Many residents throughout the Village have questioned why we are objecting so strongly to the relocation of gas meters in the district from their current interior location to the exterior of buildings. Some believe it is an aesthetic objection and that we simply think they are ugly and therefore should be hidden from view. Some residents also feel that meters on the sides of buildings are ok, stating that they are not on the front of my house so…who cares?
If the issue were one limited to aesthetics, we would not be going to such great lengths to convince both Columbia Gas and the PUCO to retain meters indoors. The issue runs far deeper than that, involving federal authority going all the way back to 1966.
Geek Alert: you are about to learn more than you ever wanted to know about a thing called ‘Adverse Effect’
In a district such as German Village we are cognizant of the significant investment made by both home and business owners who have chosen to live here. By purchasing property within the district, owners commit to being a part of preserving a district recognized nationally as significant to the American experience.
Historic districts nationally have proven to sustain property values sometimes as high as 135% greater than similar properties located outside of designated historic districts. The fact that every single owner must obtain permission for any and ALL exterior changes to their building is a critical factor in retaining what we refer to as a positive historic preservation-based economy.
It is precisely because of this strict conformance to nationally established guidelines that property values within the district hold steady, that tourism dollars continue to flow into the district, that visitors and owners experience an authentic interpretation of the historically significant aspects of the district, and that both residents and visitors experience a higher quality of life when interacting with the cultural asset that is German Village.
The guidelines set for design control in German Village are the result of years of work by professionals in the field both locally and nationally.
So, what does this have to do with gas meters you ask? It is simple: Public utility companies such as Columbia Gas of Ohio are the only entities that get a pass when it comes to obtaining permission to make a change to the exterior of a building within the district.
Further, when Columbia Gas places a gas meter and associated equipment on the exterior of a building, it creates what is referred to as an ‘adverse effect’ by the Historic Preservation Advisory Council (ACHP) an independent federal agency established via the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966. The ACHP is ‘the only entity with the legal responsibility to encourage federal agencies to factor historic preservation into federal project requirements. As directed by the National Historic Preservation Act, the ACHP serves as the primary federal policy advisor to the President and Congress; recommends administrative and legislative improvements for protecting our nation’s heritage; advocates full consideration of historic values in federal decision making; and reviews federal programs and policies to promote effectiveness coordination, and consistency with national preservation policies.’
The guidelines referenced by the Advisory Council when considering the treatment of historic properties are called the Secretary of the Interiors Standards for Rehabilitation.
This type of action on behalf of Columbia Gas of Ohio is a serious violation of the Secretary of the Interiors Standards for Rehabilitation. These Standards are set by the National Park Service as the operating guidelines to be used when determining the preservation and maintenance of properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The German Village Historic District has been listed since 1974.
So serious is such a violation that when federal funds are involved in a project that results in an adverse effect on a property eligible or listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the State Historic Preservation Office has the legal authority to stop the project in its tracks. THAT is how serious such an action is!
What constitutes an adverse effect? According to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, an ‘adverse effect’ is found “when an undertaking may alter, directly or indirectly, any of the characteristics of a historic property for inclusion in the National Register in a manner that would diminish the integrity of the property’s location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, or association.”
“Consideration shall be given to all qualifying characteristics of a historic property, including those that may have been identified subsequent to the original evaluation of the property’s eligibility for the National Register. Adverse effects may include reasonably foreseeable effects caused by the undertaking that may occur later in time, be farther removed in distance or be cumulative. Examples of ‘adverse effect’ are ‘Introduction of visual, atmospheric or audible elements that diminish the integrity of the property’s significant historic features; Physical destruction of or damage to all or part of the property.”
However, only the presence of federal funding can trigger the authority of a State Historic Preservation Office to intervene on behalf of the district. Columbia Gas of Ohio’s Accelerated Main Replacement Program does not involve federal funding so we cannot rely upon intervention by the State Historic Preservation Office to stop the adverse effect being created by Columbia Gas’s activity in the district. If they DID have such authority, a process would then be undertaken to mitigate the negative effect of the project on the district.
This mitigation, in the case of the relocation of gas meters would no doubt require the retention of meters WHERE COLUMBIA GAS HAS ALREADY CHOSEN TO PLACE THEM, and where they have remained safely for decades, on building interiors. In cases where it is impossible to site them indoors due to lack of basement, etc. they should be placed on a façade not visible from a public throughway. This essentially means that only the rear façade is available for service equipment.
It is important to understand that what is at stake is not only the adverse effect on each individual structure but the cumulative effect of exterior meters throughout the entire district. Columbia Gas has stated that over time, the entire district is to be upgraded, requiring the relocation of meters to the exterior of every single building in the district.
Being as Columbia Gas has the ability to retain meters indoors throughout the district and not violate ANY local, state or federal safety regulations, they should voluntarily join us in protecting the very attributes of the district that have rendered the German Village Historic District a nationally significant cultural asset worthy of preservation and protection in perpetuity.