The Pros and Cons of Infill Real Estate Development

The growing trend of luxury infill developments is changing the face of the city’s hottest neighborhoods—whether they like it or not.

Over-the-Rhine isn’t the only corner of Cincinnati basking in a redevelopment renaissance. The walkable, business-lined squares of first-ring east side neighborhoods like Mt. Lookout, Oakley, and East Walnut Hills have been en vogue for some time now, but as available housing stock has dwindled, interest has remained steady. Fueled by baby boomers looking to right-size and millennials with growing pockets, the demand has triggered a surge in the supply of “luxury infill developments”—real estate developers and investors wedging brand-new high-end homes among a neighborhood’s more established (read: older) abodes.

Illustration by Muti

Take Hyde Park’s Grandin View, a 16-acre development at the confluence of Grandin and Edwards. It includes two historic homes (the former Corbett and Barrett estates) and 12 half-acre-plus single-family lots. In a neighborhood that’s been pretty much built-out since modernists Carl Strauss and Ray Roush tackled its hillsides in the 1960s, the development is distinct because it involves no teardowns, instead making use of never-developed land. The plan was implemented by Grandin View LLC, which already held the Barrett family’s 1906 limestone castle-style house and the accompanying 12 acres when it purchased the neighboring estate of late philanthropist Patricia Corbett in 2015, a sprawling Frank Lloyd Wright protégé–designed ranch sitting on six acres.

“John [Barrett]’s father’s idea was always to develop the property so others could enjoy the beautiful setting,” says Julie K. Back, the Sibcy Cline agent who holds listings on all 12 parcels and both estates. At press time, the Corbett home’s sale was pending (asking price: $2.6 million); seven of the 12 lots, ranging from $525,000 to $900,000, were also under contract. (To be clear, those amounts don’t include the cost of building a home; the buyers are simply paying for the land.) “We’re in A-plus territory,” says Back. “River views, woods, and the best neighborhood in the city.”

Hyde Park is hardly alone. Five new single-family homes and townhomes on Cleinview Avenue in East Walnut Hills, just a couple of blocks from DeSales Corner, are priced between $475,000 and $637,677; and the “2940 At The Square” development is well underway on Markbreit Avenue at the edge of Oakley Square, with two of the four forthcoming single-family townhomes already active on the market for just shy of $700,000.

The allure of these structures is obvious—a brand-new house, without the hassles of renovation—but it’s not all cork-popping and tax abatements. Infill development can become contentious, in part because of the inherent noise and traffic the construction requires, but also because of the aesthetic impact. “There’s some possibility that what goes up is not going to be consistent, especially stylistically, with what was up before,” says Andy Scarpitti, a Hyde Park resident and president of the neighborhood council. Even more concerning to neighbors, he says, are developments where one older, preexisting house is torn down and replaced with multiple new ones, which happened last May with a 91-year-old Mt. Lookout home on Herschel Avenue near Kilgour School. “Not only are you losing character,” says Scarpitti, “you’re starting to stress the infrastructure and changing the dynamic of the community itself.”

Increased stress on existing infrastructure is arguably the biggest (and least-discussed) issue with infill development. Douglas Hinger, president of Traditions Building Group, which is handling the Cleinview Avenue project, says the city’s sewer system is basically “from the 1800s,” evidenced by many a flooded basement after last August’s hundred-year rain storm. The Grandin View Development has its own, brand-new sewer system, and the city asked Hinger to install a new section to the water main in a previous O’Bryonville development he worked on—but eventually, the new line will always tie back into the over-taxed, outdated, existing one.

Hinger, for one, says he’s pleased overall with the way the city operates and has grown its zoning and planning departments, but Scarpitti worries that city officials too often allow new developments to cut corners. “There is a zoning code and it’s not always followed,” says Scarpitti, who’s seen questionable “waivers and variances issued” on infill projects thanks to the persistence and clout of some developers’ attorneys. “Those are what we’re most concerned about,” he notes, “because once the exception is made, it is frequently cited as precedent to make future changes.”

The changes are likely to continue, warts and all. Real estate markets are still driven by the same tried-and-true adage—“location, location, location,” says Back—and right now, it’s those established, walkable, city-adjacent neighborhoods that are in high demand. The home you’re looking for may not be there, but if you’re willing to pay for it, someone will find a way to build it.

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