Members of the Cleveland Historic Preservation Commission are having second thoughts about their approval of a certificate of appropriateness for a home gymnasium on Centenary Avenue.
The structure was approved for a certificate of appropriateness as the “Brown Residence Accessory Building.”
The purpose of the board is to maintain the look of the downtown historic district. What the commission could do, if anything, to change the impact of the project on the historic neighborhood was discussed at a gathering Tuesday.
Calls from neighbors prompted review of the decision.
“It was a serious error. We have damaged the neighborhood, I feel, and the property values by allowing such a large structure to be built right in a historic residential neighborhood,” commission member Joan Benjamin said.
Benjamin said she had concerns about the height of the gymnasium. The height of the project was listed on initial drawings presented to the commission. However, Benjamin said the number was small and hard to see. The architectural drawings the members reviewed did not give a point of reference by which to compare the size of the proposed structure.
Commission member Steve Scoggins asked if the regulation of the height of buildings in the historic district should be a zoning issue.
Janice Casteel, Cleveland city manager, said the issue is something the city attorney could look into. Scoggins said at this point in construction it is difficult for him to tell if the approved plan is being followed or not.
“The real question is how do we keep this from happening again?” Scoggins stressed.
Doug Caywood, architect for the project and chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, said the plans were presented to the commission in a meeting previous to the one in which the vote was taken. It was during this prior session that mention of the apartment on the second floor in the gymnasium was made. Caywood was not present at the meeting when the project was approved. He said if he had been, he would not have been able to vote anyway.
Benjamin said since there was not an architect present the preservation commission members had not really known what to ask when the presentation was made.
This issue led to Caywood asking Casteel if provisions could be made for such instances. He said it was important to have someone with architectural knowledge present and able to vote at the meetings.
Casteel said an alternate for his position could be appointed.
Benjamin also said the plans had not listed an apartment in the project.
“There were several things that we were not made aware of,” Benjamin said.
Caywood said stairs to the upper level apartment were shown on the original drawings. He said the area was designed to be used by students who help take care of the Browns’ children.
Scoggins said the Preservation Commission did not have oversight over the interior of the building or its use.
The apartment area did not change the outside look of the building from what had been approved in the original plans. However, Caywood pointed out that a T-shaped section had been added to make the structure look more like a house. Concerns about whether an apartment could be constructed in an accessory building would have been a permitting issue, Caywood said. He said the apartment was allowable because a rented structure was on the property previously.
Concerns were also voiced about the building’s capacity for more than 200 people. Concerns were mentioned about parking if the gymnasium was used for large family events.
Caywood said the capacity listed for the building is based on space and on its proposed use. He said his was included for fire safety purposes.
The commission asked city staff to research if the zoning ordinances could be changed to limit the size and maximum capacity of accessory buildings. Concerns that the approved plan was not being followed were also expressed at Tuesday’s meeting.
Benjamin said when she went out to look at the project it did not seem to be what the commission had approved. Rather, it seemed “bigger and taller.” She stressed the approved architectural drawings had siding from top to bottom. Currently siding can only be seen on the upper portion of the structure, while the rest appears to be concrete blocks, she said.
A letter will be sent to property owners Matthew and Tara Brown asking if siding will be added to the rest of the walls.
Casteel said she would ask city attorney John Kimball what could be done if the Browns are not planning to add siding to the remainder of the building.
Resident Cindy Finnell expressed concern the project may lead to increased flooding problems in the area.
“In my opinion, the design on the outside ... I don’t think it goes with the area,” Finnell added. “To me it’s a modern-looking building.”
“I am very concerned about the future,” resident Barbara Burns said, commenting that she agrees the structure negatively affects property values. She said when construction began it did not seem like it would be so large.
“I wonder if we should have ever considered a gym in the first place. ... This is a residential area of historic value,” Benjamin said.
Caywood said residential gyms have become increasingly popular in the past few years. Benjamin said the Preservation Commission does not have a policing arm.
City planner Corey Divel said what was approved in the certificate of appropriateness is given to building inspectors when they go out to the site.
Scoggins suggested developing a checklist that inspectors or Divel could use to check the structure against what the commission approved.