A dozen luxury townhomes in Cleveland’s Flats are planned at the bottom of the hillside along Carter Road just east of Columbus Road. This view is looking west from the existing Lake Link Trail, toward Columbus Road and the Regional Transit Authority viaduct. The Cuyahoga River is at right, just out of view (Horton Harper). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.
Townhome schematics, hillside wall OK’d
It’s the type of housing development that could not be achieved in Cleveland’s Flats until now. And the proof of that statement rests with the multiple prior attempts at developing this site. While there’s still a ways to go, a big step forward was made on Friday when City Planning Commission’s Design Review Committee approved the construction of luxury housing and a retaining wall along Carter Road.
It’s just 12 townhomes, being built a few steps away from nearly 900 new and under-construction apartments plus a smattering of townhouses valued at up to $1 million. But the challenge to build these dozen townhomes couldn’t have been overcome if not for the momentum from those other developments and the determination of its builders.
Planning commission members approved schematic plans for the first two townhomes and the construction of a costly hillside retaining wall that makes the overall townhome development possible. The retaining wall will make the townhome project expensive to build, but the recent development momentum nearby and the increased value of the land now justifies that expense.
The first two homes will be four stories tall and measure about 2,700 square feet each. They are designed with a light well to bring sunlight into the homes despite their southern exposures having the hillside with its thick vegetation on it. Interior bridges extend across that light well, uniting each half of each house. Planning Commission Design Review Committee Chair Lillian Kuri praised the plans, calling them “really excellent” and “exceptional.”
Site plan for the proposed Carter Road Subdivision, just east of Columbus Road. The two easternmost townhomes, numbers 11 and 12, are proposed to be the first ones built (Horton Harper).
All 12 of the houses will have views of the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail and Cuyahoga River traffic across the street with the downtown skyline beyond. Those views won’t be blocked by future buildings as the development team, organized as Lake Link LLC, owns the land between the trail and the river. That land will be donated to the city.
Lake Link LLC is led by Keith Brown who is also owner of Progressive Urban Real Estate. The general contractor is Civic Builders LLC. Both are from Cleveland. Lake Link owns 10 of the 12 Carter Road Subdivision properties east of Columbus Road.
The two easternmost parcels were sold by Lake Link in late 2022 to future homeowners. Cynthia Ruth Chapman and Wai Wah Sung acquired 0.083 acres for $150,000 in September 2022 while Benjamin J. Page and Bryan L. Adamson paid $200,000 for 0.074 acres next door three months later, Cuyahoga County property records show.
“Some of the commission members who have been around for at least four or five years may remember that there was quite a lot of discussion around this particular area because of the hillside and the stability of the hillside,” said Cleveland Planning Director Joyce Huang.
Cross-section of the townhome site showing the views of the city and the river, how sunlight from the southern exposure can be brought down into the new townhomes and what the retaining wall for supporting an otherwise unstable hillside would look like as it anchors into the ground (AoDK).
“We did a lot of internal investigation within our department and within the mayor’s office of capital projects,” she added. “We believe this project as presented fulfills the design guidelines which there has been a significant amount of work by the city and the applicant for this particular project.”
Not only will the retaining wall stabilize the hillside, it will provide enough space for the townhomes to be built between the hillside and Carter. That narrow strip of land doesn’t permit a driveway off Carter to run behind the townhomes so they can have garages in back and just one or two curb cuts in front. But having front-facing garages, also called front-loaded garages, along with 12 curb cuts and driveways onto Carter doesn’t meet the zoning code requirements.
“It is somewhat unique,” said Dan Shinkle, city planner for the Downtown/Flats area. “It requires a variance for a front-loaded garage due to the lack of depth in the land prior to reaching the hillside which has stability issues.”
The process has been long and arduous — between the city’s geotechnical studies of the hillside to determine what kind of retaining wall would be needed, to the permitting from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, and to the multiple discussions with neighborhood and city planners to determine what zoning variances or changes would be needed. Brown declined to be interviewed for this story, citing delicate discussions that are continuing.
Renderings of the first two townhomes in the Carter Road Subdivision, looking southeast from where the Lake Link Trail crosses Carter, toward Columbus Road (AoDK).
“That’s been going on for two years, I believe,” said August Fluker, vice chair of the planning commission. “You have these homeowners who have actually adjusted their lives because they thought they would be in their homes earlier. So this has been very long and drawn out. These folks have lived through a lot. Unfortunately they didn’t sign up for that.”
“They are tight lots,” said Lucas Staib of Lakewood-based AoDK Architecture, the project’s architect of record. “We feel like we have shown in this sense how 12 nice, single-family homes can fit on these parcels with the allotted 3-foot setbacks on each parcel allowing for 6 feet between each home.”
“When the developer came to us before the client (homebuilders) came on board, we obviously wanted to harness views of the city and we wanted to make sure the Lake Link bike trail was seen as an asset as well. It’s just a fantastic area to be developed,” Staib added.
View of Downtown Cleveland and the Cuyahoga River from the rooftop of one of the Carter Road Subdivision townhomes (AoDK).
“If there was just a way to minimize the curb cuts at all I would advocate for that because this is going to be a heavily traversed area here very soon with the (Irishtown Bend) Park being done in a couple years,” said Donna Grigonis, economic development and real estate director for Tremont West Development Corp. Although the development is in the Flats next to the river, it is actually in Duck Island and thus a part of Tremont.
It isn’t certain if a sidewalk will be added on the south side of Carter, in front of the townhomes. Even more pedestrian, bike and vehicular traffic is due to travel on Carter after The Peninsula and the Silverhills apartments open over the next year or so, adding more than 600 housing units to Scranton Peninsula. That’s just downhill from the Waterford Bluffs which added 241 apartments in October 2022.
Still undetermined is whether Great Lakes Brewing Company will be constructing a production facility on Carter between The Peninsula apartment complex and the new townhomes. If not, some real estate insiders speculated that Great Lakes’ vacant, 10-acre site might instead become a residential or mixed-use development.