked like then:

View of Evergreen Tract, 1880
View of Evergreen Tract, from an 1880 panoramic view of Rochester.
Courtesy of rochestersubway.com

Conkey and Clifford is the intersection about midway from the center to the lower right corner of the image.

exterior - store entrancearchitectural detail

This property is typical of the late-Victorian mixed-use storefronts once seen on so many corners in Rochester’s older neighborhoods. It is configured as 3 apartments over a store. Beginning in 1879, the building was a family-owned grocery store until the Great Depression, perhaps longer.

The original owner was Charles H. Schulz, who lived and conducted business there with his family for 30 years, 1879 to 1908.

exterior - north side

The property is a strong potential contributor to the surrounding community and a good candidate for redevelopment. Located at the intersection of Conkey and Clifford Avenues, the property is an anchor, contributing Victorian character, as well as a degree of density and diversity that is rapidly disappearing from the housing stock in the neighborhood.

Ibero houses on Conkey

The Ibero-America Development Corporation (IADC) has recently built 25 infill homes in the neighborhood, 3 of which are on the same block of Conkey Ave. Every lot now has a building upon it.

Please take a moment and view a block that has been vacant and dead for years, as it comes alive and becomes a vital urban space once again. The block is whole again, if only for a moment.

FashionWorks by Ibero

Ibero also opened a retail outlet, “FashionWorks”, on the same block of Clifford Ave.

security camera at Conkey and Clifford

The city recently installed an overhead security camera at that corner, eliminating the illegal drug activity that was rampant there.

community garden at Conkey and Clifford

The neighborhood, which has organized several block clubs under the direction of Project Hope, recently created a community garden on the corner opposite the property.

The Genesee Land Trust (GLT) recently added a playground to the new pocket park across the street.

pocket park where playground was recently added

The neighborhood is organized, significant investments in housing (both new and existing) are being made, crime is trending downward — all these things have changed the investment prospects for the property in the past year. It is in the best interests of the community that the structure be restored, and not destroyed.

About us

Officially, we are Aurora Property Redevelopment. Our objective is to revitalize communities by preserving period structures and maintaining traditional neighborhood density. There is no alternative use for the properties we restore that improves the tax assessment as much for as little expense in as little time.

My partner and I select properties based on 3 criteria: (1) They are within a few blocks radius of our own home on Evergreen Street. (2) They have strong potential to contribute character and stability to our target investment area. (3) They are at risk. We have completed 2 projects within the target area, with 4 additional rehabs in progress, for a total of 8 high quality housing units, with an estimated total gross annual income from rents of $60,000.

II. Gallery of images

Work from earlier projects by Aurora

A PowerPoint presentation showing work from other projects will be included in the submitted proposal.

For examples of our work, refer to:

Devendorf house

Burns house

Images of #72 Conkey Avenue

This gallery presents the building’s general condition (fair to good), its amenities and problems. All three living units retain the original porcelain plumbing fixtures. They all have hardwood flooring that is in good condition. Most window openings still have the original wooden sash, though several are in need of reglazing.

For details, just roll the mouse over any image. Click over any image to view an enlarged version:

Building exterior

exterior - west foundationexterior - rear egressexterior - west side garage

Apartment 1

apt 1apt1 kitchenapt 1apt 1

Apartment 2

apt2 bathroomapt2 deck egressapt 2

Apartment 3

apt 3apt 3apt 3apt 3apt3 kitchen from entry hallapt3 plumbing removedapt 3

Miscellaneous

interior showing store frontinterior staircase - 1st to 2nd floor2nd floor landing

Basement / Utilities

basement utilitiesbasement utilitiesbasement utilities

Problems

apt 1apt 1apt3 water damageattic showing water damageapt2 water damageapt1 water damageapt1 bathroom - missing floor

III. Redevelopment Plan

Phase 1: Develop housing

In the near term, there are 3 residential units with little evidence they were ever combined, so there are no obvious opportunities for de-conversion. Thus the immediate goal is to return the structure to its prior use (three rental units) with higher quality.

Phase 2: (Not to be implemented as part of this proposal) Develop amenities

Roof deck accessible from the rear apartment upstairs. Although greatly in need of improvement, the basic structure is there.

Line of windows along the rear corner downstairs, on the Clifford Avenue side. Visible on the outside, inside it’s buried under drywall in a closet. Could have been an enclosed porch or sun room at one time.

Side garage A 2-car garage just off the back porch, accessed from Conkey.

4 car cement block garage Accessed from Clifford.

Period lighting to be added to front (Conkey Ave.) wall of building for accent lighting.

Fencing added where appropriate, for privacy and aesthetic appeal.

Phase 3: (Not to be implemented as part of this proposal) Develop mixed uses

There are several features suggesting creative uses that could be developed as a longer term strategy. The primary example is the retail space in the front. I can foresee a number of uses that might benefit the surrounding community. A bike repair shop run by teens, a coffee shop, a laundromat, even a community room providing meeting space (perhaps for after-school activities or music lessons) have all been suggested. Another possibility would be to integrate the entire building as live-work space for local artists or musicians.

IV. Summary of Cost Breakdown of Phase 1 of the Plan (3 residential units)

We worked with Eugenio Cotto, director of Group 14621, over several sessions to complete a thorough, professional plan which includes standard costing of each item in Phase I of the plan. A complete copy of the plan is included in the proposal.


Plan Summary:
Site Work Subtotal: $50.00
Masonry Subtotal: $1,619.44
Carpentry Subtotal: $1776.66
Roofing Subtotal: $9,593.46
Conservation Subtotal: $65.00
Drywall & Plaster Subtotal: $650.56
Paint & Wallpaper Subtotal: $5311.35
HVAC & Domestic Hot Water Subtotal: $19,284.03
Plumbing Subtotal: $3834.73
Electric Subtotal: $10,999.77
Fire Protection Subtotal: $538.96
Weatherization Subtotal: $2,054.00
Paints, Caulks & Sealants Subtotal: $2,427.20
__________________________________________________________
Address: 72 Conkey Avenue Unit: 1 Total: $58,205.16

Project: Vol Rehab 01 Total: $58,205.16
__________________________________________________________
Labor (60% of total Cost): $34,923.09

Material (40% of total Cost): $23,282.06

Estimated Time to Completion: 36 Months

V. Summary of Financing

Personal funding sources: $18,000
Receipts from rents on other income property: $40,000
Possible financing through Bank of America: TBD
Possible opportunities for funding support from Ibero, Group 14621: TBD
__________________________________________________________
Total funds available: $58,000

VI. Application for ‘Request For Proposal’ (RFP)

This section of the proposal is the actual application that is submitted for approval to the city Real Estate office. References are made to the supporting documents where appropriate.

A. Contribution to redevelopment in the immediate neighborhood

The corner location is prominent in the neighborhood. The structure has character-defining architectural features that contribute identity and a sense of place. The structure’s empty retail space could benefit the community at some point in the future. There are many options for the use of this space that could generate healthy street activity. Putting an active residence on this corner will deter illegal activity and thus strengthen the neighborhood.

This property is at the center of several other projects in the adjoining blocks. Ibero has built two subsidized housing builds on the two adjoining lots on Conkey Ave., with many others nearby. Ibero is also redeveloping retail space on the same block of Clifford Ave. A new park and a playground have just been completed across the street on Clifford Ave, and the El Camino trail, currently under development, passes by the property to the east.

B. Compatibility with existing zoning, use, density and structures:

The structure’s late Victorian features are very compatible with the surrounding community. Three apartments ranging in size from 300 to 500 square feet are consistent with current neighborhood density.

C. Developer’s Timetable:

The structure will be secured immediately upon iinitiating the redevelopment contract. Stabilization and cleanout will begin April 1, 2011.

Year 1:

Summary:
Installation of electronic security system, roof repairs, Steel entry doors, exterior paint.

Personal funding sources: $ 5,000
Receipts from rents on other income property: $ 5,000

Year 2:

Personal funding sources: $ 6,000
Receipts from rents on other income property: $15,000

Year 3:

Personal funding sources: $ 7,000
Receipts from rents on other income property: $20,000

__________________________________________________________
Total funds available: $58,000

Ability to carry out the project: The prior completions of similar projects referenced in Section II of this proposal demonstrate ability to complete the project.
Summary of rehabilitation plan: The images referenced in Section II of this proposal show the general condition of the property. Major cost items include:

(1) The roofing must be torn off and replaced.
(2) Three leaks in the roof have damaged the walls and ceilings directly below.
(3) The bathroom floor in one unit has been completely removed.
(4) The plumbing has been removed.
(5) The electrical service needs replacement from the street to the panels.
(6) Heating units to be replaced.
(7) Painting of exterior and pointing of above grade foundation.

D. Financing Plan:

Refer to Section V of this proposal.

E. Public Program Assistance:

N/A

F. Preservation (preserves character of site and structure):

My interest is in community revitalization, in large part by preserving period structures and historic neighborhood density. My work conforms to the US DOI Standards for preservation where feasible: I repair where possible, replace where necessary with materials and workmanship ‘as good as or better’ than the original (see images referenced in Section II of this proposal).

G. Tax Status of Proposed Projects:

N/A

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“Great houses are those that tell their own story.” What does that mean?

To a rehabber, one thing it means is doing constant battle with things that cover: dropped ceilings, door plugs, outer layers of paint or paneling, carpeting, layers of modern siding, sealed “dead space”.

An example is modern siding. Why are aluminum and vinyl siding expendable? They are essentially sheets of stock, formed into a hollow shape that is meant to look like the original wood. Imitation versus authenticity. But aren’t aluminum and vinyl products more affordable than real wood? That’s a big question which we will often revisit. But for now, the short answer is, “it depends.”

removal of modern shingles>

Removing modern shingles to reveal original wood siding. Note that as water damage occurred in the gable siding, it was hidden from view under the added layer.

So part of the story is told by uncovering and restoring layers that are durable, aesthetically rich, authentic. Another way is by replacing lost features, or preserving existing ones.

2nd floor back room

Here, we’ve replaced the stovepipe covers with new ones instead of just covering up the holes when we removed a conversion-era kitchen.

Yet another way is by adding decorative detailing to bland modifications to the original, in a way that interprets the historical style. For example, if a porch has been closed in and it’s not convenient to restore it right away, we might apply beadboard ceiling and wainscot inside, with period-appropriate trim, then wipe on a light stain and seal with a paste wax to simulate age. We’re not above cliche. In fact, we embrace it, so long as the quality is good and the effect is unpretentious.

Original rear porch, enclosed

Original rear porch, enclosed. We added siding and trim to follow Victorian treatments.

Rear porch interior

Rear porch interior

Rear porch inside with period-sympathetic beadboard paneling and trim.

How we choose houses

Our choice of houses to restore is based on 3 criteria: (1) they are within a few blocks of earlier projects, (2) they are potentially strong contributors in some way, and (3) they need lots of work and are at risk of being demolished. In fact, most of our houses are already scheduled for demolition when we get them.

Eastlake on a corner lot, near a neighborhood gateway

Devendorf house, our 2nd project, before restoration.

house with carriage barn

A good candidate for restoration.

abandoned house

Another good candidate for restoration.

Eastlake house with horse barn

A really good candidate for restoration.

Shackelton house before restoration

Our first project. Something just said “buy me”.

Shackelton house after restoration

Same view after restoration.

Death by bureaucracy

The vacant and abandoned houses in our neighborhood soon become city property. In our efforts to end blight here, the city is not an ally but an adversary. We have no way of knowing their plans unless we keep asking. And the city often chooses to destroy a house rather than let us restore it, even after we express an interest. If we don’t act soon enough, one day they just knock it down. Perhaps I’ll live to see a reformed city hall whose staff can behave like humans and not like drones in the borg collective (borg-eaucrats?) – carrying out policy, doing their jobs, but to those who value the buildings and spaces they destroy – unswerving, unthinking, uncaring, and in the end – systematically brutal.

Take a look at a few lost gems…

30 Durgin (demolished)

30 Durgin (demolished)

To prepare this house for demolition, the asbestos siding was removed, revealing a handsome pattern of clapboard siding and corner boards underneath. Truly a shame.

65 Conkey front (demolished)

65 Conkey (demolished)

Someday I’ll do a post showing what the wonderfully appointed interior of this buiding looked like, but to give you a taste: marble tile flooring in foyer and bathrooms, fir flooring elsewhere, original porcelain plumbing fixtures, spacious, bright rooms, stained hardwood doors with period hardware. Wonderful, irreplacable urban sophistication. The loss of this structure was due to nothing other than uncaring indifference on the city’s part.

Conkey Ave. (demolished)

Conkey Ave. (demolished)

Don’t know much about this one, but my guess is, there were at least a few seriously cool features inside.

72 Conkey (to be demolished)

72 Conkey (to be demolished)

Another one I’m going to blog about. Sooner rather than later.

Do you see a pattern here? How is it that dense and diverse housing structures are the big losers? And what does that say about (1) the economics of blight, (2) the efficacy of city government’s demolition policy, and (3) the prospects for inner-city neighborhoods as density and diversity are systematically destroyed?

Learning the basics

In our first few projects, we had to learn the basics. We needed to find suppliers for all the stuff that’s no longer used to build houses, like real plaster, period tile patterns, antique lighting, replacement plumbing parts, window glass, wooden sash and tin ceilings. We needed information about things like period color schemes, finishes, floor plans, even Victorian landscaping. And we needed to learn the myriad builders’ crafts to at least a passable level of skill.

Devendorf house - plasterwork under stairs in main hall

plaster repair – lath work

Devendorf house - plasterwork under stairs in main hall

plaster repair – brown coat

tin ceiling repair

tin ceiling repair

reproduction period trim pieces

reproduction period trim pieces

period porch work

period porch work

period tile patterns

period tile patterns

antique commode

antique sink

Antique plumbing fixtures from ReHouse in Rochester. Hard to see, but they fit perfectly into the original ‘footprints’ in the tile wall. ‘Standard’ meant something back in the day.

Repair, replace or evolve?

How best to honorably maintain the 19th century, working class dwellings, handmade by German carpenter-families in our neighborhood? How to regard the most significant event since then – the conversion to rental apartments in the 20th century? And how to prepare them for the unforeseeable demands of the 21st century?

With respect to 19th century work, the answer is to restore everything you can. With respect to the 20th, understand that the century’s improvements to Victorian originals amount to (1) the central staircase, (2) the Craftsman kitchen, and (3) the push-button light switch. Anything else, especially anything done to maximize occupancy and minimize cost, is fair game. Keep what you like. With respect to present-day work, follow the Department of the Interior (DOI) Standards. First, do no harm to history. “A man is wealthy in proportion to what he can afford to leave alone,” observes Thoreau – at least that’s my mantra. Second, repair when you can, replace when you must, with work that is of the same or better quality and comparable materials. Make sure that your building ‘learns’ as it should, making a consistent statement about evolving building practice, aesthetics, and practical value throughout its history. The structure and styling of a house should be simple, honest and apparent, so that future modifications can be the same.

Galvin house at dusk

Galvin house at dusk

“What we have ourselves built, we are at liberty to throw down; but what other men gave their strength and wealth and life to accomplish, their right over does not pass away with their death; still less is the right to the use of what they have left vested in us only. It belongs to all their successors.”

John Ruskin
The Seven Lamps of Architecture [1890]

In the 1840’s Andrew Jackson Downing wrote, “the good house is sound, beautiful, and commodious.” Join us, as we strive to build good houses…

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