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Home Made from Shipping Containers Gets OK from Covington Board

Covington's Westside neighborhood will be the site of the city's first home made from shipping containers.

The Urban Design Review Board (UDRB) gave the unanimous okay to developers Jerod Theobald and Justin Rumao to construct the house made from two 40-ft. shipping containers on the 300 block of Orchard Street. Theobald, managing editor of The River City News, and his fiancee will reside in the home.

"This is an up-and-coming neighborhood thanks to the efforts of a lot of people," Theobald said, while presenting his home to the UDRB and pointing out unique features such as its use of recycled materials, rooftop garden, and a floating deck in the front. He argued that the project, which was not without criticism, would boast a contemporary, energy-efficient design and would feature modern finishes while improving the value of the currently vacant lot. Also, the container home would generate buzz for the neighborhood and the city, he said.

While such a project is unique to Northern Kentucky, there are examples of the national trend being implemented in Lexington and Elizabethtown.

City of Covington Historic Preservation Officer Emily Ahouse said that the design of the home, unique as it is, manages to fit the criteria set forth in a development plan for the neighborhood which aimed to enhance pedestrian access and maintain conformity among building styles. 

"(The development plan) stipulates that intent behind the utilization of design guidelines is to promote compatibility with design elements in the area: long, narrow buildings, minimal setbacks, and buildings of simple form and character," Ahouse said. "The proposed shipping container respects each of these." She noted that the staff recommendation to approve the project would not set a precedent for such developments in historic preservation overlay zones. Orchard Street is in no such zone.

The Westside of Covington has seen a tremendous revitalization in recent years, driven mostly by housing renovations conducted by the Center for Great Neighborhoods, including Orchard Street's Shotgun Row, the reimagination of a half dozen historic shotgun houses into a residential destination for creatives and empty-nesters. Shotgun Row was noted by Ahouse as a similar development in design and style to the container project.

One Shotgun Row resident spoke at City Hall during the UDRB meeting and said that her neighbors all support the container home project. "I think it would generate buzz," Melanie Goebel said.

Neighbor Fritz Kuhlman spoke against the development. An architect and real estate agent, Kuhlman took exception to the materials being used and argued that in his role on the city's code enforcement board that he has cited residents for misuse of shipping containers. "They basically are considered by the code board as not a positive contribution to the community," he said. "However, this one is going to have someone living in it, so that's a little different."

Kuhlman argued that the container home is much smaller than its surrounding houses and does not face the street in a similar manner. "We feel it's not really in the character of the neighborhood," he said, adding that he believes the neighborhood is better suited for projects that would cost two to five times the price tag to develop the container home.

Now that the project has unanimous approval to proceed, Theobald and Rumao will pursue financing in March and will seek contractors in April. In May, the containers will be modified off site. June through October, the container home will be constructed on site. In November, the developers expect to complete landscaping and to have a final inspection before ultimately having a move-in date and open house celebration in December.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: Rendering of container home on Orchard Street (provided)