Community Meeting Set To Discuss Projects Outlined Below | July 24, 6 p.m. | 588 S. Third St.
-by GVS Board Chair Heidi Drake
Understanding Society, Commission Roles Important To Community Conversation
The Independence Day week’s German Village Commission meeting on July 5 was one of the best-attended meetings since the Commission’s move downtown this spring. Two Livingston Avenue development projects were on the agenda, and the opportunity for our neighbors to be heard at that public meeting were a compelling reason to attend.
It’s one of the greatest assets of our neighborhood – passionate, preservation-focused neighbors, and the opportunity to be heard by the public body tasked with making decisions about these projects that impact the fabric of this historic community.
Before and since the July 5 meeting, the German Village Society staff and Board of Trustees have taken questions about the process and role of the Society – so I thought I’d try to tackle here the most-frequently asked.
First, just the briefest outline of the projects that got everyone’s attention:
247-281 E. Livingston: The properties are currently a set of business offices and the owner wants to build an apartmet project, which will require some variances that include parking and tree-planting. More details are here.
31 E. Livingston: Luxe Hotels wants to build a hotel between Pearl and City Park Avenue along Livingston with about 124 rooms and 14 parking spots, according to the most recent drawings shown to the Commission. You can see them here.
Not on last week’s agenda, but also in our sights, is a proposal Lykens Co. is considering at Fourth and Thurman to build apartments.
Taken together, it is clear we are facing an unprecedented number of large-scale projects in our historic district.
Is The Society Playing An Advocacy Role On These Projects?
In a word, yes. The Society speaks through the expertise and voice of our Historic Preservation Advocate Nancy Kotting. The 247-281 project first came before the Commission in February and the 31 project appeared the first time in March. Nancy has repeatedly put GVS on the record at those meetings with our support for the German Village Guidelines related to height, massing and materials. As a result of Nancy’s advocacy and Commissioner feedback, the drawings submitted to subsequent Commission meetings have changed drastically to get closer to what’s acceptable under the Guidelines.
It’s important to note, however, that the Society has a voice but doesn’t get a vote. All voting is left up to Commissioners. That said, we THRIVE on having open conversations with our members and we WANT to know your thoughts, opinions and ideas.
The German Village Society is the supporting education and advocacy non-profit for the district. We provide technical support to Certificate of Appropriateness applicants. We do not issue Certificates of Appropriateness. That is the function of the German Village Historic District Commission as administered through the historic preservation office.
What Are The German Village Commission and German Village Guidelines?
The German Village Historic District Commission is appointed under the auspices of Columbus City Ordinance 3116. They have legally binding authority to render approvals of applications for COAs, or to deny applications for COA’s. They are the official body who interprets and applies the German Village Guidelines in reviewing each application. Their decision is binding in that code enforcement thru the city of Columbus applies. There is also an appeals process in place should an applicant feel the Commission erred. Should an individual make a change to the exterior of a home, or hard landscaping without first obtaining a COA, a code violation can be filed, which, in worst case scenario results in monetary penalties.
The German Village Guidelines outline appropriate treatments for historic structures which, when complied with, maintain the historic integrity of the district in its entirety. They include guidelines for individual architectural elements. In 2007, guidelines for new and infill construction were adopted and have since been used by the Commission when reviewing applications. All guidelines are rooted in the Secretary of the Interiors Standards for Rehabilitation, as established by the National Park Service under the auspices of the Department of the Interior.
What is the difference between GVS and GVC?
The GVC is a quasi-governmental entity acting on behalf of the Mayor of Columbus and City Council. The GVC is a special zoning commission (often referred to as an architectural review commission) that was established in 1960 by City Ordinance # 976-60. It is made up of (7) mayoral appointees who serve without compensation. One of the responsibilities of the GVC is to consider applications for Certificates of Appropriateness for exterior alterations within the German Village Historic District.
The GVS and the GVC are two completely separate organizations.
It is common for the GVS to attend meetings of the GVC and advocate (as a public speaker) for the neighborhood residents and the members of the GVS. One benefit to this arrangement is that the GVS has a long-term, ongoing relationship with the GVC due to the permanence of the Society. Since any typical individual resident may engage with the GVC only once or twice (or maybe never), the GVS can provide a deeper understanding of the requirements that the GVC takes into consideration during its reviews.
As a fixture at Commission meetings through the Preservation Advocate staffer, GVS is the conduit of communication. By having the Preservation Advocate attend, GVS can constantly keep the neighborhood apprised of Commission matters and outcomes.
In the end, the relationship between GVS and GVC is actually codified in one of the Commission’s Duties listed in chapter 3119.05.F:
“To work with other preservation and architectural review commissions, the Columbus Landmarks Foundation, the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, city departments, business organizations, neighborhood groups and other interested organizations to advance the preservation and redevelopment of the respective historic district and other historic resources in the city.”
What Process Is The Society Following?
The Society actively seeks to reach out to potential new owners in the neighborhood. We offer preservation education on how to make a project not only conform to the Guidelines, but how to engage the neighborhood early and often as plans develop. And how to be a good neighbor! They may or may not take our advice, but we actively offer it.
We want to have an open door to all those who seek to engage the Commission process so that anyone considering an investment in German Village will actively seek out GVS’s expertise and not try to skirt the opportunity to engage us and understand the Guidelines before they start.
GVS seeks to monitor the impact of all projects in the historic district and encourages the neighborhood to engage with proposed projects early and often when there may be concerns.
Specifically, What Have You Done Related To These Three Projects?
We’ve had two meetings with Lykens Co. about its project at Fourth and Thurman; one with a small group of staff and board and the second with a wide swath of affected neighbors from both German Village and Merion Village.
At several Commission meetings, Nancy has been able to do some meeting-after-the-meeting conversations with the design team for the 247-281 Livingston project, suggesting ways to make their design better conform to Guidelines and to explain items such as parking tensions in especially the northern part of the neighborhood.
The leaders on the 31 Livingston project have done the best job among the three of utilizing the tool of Nancy’s expertise. She has sat in numerous meetings with the developer and with the architects to try to educate them about the process and the Guidelines. They then asked to present to the German Village Society board in public forum, and we had several neighbors turn out to be a part of that conversation. The board had a robust, 30-minute conversation with the architect and developers – as well as the current owner of the Pearl and Livingston property, Carl Fry. No vote was cast because, again, the Society’s board has a voice, not a vote.
Is The Society Communicating With Neighbors About The Projects?
Regardless of the content of each Commission meeting, the Society publishes every Commission agenda on our website on the Friday before each Commission meeting. It includes all the drawings that have been submitted, as well as any variance requests that the city Historic Preservation Office has on file at the time of publication. You can always find those previews at germanvillage.com/german-village-commission-regular-meeting-preview/. Bookmark it! Once published to our site, we send the agenda to our members’ emails.
Additionally, Nancy has been blogging about development in her Advocate’s blog (also published in ThisWeek News), and writing updates on the projects in shorter blurbs for Neighbors4Neighbors, our weekly newsletter to members. Her first newsletter post was written on March 8. Just one more reason it pays to be a member of German Village Society – early notice!
One other place to keep an eye on is the published minutes of the German Village Society Board of Trustees, also published on our website and pushed out digitally to all members after each board meeting. Another great bookmark then is here: germanvillage.com/board-reports.
Who Does The Society Serve?
German Village Society serves its mission, which states: Members of the German Village Society serve as Caretakers of a Legacy, dedicated to retaining the character and distinction of the past while creating a thriving and contemporary community in German Village.
Sometimes people confuse us with the German Village Commission. Some people confuse us with a homeowners association. Some people think they live in a covenant-restricted residential community. None of these are true.
While member supported, German Village Society’s members come from every stripe. Of our 850 memberships, about one-third don’t live in the German Village Historic District. Within the historic district, only one-third of residents are members. Sixteen percent are businesses. And the full breadth of the community – members and non-member neighbors included – is NOT a monolith. We hear from people with strong opinions on every side of a matter, and we know we don’t hear from even more.
Our role is to make sure neighbors are educated about preservation, that the National Register District is advocated for, and that we stand up for the Guidelines. We are strongest when we speak together with one voice, but we know it isn’t likely to reflect every stakeholder’s voice.
The district’s history and DNA is as a mixed-use community – businesses tucked in among the residences. German Village Society is not “for” residents or “for” businesses, but instead “for” the community that is a mixture of both! That’s what we’re tasked to preserve!
What’s This Argument About “Edge Development?”
Each of these three projects have touched an issue of national debate among preservationists about whether “edge development” is different than development inside a district. The Society’s position has been that it is not, and during the July 5 Commission meeting, Commissioner Ned Thiell said something like “the boundaries are the boundaries.” We agree. Nancy threw it out to a forum on the National Trust for Historic Preservation site to hear from other experts. You can follow the conversation here. The distinct characteristics that define German Village such as height, bricks, conservative massing, etc., also serve to notify visitors that they are indeed ‘in the village.’ They physically define the district. Any compromise of our Guidelines, particularly at the edge of our boundaries, dilutes our identity and diminishes the historic integrity of the district as a whole. For these reasons in fact, it is at ‘the edge’ where the compliance of Guidelines is perhaps most important.
What’s Next For These Projects?
We expect the 31 Livingston project to come back to the August 7 Commission meeting. The 247-281 Livingston project was tabled until the August meeting, in spite of having been included on the July agenda. We await updated plans from Lykens Co. for its Thurman Avenue project.
But we want to hear from you. Would you value more education and conversation? Would you like to participate in a community meeting about what development means for German Village, and how we – as a neighborhood – might respond?
I think a topic of a community meeting would be to agree on principles to which we can say yes. That invites a conversation with potential new investors instead of a fight with opposing sides’ heels dug in. We can say yes to investment in historic properties – and adaptively reusing them. We can say yes to developers who work with us on parking concerns. We can say yes to conformity to the Guidelines.