The team at Severyn Development has used the last half year well. After their initial proposal for a vacant lot at Jersey and 14th was widely panned by the community last summer, they went back to the drawing board, as we posted earlier this month. After hearing what the community didn’t want, they held a follow-up meeting that was not so much a charrette as an extended listening session. What they heard was that there was lots of room for improvement in both design and materials. Above all, street-facing garages were a non-starter. And cutting back on the number of units would make for higher quality and less shoehorning.
The new design, now unveiled, shows the developers listened. It also provided a good example of how a developer can put together a better project by engaging the community – a pragmatic argument for doing more of that, please.
The new design cuts back the number of units from six to five, while still nicely filling out the site. It puts the garages in the rear, where they belong. It takes advantage of the topography of the lot to provide a common front porch area slightly elevated and set back from the sidewalk. It smartly uses the height allowed under Green Code to provide twelve-foot ceilings, with indoor living space spread over three floors. Each unit also includes a roof deck with penthouse. Floor space overall is a generous 2,100 square feet.
If the configuration seems familiar to you, that may be because it takes a page from the infill project now underway at 197 West Utica Street – exactly as some of our commenters suggested. One of the Severyn brothers told me that he likes the way that project creates density vertically rather than horizontally with a traditional townhouse configuration. The brothers aren’t fans of flats, where residents find themselves with someone living above or below them – or both. But the connection between the two projects is even stronger than someone taking a shine to the design: Severyn’s new architectural team, Studio T3, also worked on the West Utica project.
With 2,100 square foot units, at one of Buffalo’s prime urban locations, this project is conceived with an eye on upper-income buyers. Interest has been especially strong among empty-nesters or those with college-age children who are away much of the time. “Say, a family whose kids are in college or have moved away, and they no longer want to maintain a 3,000 square-foot home in East Amherst,” one of the developers told me. Walkability, proximity, and environment have all been driving interest from potential buyers.
Potential buyers will also be attracted by the thoughtful design work that Severyn and Sudio T3 have done. The penthouses, for example, will include skylights that also light the entire front staircase in conjunction with the narrow, arrow-loupe windows. On the roof decks, which buyers can also turn into roof gardens, the penthouses will provide privacy screening. The connected porches will provide a place for residents to meet their neighbors from the both the development and the surrounding community. Also adding eyes on the street will be a small “Juliet” balcony on the third floor of each residence. Automatic exterior lighting will welcome residents home after dark, as well as make that stretch of street much nicer to stroll at night.
The developers told me that flexibility is an important design theme here. In each residence several spaces, such as the front porch, the roof deck, the fireplace, or the kitchen can function as primary living spaces depending on the occasion, weather, or even season. The developers told me that when they were growing up, their family would shift their primary gathering space – including furniture – twice a year between the front porch and an interior room with a fireplace. The master bathrooms will include stand-alone tubs – a feature the developers say is much in demand lately – but in flexible, enclosed spaces that also include showers. And the kitchen islands are designed to meet most day-to-day food preparation and dining needs.
To best think through how all the spaces would work together, but with no completed building of similar configuration available in Buffalo, one of the developers stayed in an Airbnb home with the closest configuration he could find – in Denver.
So buyers should like these townhomes, but what about folks in the neighborhood? Because weather kept turnout low yesterday, there wasn’t a good cross section of neighbors represented, but I think there is a good chance they will accept it. This is a substantially better project than the one that was shown in the summer.
One resident – an architect himself – raised questions about some details, such as no shelter for the front porch. Is that necessary? Maybe not – the front porches will be used mainly in excellent weather anyway, and adding an element could unnecessarily clutter an elegant design. But another detail discussed is, I think, essential to making the project work: materials and finishes. Since this project is an unabashedly modern design set in a neighborhood of all Victorian homes, it will stand out and naturally attract a great deal of scrutiny. The materials and finishes have to be right, and have to work well together – and you can’t assure that just by applying color and texture in a 3-D model. The developers committed to bringing samples to a second community meeting.
Another thing the developers should look into, given that construction will be slab-on-grade and the site passed its soil testing with flying colors, is geothermal.
In a larger sense, if this project goes ahead in this configuration and is successful, it should boost interest in the 197 West Utica model for infill. This model seems like a good one for adding infill density with the flexibility to be deployed either perpendicular to or parallel to the street, and adapted to site size by adding and subtracting units. If this project is popular with buyers and embraced by the neighborhood, it could also boost interest in other infill nearby. The parking lot across the street from Kleinhans Music Hall comes to mind, but the economics would have to allow the project to include underground parking to retain the parking capacity that Kleinhans depends on.
With buy-in from the neighborhood, final designs, and approvals in place, this project could soon add residents and an element of elegant, modern design to the neighborhood.
See the photo gallery below for renderings, elevations, floor plans, kitchen and bath details, and a site plan.