What Might Design Guidelines Look Like in a Local Historic District?

In follow up to my first article on this topic, I would like to provide readers with some idea of what guidelines could look like in a local historic district.  I reached out to the Village’s historic consultant for much of this information.  Her assistance is much appreciated!

Right now, guidelines do not exist but would be developed with public input as part of a local district designation.  The purpose of having design guidelines is to ensure that over time, the main elements of a district remain in place.  Guidelines would set broad parameters in which changes could occur, while maintaining ample opportunity for design creativity and individual choice. They would supplement any requirements that currently exist in the Greenhills Zoning Code and would cover renovations to existing buildings, demolition, or new construction.

According to the Greenhills’ nomination for National Landmark Designation, the Greenhills Historic District includes 317 contributing resources. Stylistically, the design and materials of all the major civic and commercial buildings reflect the influence of Stripped Classicism and International style, which provide the Village center with a distinct, architectural unity and civic identity. Most of the residential buildings exhibit a functional, modernistic variant of the International Style, with flat roofs, smooth surfaces and flat-roofed entry porches with simple supports. However, in the A and B sections, a simplified Colonial Revival style predominates, characterized by brick exteriors and gabled slate roofs.

The Village’s historic consultant provided the following EXAMPLES of guidelines.  If the Village does enact a local historic district, these are the types of details that could be incorporated into guidelines and reviewed for building projects within the district boundaries.

Materials – Original materials should be restored and reused whenever possible. Where necessary, missing or deteriorated material should be replaced with recycled or new materials that match the original as closely as possible with regard to: type of material size of unit, color, shape, composition, texture, style, type of joint, placement detailing.

Cleaning/Painting – Cleaning of existing materials should be done by the least damaging method possible. Sandblasting would not be an acceptable method for cleaning. Painted brick buildings, when necessary, should be repainted rather than stripped or cleaned to reveal the natural brick color. The color of trim and decorative detailing on a building should contrast with the wall paint color; i.e., light colored buildings should have darker trim and dark colored buildings should have lighter trim. At no time should the detailing and the trim be painted the same color as the walls.

Windows and Doors – Original window and door openings should not be reduced or enlarged in size. Repaired or replacement windows should be double-hung and contain one-over-one, two-over-two, or six-over-six panes where appropriate. The elimination or permanent concealment of window and door openings on the primary or street facade should not be permitted, and elsewhere avoided. New window and door openings on the primary or street facade should not be permitted. Removable storm windows and doors should be utilized whenever possible. Aluminum storm windows and doors should be painted to match trim.

Appurtenances – All appurtenances, such as shutters, light fixtures, and signs, should be compatible with the building upon which they are to be installed. The installation of canvas canopies and awnings is permissible but should not obscure or require the removal of significant architectural features. Canopies and awnings made of plastic, wood or metal should not be permitted.

Wall Resurfacing – Wood clapboard or brick could be used as the repair or replacement material where appropriate. The use of aluminum or vinyl siding for resurfacing should be avoided. Artificial stone, brick veneer, asbestos, asphalt shingles and other similar resurfacing materials shall not be used. Architectural features such as cornices, brackets, window sills and architraves, and doorway pediments shall not be removed or obscured when resurfacing materials is applied. Siding should be applied horizontally, and all wood siding should be painted.

Roofs – The existing roofline and the architectural features that give the roof its essential character such as dormer windows, cornice, brackets, chimneys and cresting should be preserved. The addition of inappropriate features such as vents, skylights, and rooftop utilities should be avoided, or inconspicuously placed and screened where necessary as determined by the Commission.

Utility System Installation – The installation of utility and mechanical systems such as water or gas meters, central air conditioning cooling units, and elaborate electrical hookups should be inconspicuously placed, and screening should be provided; the installation of such systems should be avoided on the street facade. Wall or window air conditioning units on the street facade should not be permanently installed, but removable window units shall be permitted on a seasonal basis.

Decks – The addition of decks on the street facade shall not be permitted. Decks installed elsewhere shall not obscure or require the removal of significant architectural features. Balusters should be vertically placed not more than 6 inches apart. Solid plank railing shall not be permitted. Railing heights should not exceed 42 inches. Screened or glass-enclosed decks should be avoided.

Walls and Fences – Existing retaining walls and fences should be repaired and retained whenever possible. The installation of wood or chain link fences shall not be permitted on street frontage.

Site – The alteration or removal of existing walkways, steps, benches, and lighting which contribute to the character of the district should be avoided. All new site improvements should be compatible with the architectural character of the district. Tree removal should be avoided.

DEMOLITION

Demolition of existing buildings shall not be permitted unless one of the following conditions exist:

Demolition has been ordered by the Director of Buildings & Inspections for reasons of public health and safety.

The demolition request is for a garage, an inappropriate addition, or a building of a later period as defined and identified in these guidelines; and the demolition of said structure will not adversely affect the streetscape as determined by the Commission.

The owner can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Commission that the structure cannot be reused nor can a reasonable economic return be gained from the use of all or part of the building proposed for demolition..

NEW CONSTRUCTION AND ADDITIONS  

Materials – The type of materials and their color, texture, scale, and detailing should be compatible with those of the District and/or the original building.

Scale – The scale of new work and its constituent parts should be compatible with the District and/or the original building and the scale of its parts.

Form – The shape, massing, and proportions of new work should be compatible with the District and/or the original building.

Height – The height of an addition should not exceed the height of the original building. The height of new buildings should be comparable to the height of existing adjacent buildings. The height of new buildings constructed in undeveloped areas should not detract from the character and appearance of the District.

Setback -The setback of new buildings should be comparable to the setbacks of existing adjacent buildings.

Historic Integrity – Compatibility of new work to original work is required, but imitation of old work in new construction should be avoided. New work should appear to be new work. Where new additions meet original work, the connection should be carefully designed so as not to detract from the original but to also reflect the fact that the connection is new. If original openings are filled in, the outline of the original opening should remain apparent by setting new in-fill material back from the surface and leaving original sills and lintels in place. Historic integrity is to be maintained by designing new buildings, structures, appurtenances, additions, connections and filled-in openings so that they do not appear to have been constructed when the affected historic structure was originally built.

Buildings of a later period are of a different architectural character than the other structures in the historic district due to their age and the different character of their scale, material, and detailing. Additions to, or alterations and rehabilitation of these buildings shall either be compatible with the style and character each possesses or shall cause the above building to become more compatible with the district.

Again, these guidelines are merely an example of what the Greenhills Planning Commission could review prior to approving a proposed building project.  They indicate the level of detail and attention that could be applied to plan reviews for historic appropriateness.

So how would this review process work? When a property owner of a building within the local district seeks a building permit, the proposed project would be forwarded to the Greenhills Planning Commission for review and consistency with the pre-approved design guidelines. Whatever guidelines are made, the Planning Commission would have the authority to allow some modifications, as appropriate, in cases of economic hardship when there is no economically feasible and prudent alternative or environmental change which would conform to the guidelines. In those cases, it would be appropriate for the applicant to demonstrate to the Planning Commission that an economic hardship exists and that alternative changes which do meet the guidelines have been explored. The Planning Commission could approve it with any conditions it may deem appropriate.  After Planning Commission approves the proposed project, the permit would continue to the building department for review.

Design guidelines are intended to guide property owners and contractors into designing and building their projects with respect toward the architectural features that make Greenhills a unique piece of American history!