For nearly 200 years, the German Village neighborhood has been a pedestrian-friendly community, where residents and visitors alike can safely explore and enjoy their favorite Village destinations on foot.
German Village Vision
We will be a celebrated, vibrant downtown neighborhood with historic integrity and a charming, pedestrian-friendly streetscape.
WORKING WITH THE GERMAN VILLAGE COMMISSION
Those who live and work in German Village take great pride in its beauty, sense of community and distinctive architectural character. However, German Village has not always been the thriving area that it is today. Fifty years ago, the once-proud German, working-class neighborhood had deteriorated into a largely blighted area. But Frank Fetch, along with like-minded property owners, envisioned that German Village could once again be an attractive place to live and work. Together they formed the German Village Society (GVS) in 1960 for the purpose of rehabilitating and preserving the neighborhood.
Our visionary founders recognized that their efforts would not be successful unless appropriate governmental controls were in place. In July 1960, the City of Columbus was persuaded to establish the German Village Commission (GVC) and rezone the area, thereby eliminating industrial uses that had contributed to the deterioration of the neighborhood. The GVC was granted review authority over all exterior alterations, additions, new construction and demolition. It also was authorized to make recommendations on related zoning issues. The applicable city ordinance currently provides that no person “shall construct any exterior architectural features in German Village or reconstruct, alter, change the exterior color or demolish any such feature…” without having first received a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) from the GVC. Therefore, anything done to the exterior of a German Village property, other than routine maintenance, likely requires application to the GVC. The complexity of the GVC’s review process will depend on many factors. The purpose of this page is to provide information and insight on how the GVC process works.
We offer this Q&A in pursuit of serving our mission, which says: The 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.
WHO ARE THE MEMBERS OF THE COMMISSION AND HOW ARE THEY SELECTED?
THE GVC consists of seven members appointed for three-year terms by the mayor and approved by City Council. These volunteer commissioners, most of whom are German Village residents, come from a variety of professions and backgrounds. The city ordinance encourages (but does not require) the mayor to appoint two persons who have been recommended by the GVS; a Columbus City Council representative, a member of the mayor’s staff and at least one architect. A chairman selected by the Commission members presides over meetings. The current members of the GVC are: Bret Leukart (designee of the Mayor), Charissa Wang Durst (architect), Jay Panzer (chair at large), Terrence O’Donnell (designee of Council), Mark Ours (Vice Chair, architect), Lisa Atkins Case (recommended by GVS) and Ned Thiell (recommended by GVS). The GVC is also supported by the City’s Historic Preservation Office, which provides assistance and analysis.
WHERE AND WHEN DOES THE GVC MEET?
Public hearings are held on the first Tuesday of each month (except for Election Day, holidays or days after holidays) at 4 p.m. at the German Village Meeting Haus, 588 S. Third Street. The GVC also has a monthly Business Meeting at which staff from the City’s Historic Preservation Office discuss upcoming applications with the members of the GVC. The Business Meeting is held on the Tuesday preceding the public hearing at 109 North Front Street at noon. Applicants are not required to attend this meeting, but are welcome to do so. However, time is not allotted in the Business Meeting for applicants to speak.
WHAT STANDARDS APPLY IN DETERMINING WHETHER TO APPROVE AN APPLICATION?
The general standard guiding GVC review is whether the proposed work will be “appropriate to the preservation of German Village.” More specifically, the GVC considers the appropriateness of a project and its individual elements along with their relationship to architectural features of other structures in the surrounding area. The GVC is also provided legislative guidance by Council as to some of the exterior architectural characteristics that are typical of German Village houses. They include:
- 1 ½-story brick houses with gray slate gabled roofs pitched at approximately 45 degrees.
- 2 ½-story brick houses with hip roofs of similar character.
- Chimneys extending from the ridge line of roofs.
- Roofs with moderate overhangs with hanging gutters.
- Double-hung windows with a height to width ratio of 2 to 1.
- Stone lintels and sills over most windows and doors.
- Stone lintels with relief of various designs scripted on their faces.
- Doors of four-panel design with a height-to-width ratio of approximately 2.3 to 1.
- Foundations constructed of large-cut stones laid in mortar.
- Simple wrought iron fences erected in front of houses usually bordering brick sidewalks.
- Cut stone steps at front entrances.
- Brick walks laid in herringbone and basket weave patterns.
(Columbus City Code section 3119.27)
The most authoritative written source of information is the publication “German Village Guidelines” including its 2005 and 2007 amendments, available on-line at www.germanvillage.com/preservation/german-village-guidelines. This volume provides detailed information regarding GVC processes, as well as the substantive historic preservation guidelines applicable to German Village. The GVC also considers relevant sections of the United States Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines of Historic Preservation and various sections of the Columbus City Code.
WHAT IF I AM JUST DOING ORDINARY MAINTENANCE OR REPAIR TO MY HOUSE, SUCH AS TOUCHING UP PAINT OR REPAIRING A FENCE? DO I STILL HAVE TO SEEK A COA?
Generally, routine maintenance and repair do not require applying for a COA. Reglazing a broken window, repairing a fence and touching up a paint job all fall into this category, which is described in the first column of the Architectural Review Chart in the German Village Guidelines. This chart also describes in-kind replacement items that require a COA, but which may be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Office staff, rather than by the entire GVC. It is recommended that applicants contact the City Preservation Office at 614-645-8620, or the GVS Historic Preservationist to determine whether it is necessary to seek a COA. Please note: replacing a building element (door, window, roof, etc.) is not considered maintenance and typically requires a COA.
MY PROJECT REQUIRES A COA. WHAT DO I DO NEXT?
You can download an application here, pick one up from the GVS Office inside the Meeting Haus or from the Historic Preservation Office at 109 North Front Street. It is recommended that you file the application at the Historic Preservation Office, although it also can be filed at the GVS Office. If the application is filed before 5 p.m.at least two Tuesdays before the next GVC meeting, it will be scheduled for review at the next meeting.
WHAT MATERIALS SHOULD ACCOMPANY THE APPLICATION?
Depending on the type and scope of the project, your application may require that building site or streetscape photos, site plans, elevations, floor plans, and construction drawings be submitted with the application. The COA application contains further details regarding the information required for various types of projects.
WHAT DEFINES A COMPLETE APPLICATION?
A complete application consists of an application that has been filled-out, signed and dated, and includes current photos and supporting materials as indicated on the front of the application form.
ARE THERE OTHER MATERIALS AVAILABLE TO ASSIST ME IN THIS PROCESS?
Yes. The GVS has a “house file” for each property in German Village. Many of these files have old photographs that may be helpful to you in seeking approval of your application. Also available at GVS are copies of “Preservation Briefs,” a series of technical bulletins published by the National Park Service. These pamphlets cover topics such as masonry cleaning, repointing and sealing and repair and replacement of historic windows and roofs.
DO I NEED AN ARCHITECT OR BUILDER TO ASSIST ME IN THE APPLICATION PROCESS OR AT THE HEARING?
The use of such professionals at the public hearing is not required, but may be helpful. They are often able to respond immediately to concerns GVC commissioners may have about a project. This can save time by avoiding the GVC’s tabling of an application to obtain further information. Design professionals who have experience in German Village (here are just a few design professionals) are familiar with the concerns the commissioners are likely to have with respect to a project, which can be helpful in anticipating and responding to those concerns.
ARE THERE ADDITIONAL APPROVALS OTHER THAN A COA THAT ARE REQUIRED FOR PROJECTS?
If a project involves new construction, additions or a change of use, there may be a need for a zoning variance. Before filing an application for a COA for such projects, we recommend checking with the Columbus Department of Building and Zoning Services to determine whether a variance is necessary. If a variance is required, the request for variance should be noted in the application for the COA. While the GVC does not have the final say on zoning matters, it does make recommendations to the city’s zoning administrator. Once zoning approval and a COA are obtained, a building permit will be required from the Columbus Department of Building and Zoning Services.
ONCE I HAVE SUBMITTED MY APPLICATION FOR A COA, IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO BEFORE THE PUBLIC HEARING TO MONITOR WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE APPLICATION?
We recommend that you contact the Columbus Historic Preservation Office a few days after filing the application to see whether there is any additional information required prior to the public hearing. Responding to concerns expressed may help avoid the tabling of an application at the public hearing.
MY NEIGHBOR HAD A PROJECT SIMILAR TO MINE APPROVED. IS THE PRECEDENT OF THAT APPROVAL BINDING ON THE COMMISSION AS IT RELATES TO MY APPLICATION?
No. The GVC considers each project independent of other projects that may have come before it, recently or in the distant past. The reasons are two-fold: First, every property is unique and is treated as such by the GVC; second, since German Village became a historic district, preservation thinking and technology have changed. The GVC is the first to admit that some work done in earlier years would not be approved today. Thus, prior precedent has limited value to the outcome of an application.
DO ALL APPLICATIONS HAVE TO GO TO A FULL PUBLIC HEARING?
No. As mentioned earlier, it is often the case that routine applications are approved by staff and will not require a public hearing. The GVC empowers the City Historic Preservation Staff to grant “staff approval” for certain scopes of work based on established criteria. Typical examples where “staff approval” may be considered include exterior painting and many in-kind replacements. Many of these items are outlined in the Architectural Review Chart contained in the German Village Guidelines.
HOW DO I PREPARE FOR THE PUBLIC HEARING, AND WHAT CAN I EXPECT THERE?
All witnesses who wish to present testimony relative to the application are placed under oath, but the hearing is otherwise relatively informal. As with any presentation, it is always wise to have your talking points well organized and concisely presented. Always try to tailor your presentation to the issue of whether the project is appropriate to the preservation of German Village as contemplated by the Guidelines. The staff and commissioners are likely to have comments or questions regarding your presentation. Often there may be a concern expressed with just one aspect of your project. It is best to keep an open mind and be prepared to discuss alternatives that may make the project acceptable to the GVC. If you have neighbors who support your application, it is a good idea to have them appear and offer testimony at the hearing. Likewise, if you oppose a project, you may appear at the GVC and explain why. The GVC welcomes public comment. When you speak regarding an application other than your own, please fill in a speaker slip available at the rear of the hearing room and have it passed to the GVC chair.
WILL THE GVC LISTEN TO EVIDENCE AS TO WHY IT WOULD BE A SUBSTANTIAL HARDSHIP TO THE APPLICANT TO BUILD A PROJECT IN A MANNER THAT WOULD BEST FURTHER THE PRESERVATION OF GERMAN VILLAGE?
The GVC has jurisdiction to issue a COA if it is shown with documentation submitted by the applicant that substantial economic hardship or unusual and compelling circumstances exist. This supporting evidence can be set forth in the application and be considered in the public hearing or in a separate hearing thereafter. The criteria for these exceptional circumstances are set forth in section 3116.08 of the Columbus City Code.
HOW DOES THE GVC DECIDE APPLICATIONS AND WHAT HAPPENS AFTER IT DOES ?
A simple majority of present GVC commissioners is required for approval. If approved, the decision is forwarded along with any applicable comments to the Historic Preservation Office for issuance of a COA. The COA, along with any applicable stamped drawings, are then mailed to the successful applicant. If your application is continued (tabled) for revisions or additional information, it will be reconsidered at the next month’s meeting as long as the new material is received by the application deadline. If your application is denied, the decision will be forwarded, along with the reason(s) for the denial, to the Historic Preservation Office, which in turn forwards the notification to the applicant by mail. An applicant has the right after denial of an application for COA to resubmit it with changes or appeal the GVC’s decision. Appeals may be made back to the GVC pursuant to Chapter 3116 of the Columbus City Code, or to the Board of Commission Appeals pursuant to Chapter 3118 of the Columbus City Code. Appeals must be made within 10 days of receipt of notice of the GVC’s decision. GVC’s zoning recommendations are forwarded to the zoning administrator. Where necessary, the certificate and two copies of Commission-stamped drawings are submitted to the city’s Building Regulation Department.
ARE THERE PENALTIES FOR NOT OBTAINING A CERTIFICATE OF APPROPRIATENESS OR BUILDING A PROJECT THAT IS NOT IN COMPLIANCE WITH IT?
Yes. The City’s Building Regulation Department enforces the GVC’s decisions. Failure to comply with City Code can result in the issuance of a Code Violation Order, leading to court action, enforcement and/or fines levied against the property owner for non-compliance.
Note: THIS SUMMARY IS SUBMITTED ONLY AS A GENERAL GUIDE.APPLICANTS APPEARING BEFORE THE GVC SHOULD ALWAYS REVIEW THE APPLICABLE PROVISIONS OF THE COLUMBUS CITY CODE AND GERMAN VILLAGE GUIDELINES
This brochure is made possible by the volunteer efforts of the German Village Society, Historic Preservation Committee,
Chair, Will Eylar, June 2011