Suddenly 'hot' again, Norwood strives to maintain its community character

Leaders seek walkability, uniformity within growth

NORWOOD, Ohio -- Trying to get ahead of a potential real estate boom, Norwood officials are developing the first residential design guidelines in the city's 129-year history.

Norwood has a building code that requires specific building materials and structural guidelines -- as well as corporate design guidelines approved in 2013 -- that aim to preserve the city's historic character. Businesses should be located on sidewalks with parking in the back, for instance.

"It's a 19th century city," Chris Brown, Norwood Planning Commission member and former city law director, said. "There's walkability, and we wanted to promote that feeling."

Keeping that feeling in Norwood's neighborhoods is what the residential design guidelines will do, Brown said. They're being based on standards used in Kansas City -- starting with an existing set of standards saves staff time and money for the city, which is in a fiscal emergency -- and will make sure that any new homes built fit into neighborhoods of 100-year-old homes. A ranch house won't work on a street full of two- and three-story homes; modernist architecture won't sit next to a turreted Victorian.

New home construction was nonexistent when the city developed the corporate design guidelines, which were based on standards used in Columbus, Brown said.

A single-family home (far right) is being built on Grove Avenue, the first new single-family residential construction to happen in Norwood in 20 years.

That's not the case any longer. A single-family home is being built on Grove Avenue. The home is the first new single-family residential construction to happen in Norwood in 20 years.

Since the early 1990s, the only residential construction to happen within the city was apartment buildings at Rookwood and University Station.

But now, along with the Grove Avenue home, a developer has proposed transforming four historic buildings in the center of Norwood into more than 100 luxury condominiums.

The Legacy Lofts on Courtland will turn the former Allison Street school buildings and two buildings that previously housed the Norwood Baptist Church into a four-building condominium complex. Developer Scott Call said he bought the buildings, in part, because of Norwood's great commuting location -- 10 minutes from downtown, with the Norwood Lateral and easy access to interstates 71 and 75.

"And Norwood is trying to build its business base," Call said. "You've got CDK Global, Paycor -- that's where we see our target market: people who want to walk to work, to have no commute," Call said.

Call plans to keep the buildings' historic details and has won approval from the planning commission for the project. Assuming City Council follows suit, Call hopes to start construction on the first building, The Kensington, this fall and have people moving in by spring.

In approving the Legacy Lofts project, Brown said the city couldn't rely on every developer to preserve the historic character of the city as Call plans to do. And relying on single owners to preserve historic homes and neighborhoods without guidance can prove difficult.

Madeira, Blue Ash, Hyde Park and other communities around the region have been dealing with people tearing down homes to make way for new ones. Although some communities, like Blue Ash, welcome the chance to improve their housing stock, others, including Hyde Park and Madeira, have struggled with new homes that don't fit into old neighborhoods.

Across Greater Cincinnati, the average home price was $222,216 in June, according to the latest report from the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors. The average price is up nearly 5 percent from the previous year and represents, for the 13th consecutive month, a record high.

Meanwhile, home inventory is down across the region.

"It's only a matter of time," Brown said. "It'd be foolish to say that what's happening in Oakley and Hyde Park won't reach Norwood."

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