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I just moved to German Village, what the heck is a Certificate of Appropriateness?

Living in a designated historic district is a choice homeowners make for a variety of reasons. Some find the perfect home that just happens to be in a district while others seek out homes specifically because they are in a district. They know how the district design review process benefits their investment, lifestyle, and desire to participate in the preservation of historic properties.

In order to retain those attributes of our districts architecture and landscapes that qualify it as significant enough for designation locally and on the National Register of Historic Places, the 233 acres that comprise German Village is protected via city ordinance. That ordinance, among other actions, establishes the German Village Historic District Commission, empowering this seven-member commission with design review for the entire district.

The design review process safeguards each and every property owner from actions that might create a negative impact on a property in the district, an impact that would affect the integrity of the entire district as a whole.

Central to the design review process is the approval of applications for Certificates of Appropriateness (COA’s) by the Commission, and in some cases by administrative staff at the Columbus Historic Preservation Office. This office, to be located at 111 N. Front St. beginning in March of 2018, is the administrative body that oversees all Commissions’ activities, including processing COA applications in preparation for Commission review at each monthly Commission meeting. Columbus has five historic district commissions.

 When do I need a COA?

Great question! German Village is renowned for its strict design guidelines, such having contributed to our nationally acclaimed success as Ohio’s oldest historic district and one of America’s top ten neighborhoods. While maintaining ones home in adherence these guidelines may seem challenging at times, they play a critical role is assisting homeowners in determining what may or may not be acceptable changes to the exterior of their homes prior to submitting an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness. Remember, a Certificate of Appropriateness is required for any exterior change to your home or building. It is also required for landscape changes including tree removal.

For example: Is it time to repaint the trim on your home? This requires a COA. Do you want to change the front door, replacing the old rotted one? This requires a COA.  Do you want to add a storm door to protect your beautiful new front door? This requires a COA. Adding a patio retaining wall? COA needed. The old oak out front is showing signs of age and you want to remove it before it falls on your home? This requires a COA.

Do you want to repair your brick driveway? This requires a COA. Do you want to replace your basement windows with something more secure? This requires a COA. Do you want to tuck-point your brick chimney? This requires a COA. Replace your garage door? Requires a COA. Paint your fence? Yep, COA. Place a ‘For Sale’ sign in your yard? No COA required as it is temporary. Want to hang a permanent sign for your business across the front façade? COA required.

As a general rule, any exterior work you plan to do to your home, including repairs, requires a COA. The Columbus Historic Preservation Office has found that even seemingly small repairs can, once underway, trigger more extensive changes than originally anticipated. This is not new news to anyone who has owned an older home.  If you recall the film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, you understand! The requirement of a COA protects you the owner from an unintended code violation should your project become more invasive than anticipated.

Ok, so what am I allowed to do?

Lucky for you we have guidelines that have been written specifically to assist people like you in determining what is an appropriate treatment for your historic home and what constitutes a big no-no.  The Commissioners use these guidelines in addition to the city code in determining whether or not to award a COA based on your application. If the Commission denies your application to install a forty-foot tall King Gambrinus on your roof, they have to tell you why citing the applicable code in the city ordinance.

While many applications will require full review by the Commission, some applications can be staff approved, meaning approved by administrative staff in the City of Columbus Historic Preservation Office. Staff approval generally requires 7 to 10 business days to issue the certificate. The Historic District Commission meets monthly with application deadlines occurring generally two weeks prior. A staff approval list can be found HERE.

These guidelines are not the result of long nights at the Beck Tavern debating the merits of Flemish Bond. They are based on national standards established by our friends at the Department of the Interior, under which the federal agency known as the National Park Service oversees preservation activities nationwide.

Code Violation? Yikes! What does that mean?

Our city ordinance gives the city the authority to issue a code violation to anyone who changes the exterior of a home in the historic district without first obtaining a COA. Violations are generally reported via the Columbus 311 system. Violations can be reported anonymously, in case you really like your neighbor, just not his dead-of-night fuchsia paint job. Once the city receives a submission, it is reviewed and a determination to issue a code violation, or not, is made.

The recipient of a violation is then given a set period of time to remedy the violation prior to receiving penalties. You may learn more about code violations here.

Heavy-handed? Perhaps.  Beneficial to our community? Yes!

Our continued success as one of the nation’s oldest historic districts relies upon the active participation of each and every property owner in the district. We are not ‘one’ without ‘all’.  Living in a historic district is about community, sharing our passion for architecture and the cultural legacy we are charged with protecting for the period of time we call this place home. Others have worked very hard in order to pass this legacy on to you. In the future, others will assume the very same responsibilities.

At this moment in time, you are the steward of this legacy. It is an honor to have such a responsibility and we hope you embrace and enjoy both the process and the success we all share as German Villagers.


Call the German Village Society Historic Preservation Advocate at 614-221-8888

-Nancy Kotting

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