The German Village Society and Columbia Gas of Ohio have reached a settlement about the relocation of gas meters in the historic district, ending a months-long public dispute.

The agreement, announced Sept. 29, is being hailed as a win for both sides and sets an important preservation standard, representatives from the the society and the public utility said.

"We see this as a partnership going forward," said Kelli Nowinsky, spokeswoman for Columbia Gas.

The contract still must be approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, according to Columbia Gas.

The company has agreed that any future placement of gas meters would be to the rear of properties if possible and that it would work with the society on any relocation, the agreement states.

Furthermore, Columbia Gas will paint meters and provide landscaping to improve aesthetics, as requested by customers, according to the agreement.

The dispute centered on Columbia's relocation of meters from the interior to the exterior of properties, sometimes just feet from the sidewalk or roadway, during its current project in the northwest portion of the neighborhood.

Society officials argued that was a slap at the neighborhood's historic integrity and such a move was dangerous, putting the meters in harm's way.

Columbia still maintains that putting the meters outside is safe and more convenient for the company and customers.

Nevertheless, moving the meters to the front of properties now will be a last resort, Nowinski said.

Shiloh Todorov, executive director of the German Village Society, said the covenant is not perfect, because the organization did not want the meters outside, but it is a "great solution."

"We get to go out and be part of the conversation," Todorov said.

Columbia Gas also has agreed to help the society with its ongoing brick sidewalk-repair program, Todorov said.

The sidewalk work would go beyond what Columbia Gas would be required to restore or upgrade as part of its construction efforts, she said. A firm financial figure for the sidewalk program has not been discussed, she said.

Columbia Gas is wrapping up a project affecting 112 residential and business customers.

The settlement comes less than two months before the two sides were to meet in a hearing before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Todorov said the society has spent $10,000 to hire an attorney to represent it in the proceedings. She said she would soon disclose the full amount the society has paid on the matter.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

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