Trying to help folks understand the difference between the German Village Society and the German Village Commission has taken up a lot of my time lately.

Trying to help folks understand the difference between the German Village Society and the German Village Commission has taken up a lot of my time lately.

I'm in the enviable position of being among the first to meet new neighbors, as well as go out into the greater Columbus community to network with officials, affinity-group leaders and our neighboring civic associations.

In those forums, I need to explain how the nonprofit German Village Society's mission is to be a leader in historic preservation and education and that a major piece of that work is to support of the German Village Commission.

But the Society and the Commission are NOT the same, and so I thought I'd dedicate my space this week to explaining the differences.

The German Village Commission was created in 1963 by Columbus City Council after persistent lobbying by the then-brand-new German Village Society.

Columbus City Code Chapters 3116 and 3119 give the Commission authority and responsibility to preserve the architectural integrity of our neighborhood.

It is tasked with defending the historic fabric of every property, as well as reviewing and approving all modifications and new construction.

The commission is concerned with exteriors only. If a property owner wants to tear out an historic fireplace or knock down interior walls in favor of a more open-plan design than a 19th-century German mindset would ever have dreamt, that is between them and their contractor.

The commission gets involved when you want to replace a roof, a window box, a sidewalk or any other exterior feature.

The German Village Society was established in 1960 after a group of neighbors decided to save the neighborhood and its "old world charm."

Under the leadership of Frank Fetch, citizens managed to save most of our historic building stock from demolition, in part, by supporting the creation of the German Village Commission and appropriate zoning codes.

A committee from the Society also worked with the commission to draft the German Village guidelines and paid for its printing with funds from our first Oktoberfest.

The guidelines (which have been modified several times over the years) describe the principals that guide the commission's decisions.

So, as the nonprofit entity interested in preserving a great neighborhood, the Society really gave birth to the commission; and then the city liked the commission model so much it worked with other citizen groups to create several more historic architectural review commissions around the city.

"In general, the differences are very basic: societies are established to be the ears and voice for the neighborhood, and serve as the neighborhood advocates to city government for neighborhood issues they have identified," said Columbus Historic Preservation officer Randy Black, who oversees all of the city's historic commissions.

"The German Village Commission is the regulatory body of volunteers who are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the mayor and City Council to review and approve all exterior changes within the district."

The society facilitates the commission process by opening the Meeting Haus to monthly commission meetings.

All other architectural review district commissions meet downtown, but because we believe in the power of place and the easy involvement of neighbors, the Society has lobbied hard to keep Commission meetings in the Village.

As I myself learn about the differences, I know one of the ways the Society may have confused people is by naming our own in-house consultant the same title as Mr. Black's.

Recently, you may have read that our own Jody Graichen's title changed from Historic Preservation officer to Historic Preservation consultant.

Yes, that somewhat speaks to the fact she now lives in Georgia, but it is also a clarification of her role as an employee of the society who has ONLY the ability to advise property owners but NO regulatory duties.

On the other hand, Mr. Black's colleague, Cristin Moody, is the city-paid staffer tasked primarily to German Village.

It is her role to represent the city and act as secretary of the German Village Commission.

She is authorized to make staff approvals for certain, qualified projects and her recommendations to the seven sitting commissioners are not binding but are highly valued in their decision-making.

But the Society hiring a professional preservationist, to help residents understand the process, answer questions and guide them to the rich resources of our house files, is testament to just how central the German Village Commission's role is to the Society's mission.

The society's mission is historic preservation and education. The society's staff and volunteers are educators and advocates.

The society's interests lie in preserving the fabric of this neighborhood for generations to come.

German Village Commission chairman Jay Panzer puts it this way, "The commission's role is to ensure that all exterior modifications follow the German Village guidelines.

"We do this by meeting publically at least twice a month to review applications for Certificates of Appropriateness, which are required before any exterior project is undertaken in German Village.

"Our goal is to guide the process of change in a way that preserves the historic character of the community," Panzer said.

The two entities have a similar goal but get there in very different ways. If you are contemplating an exterior project, you might want to drop by the Meeting Haus and sit in on a commission hearing. If you believe in historic preservation and want to be more involved with the Society's work, please give me a call or drop me an email and we can talk more.

Shiloh Todorov is the director of the German Village Society.