//Upstairs Van Aken

Upstairs Van Aken

Shaker’s newest housing option consists of 103 apartment units at the Van Aken District. The Blue Line Rapid, shopping, and dining options are just steps away.

By Sharon Holbrook

Artist rendering of the Van Aken District apartment building

They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot. – Joni Mitchell

Is it possible to take out a parking lot, and put up a paradise? Shaker Heights is about to find out. Gone are the strip mall and its yawning expanse of asphalt at the intersections of Van Aken Boulevard, and Farnsleigh and Warrensville Center roads. In its place and on the way to completion are five acres of cutting-edge retail, professional, and community space. And the latest addition to Shaker’s housing stock – Upstairs Van Aken.

Residents of Shaker Heights love its walkability. Depending on exactly where you live in the City, you can enjoy a pleasant walk to any number of destinations: parks, restaurants, shops, services, and rapid transit. But what if you didn’t even need to walk somewhere? What if it were all just downstairs, and you could walk out your front door into the heart of Shaker’s new downtown?

That’s what Upstairs Van Aken is set to provide later this year.

A downtown in Shaker Heights? It’s true that we’ve never really had one. Shaker simply wasn’t built that way. Our residential streets are intertwined and lead mostly to each other rather than to any particular commercial or community center.

The Van Sweringen brothers, master planners of the city, wanted to create a treelined escape away from the urban pulse. And so they did, but here’s the thing: Can’t we have our trees and the energy of an urban center? The Van Aken District says, emphatically, that the answer is yes.

A New Kind of Housing

Artist rendering of the exterior of the Van Aken District apartment building

Over the last several years, Shaker residents have become accustomed to the ongoing construction bustle at the Van Aken site – careful planning and construction of new utilities and streets have meant years of work – but the shape of the final product can still appear a bit mysterious to the average Shakerite.

I recently met with Jason Russell, neighborhood general manager of the Van Aken District, who walked me through what it will be like to live in the District. Russell works for RMS Corporation, which is redeveloping the heart of the Van Aken District in cooperation with the City.

Upstairs Van Aken is nearing completion. That’s the five-story building that marks the southwestern edge of the redevelopment. Th e rear of the apartment building – which will have 103 units – faces the Blue Line Rapid for easy access to a 26-minute train ride to downtown Cleveland, and also allows for a short stroll to the existing shops across the street on Chagrin Boulevard.

Just outside the front door of Upstairs is the so-called “Living Room” of the Van Aken District – a park to gather, eat, and play. Among 20-foot trees that will be planted, the plaza will feature café seating for restaurants, access to retail storefronts and a Market Hall (think: coffee shop vibe with multiple vendors and retailers), and a natural play-and-gathering area whose style Russell compares to that of the playscape at Horseshoe Lake Park. Regular events – from yoga in the park to festivals – will take place in the Living Room.

The “living room” will feature cafe seating for restaurants, access to retail shopping, a Market Hall with vendors and retailers, and a natural play-and-gathering area.

What’s Upstairs?

When residents have had enough of the buzz in the Living Room, home is just steps away. That home might be a one-bedroom, two-bedroom, or penthouse suite. A variety of layouts is available (view sample layouts below), and prices vary accordingly, but plan on prices starting at $2 per square foot, says Russell. Model units will be ready to tour in May, and occupancy available in mid-August.

“There are smaller units that would be ideal for the young professional or resident,” Russell says, “but also some of the larger units might be for folks who own larger houses in Shaker but are looking to downsize and may be tired of maintaining a century-old house.”

Everything Upstairs, of course, will be brand-new. Finishes will range from the Standard Finish up to the Penthouse Finish – which simply means some variations in cabinet design, cabinet material, countertop material, appliance packages, and flooring. All the kitchens will be sleek and modern. Each apartment will have en suite laundry, so never mind hauling hampers down to the basement and back.

Apartment living doesn’t mean giving up summer evenings outside. Penthouses include their own private terraces and, in addition, all residents have access to a shared rooftop terrace, which will be equipped with grills and furniture for lounging and dining. A 750-square-foot indoor amenity room on the rooftop level can be reserved by residents for private use, too. Residents also will have use of a fitness facility, accessible through a private entrance. The facility will be adjacent to GrooveRyde, a District tenant that will offer residents complimentary group exercise courses.

An amenity room on the rooftop level can be reserved by residents for private use.

Your cat or dog can move to the District, as well. A small dog-walking area just behind the building means there’s an option for those January nights when you just can’t bear to take Fido on that long walk he loves.

All units are rental only, and that means the residents will not be responsible for maintenance and property taxes. Of course, there are still utilities – residents pay their own electric bills, and water is billed out pro rata depending on the square footage of each unit. For an additional monthly fee, residents can rent additional storage space or an indoor parking space. (Outdoor parking is also available at no
extra cost.)

Some residents may find that they don’t even need a car at the District. “Tenants may not have a vehicle,” says Russell, “because of the proximity of public transit and everything that’s available – not just in our development but in the larger Van Aken area.”

Connected to Everything

Openness and connection are key parts of the Van Aken District vision. That means tenants have ample access to community assets outside the District, and that the community is invited into the District.

For apartment residents, says Russell, “It’s really well-located, whether you’re going urban or suburban. You can get on I-271 in fi ve minutes, or you can head downtown. We’re kind of in that sweet spot.”

RMS and the City are also working to improve pedestrian and cycling connections between the District and surrounding areas. Shaker is undertaking a significant improvement to the Farnsleigh streetscape between Van Aken and Warrensville with a 10-foot path on the north side of the road as well as lighting and landscaping on both north and south sides. In 2019, the east side of Warrensville from the post office to Thornton Park will be similarly improved.

Just as pedestrians are welcomed with these improvements, the layout also invites cars. This is not, Russell emphasizes, an isolated shopping center with two entrances. “We want to create a place that feels public, like a true downtown.” Indeed, three new public streets will run right through the District – Tuttle, Meade, and Walker roads. And, yes, there is a garage with 325 free parking spaces for visitors, as well as street parking.

Regular programming at the District will keep residents in the heart of the action, and also attract shoppers, diners, and revelers from around the area. Once in a while, the whole District could even be set up for a large event with stages and closure of the new through-roads, but programming will usually be smaller-scale and frequent. Russell says that the District “will likely have an event every weekend. Sometimes it’ll be as simple as just yoga on Sundays in the park, and other times it’ll be a bigger event, such as an art festival, that will close down a street.”

The District might even someday host a community block party as a kickoff or finale to the summer block party season.

“Shaker is such a community-focused place dedicated to uniting people, and we want to continue that here,” says Russell. “We’re creating a commercial area to bring people together, so it’s not just, say, the Fernway neighborhood getting together. The City of Shaker Heights will have a common gathering place.”

“There’s an opportunity to be in an urban context without the crazy hustle and bustle of downtown,” Russell says. “We all love downtown Cleveland, but there’s something to be said about being in an urban area that you’re comfortable in – at home with.” Perhaps that home is at the Van Aken District.

Originally published in Shaker Life, Spring 2018.