German Village Gazette

Village Notebook

Neighborhood passion, design review go hand in hand

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There have been conversations of late regarding contemporary architecture, the German Village Guidelines, and how they work together in our historic district.

Questions raised have been good ones, and it is important to revisit past ideas to learn how they came about, how they've worked and what we have learned and/or gained from them.

A good starting point might be to note that this discussion isn't new, but rather, has been ongoing for decades.

German Village has always had a "remarkable balance," interested residents, unsure applicants and neighbors willing to share their time making sense of it all.

And for 20-plus years, we have had guidelines that offer advice, rather than mandates.

These factors have kept our historic district flexible, responsive to the times and ready to address what comes next.

My own involvement with both the German Village Society and German Village Commission has changed since leaving Columbus in 2009, but I have remained in touch with both through applicant questions, research projects and general historic preservation discussions.

So, admittedly while I may not feel the pulse of German Village as directly as I used to, I'm still very much involved and so very eager to help keep this conversation moving in the right direction.

With the Society's goal of education in mind, the following is a brief history on how we got our Guidelines and why.

The German Village Commission, like so many other architectural review boards, uses guidelines based upon the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings in reviewing applications for Certificates of Appropriateness.

The German Village Guidelines, approved by City Council in 1989, provide recommendations and, as implied, guidance, when it comes to living in and caring for the historic structures in our historic district.

A committee of diverse and determined individuals drafted the German Village Guidelines more than 20 years ago.

That body represented architects, preservationists and interested Society members and the process required a lot of volunteer hours to work as a committee, with the Commission, with the City Historic Preservation Office and ultimately, with City Council.

The group gave it their all because they knew that having formal guidelines would make our historic district all the more legitimate. And they were right.

Since then, the Guidelines have been revised and amended to reflect changing historic preservation standards and techniques. We are extremely fortunate to have some of the city's strongest Guidelines, most certainly its' oldest.

The decision to become an historic district (recognized both locally by the city of Columbus and nationally by the National Park Service) and draft design guidelines set the tone for the future of German Village while honoring our past.

The guidelines as approved in 1989 and revised in 2008 are relevant today and will be for years to come. What makes guidelines such as ours so successful is that they are, in many ways, fluid.

Goals of the architectural review process are compromise, consideration and compatibility. Just like each commissioner and each German Village property owner, each building in our historic district is different and unique.

A particular guideline might be crystal clear for one structure and clear as mud for another.

Therein lies the true benefit to having an architectural review board -- the conversation that arises from questions.

"Is this appropriate?" "Does this adhere to the Guidelines as approved by city code?" "How will this impact the streetscape, the neighboring property, the historic integrity of the structure?" "What do the guidelines say?"

These are the questions our commissioners ask of themselves when reviewing applications, and for each answer they rely not upon their gut, not solely on their professional experience, but upon the German Village Guidelines.

It is up to applicants to review the guidelines (in book available for review at the Meeting Haus or online at germanvillage.com) and do the same.

Our commission is passionate about doing right by our historic district. German Villagers are no less passionate.

Our job as passionate property owners, preservationists and advocates for our neighborhood is to harness that passion and keep it moving forward.

German Village has been a preservation leader since Day One because we share opinions, we defend the high standard reflected in the German Village Guidelines, and we work together toward common goals.

We don't all have to be on the same page in achieving that goal, but what counts is open dialogue and a willingness to compromise in the spirit of doing our best for our historic district. In that way, we mirror the commission.

If you are passionate about the architectural review process, or if you are simply curious about what's been happening lately, please attend the next German Village Society Historic Preservation Committee meeting at 6 p.m. July 18 in the German Village Meeting Haus.

Whether it's to speak your mind or soak it all in, consider yourself invited this month, and every third Thursday.

Jody Graichen, historic preservation consultant for the German Village Society, submitted the Village Notebook column.

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