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Thread: Height of buildings in small towns

  1. #1
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    Kärdla, Estonia
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    Height of buildings in small towns

    I live in a small town in Estonia, which has a population of 4,000. The town has received funding for a small boat harbor (the town is on an island and has a considerable coastline), which is probably is a good idea, as the town is struggling with economic development. Now the town has started planning the area adjacent to the future harbor. Among other things, the town wants to build a 10-story (35 m. high) apartment building in this area. Currently, there is nothing higher than three stories in town. I am dismayed but seem unable to get them to abandon the idea. There is no zoning per se, but the (first) proposed general plan, which was just finished but is not yet approved, sets a maximum height of 12 m. (approx. 3 stories), but now they want to change that to push through the tall building. Any ideas for me to use?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    I live in a little town in the South of USA that is still, after many decades, recovering from the boom and bust of the Cotton Era. We have lots of little, hundred yr old towns that perch at the sides of railroad tracks which used to haul the cotton grown widely to markets in urban centers. Our town has the only three-story building in the county, where generally there is a 35 ft height limit. The 3-story is only occupied at ground level by a part time business, but the local fire department must have, to keep accreditation, a ladder truck to serve our only "skyscraper".

    Such a tall building would stress the local fire service's ability to serve, would it not?

  3. #3
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    merike1

    The fire departments here are state-run, but I will inquire about their ability to respond. Thanks for the idea.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    In this context the long distance views to the building will be important. I would suggest getting someone to do some photo-simulations of what the building would look like from various locations around the town, particularly from all the major roads coming into the town, from a 1/4mile to up to 4 miles away. These photo-simulations will reveal the views that residents of the town will have to live with on a daily basis if the building gets built. You might be able to demonstrate that the building will have a big negative impact on the landscape, or you might find it has very little impact (which depends a lot on the local topography). If the building is very prominent on the town’s skyline you can use this study to determine a more appropriate height or you can insist that the upper storeys have a very high-quality of design (stepbacks, terraces, architectural elements).

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Since you state this is an apartment building, it could then be easy to compare it against what could be accomplished with three-story buildings and ask if it really makes sense to build a ten-story building. Unless this new 10-story building will feature underground parking, often the same densities can be achieved at 3-5 stories with more traditional structures and nicer appearance, at a more economical price per unit, as you can achieve with one ten-story building.

    In my work, we set the heights to work together with the economics of the development in the town. For example, a ten story building under the international building codes would require a different type of construction, elevators, fire suppression systems, etc. that make it hard to develop in smaller towns, as compared to a 3 or 4 story building.

    I don't think a taller building is inappropriate per se - there are examples here, such as Baker City, Oregon which has a historic 10-story hotel despite never having had more than 10,000 population; or Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, which has developed mid-rise (10-12 story) lakefront condos. On the other hand, it seems you find 3 story buildings are more compatible with the urban and natural environment in your area. If a need for density is the issue, it may make sense to go to 4-5 stories which can be built with a traditional type of building.

    I wonder if this building is simply a typical model of state-subsidized housing that has been built in other towns? If so, it is worth asking if people in your town will choose to live in a such a high rise in 10 - 20 years, given their other choices?

  6. #6
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    I think it is hopeless

    I believe this to be a remnant of communism, when different officials built glory monuments to themselves to say "I was here, and I did this." Thanks for all suggestions, but this building does in reality not relate to any need for housing or real estate development. There are at least 30 properties for sale in this small town of 4000, and the town itself owns a number of buildings, which are empty and in bad shape. I have started to understand that the post-communist mind considers it demeaning to fix old buildings. Everything has to be brand spanking new, and the bigger the better. They keep saying that there is nothing to look at, when approaching from the sea, even though there are two historic limestone buildings (in olden days there was another harbor there, and wool was shipped out from it - the limestone buildings were for wool storage) right by the harbor that will be restored. They are really beautiful. I will however check with the fire department to see whether they can deal with a fire in a 10-story building. I think it has to be something technical like that to prevent them from building this skyscraper by the sea.

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