Affordable apartments planned at RTA station

Aerial view and rendering of proposed transit oriented development at the West Boulevard-Cudell RTA Red Line rail station.

This is a conceptual rendering of a proposed transit-oriented development involving three sites at the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s West Boulevard-Cudell Red Line rail station. The site that Flaherty & Collins seeks to develop with affordable apartments is at far-right. While it will likely look different than this, it may be of similar height and scale (AECOM). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM

Development could help realize 2017 vision

An Indianapolis-based real estate developer is seeking to build affordable apartments just west of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s (GCRTA) West Boulevard-Cudell rapid transit station on land owned by the transit authority. Today, the GCRTA Board approved giving that developer, Flaherty & Collins LLC, an option to purchase the land for the development of 60 to 80 apartments. The option, priced at $5,000, gives the developer site control so it can nail down financing and city approvals over the next year. If the developer needs more time, RTA can extend the option for another year for another $5,000.

The property is located across the street from the Chicle apartments and townhomes in the 10300 block of Detroit Avenue, just west of the underpass of the busy Norfolk Southern railroad and within the curving GCRTA Red Line tracks. GCRTA officials say they have marketed the property for sale or lease since 2016 but the site, located next to the Red Line rail station, has been unused for decades. From 1955 to 1958, the Red Line ran only to the West 117th-Madison station, and the most westerly park-and-ride station was at West Boulevard. The land was used as overflow parking capacity back then, GCRTA officials said.

The Federal Transit Administration encourages transit agencies like GCRTA to dispose of surplus property and to promote Transit Oriented Development (TOD) next to transit stops to enhance transit system access and ridership. According to GCRTA documents, a potential sale price has yet to be negotiated but Cuyahoga County has appraised the vacant, 1.37-acre property for tax purposes at $239,000 from 2006-2017 but since reduced it to $83,700. As a governmental agency, GCRTA pays no property taxes on the land. A sale would put the property back on the tax rolls although a lease would reduce the cost of operating the building and making it more affordable to renters.

Robert Fleig, GCRTA public information officer, directed questions about the project to the agency’s publicly available planning documents and summaries.

“GCRTA set the option price after a review of current option fee market pricing for this type of transaction, size of the parcel and the proposed option term,” according to a summary by GCRTA’s programming and planning staff. “During the initial option period, (Flaherty & Collins) will prepare and apply for project financing to the State of Ohio to secure tax credit financing to develop the TOD project. As a requirement for the financing submittal, (Flaherty & Collins) will need to demonstrate site control of the parcel. An option agreement with GCRTA will satisfy this financing application requirement.”

“This project is in very preliminary stages and there is no information to share at this time,” said Brian Moore, vice president of marketing and communications at Flaherty & Collins.

Map of the proposed purchase by Flaherty & Collins at Cleveland RTA's rail station at West Blvd-Cudell.

Developer Flaherty & Collins is seeking to acquire the property outlined in red from the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority so it can construct a building with affordable apartments. Without regrading, driveway access to that site is on GCRTA-owned land that is not part of the potential sale and may require an easement from the transit authority (MyPlace.CuyahogaCounty.us).

No design concepts are publicly available yet for this proposed development. Typically a 60- to 80-unit apartment building would average about 60,000 to 90,000 square feet with typical residential floorplates of roughly 15,000 square feet. That could mean a building four to six stories tall, assuming there are no ground-floor uses such as retail, cafes or community services that could bump the height up by another story. The size of the property also has plenty of room for a 100-plus-space surface parking lot next to or behind the apartment building.

Adam Stalder, executive director of the Northwest Neighborhoods community development corporation, cautioned that the project is still in the very early stages of development. Flaherty & Collins will be seeking a highly competitive 9 percent Low-Income Housing Tax Credit from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency next February, he said. However he said it is unlikely the building will have ground-floor mixed uses given that it is on the other side of the railroad tracks from the GCRTA station and located on land slightly above Detroit Avenue.

“The idea of affordable housing near transit is something we support, similar to our Aspen Place development at the West 65th station,” Stalder said. “We’re excited about it because there’s not a whole lot of affordable housing in the area.”

GCRTA’s marketing of this property began as the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) started developing conceptual ideas for TOD at several marketable transit stops including the West Boulevard station. Those concepts also included a marketing study and were developed in 2017 at the request of NOACA by global transportation consulting firm AECOM which has an office in Cleveland. That marketing study showed a net demand of approximately 6,300 housing units between 2016 and 2025 is estimated for a market area within a 10-minute drive of the West Boulevard-Cudell station.

“If the West Boulevard-Cudell station area captured just 3 percent of this demand, which is less than its share of the 10-minute drive population, it would secure about 190 units,” AECOM’s marketing team estimated.

Looking east on Detroit Avenue in this August 2022 view, the property Flaherty & Collins is seeking to develop with affordable apartments is at left, just beyond the guardrail for the overpass of the curving Red Line rapid transit tracks. The West Boulevard-Cudell station is beyond the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge in the background. At right is the Chicle Apartments (Google).

Furthermore, about 21,000 square feet of unmet retail demand was identified within the half-mile station area. And office demand was estimated at 443,000 square feet for professional, scientific and technical services, plus 384,000 square feet for health care and social assistance. While that was estimated before the pandemic and the growth of remote-working, the health care and social assistance demand probably was unaffected.

“It is highly likely that new office space will need to be constructed to meet the net new demand by 2025, a portion of which could be constructed in the half-mile station area,” AECOM staff noted.

Another part of that plan was to calm traffic in the vicinity of the rail station. A wide Detroit Avenue past the station was designed to move as many cars as quickly as possible, with little regard for pedestrians, before Interstate 90 was built and when the rail station was intended as a park-and-ride. The Westown Community Development Corp. has wanted to encourage development around the station by narrowing the roadways, changing the angles of their intersections to slow traffic, and improving the streetscape to make it more pedestrian friendly.

The city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are seeking to promote TOD and support decades of investment in GCRTA’s multi-billion-dollar rail and bus rapid transit routes through updates to zoning and public incentives. Numerous market-rate and affordable housing developments with ground-floor mixed uses are popping up around rail and bus transit stops in Cuyahoga County. However, the development locations are limited to a few key neighborhoods and stations. The West Boulevard-Cudell station is among those that have been overlooked by developers until now.

Flaherty & Collins is developing The Ascent at Top of the Hill, an $83 million mixed-use, market-rate development at the top of Cedar Hill in Cleveland Heights. Portions of the development have already opened to tenants. The same firm will also develop another underutilized, city-owned property in Cleveland Heights with a $52 million mixed-use development located in the Cedar-Lee-Meadowbrook neighborhood. Unlike the West Boulevard-Cudell station development, the Cedar-Lee-Meadowbrook project will also be market-rate.

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