Greenhills Historic District “Block” Meetings to be Scheduled to Discuss Local Historic District

Over the summer, a plan was developed for determining the interest of our property owners to designate a local historic district. The plan includes holding meetings of property owners within each individual “block” of Historic Greenhills.  This series of meetings will allow us to directly share information with those who will be the most affected about the pros and cons of local districts; the designation and review process; consider boundaries for one or more districts; and develop draft design guidelines tailored to building types in Greenhills.  The meetings will also give our property owners the opportunity to voice their opinions about a local district.

The results of these meetings will be compiled into a report for presentation to the Greenhills Planning Commission and the Village Council. Those entities ultimately decide if a local historic district(s) will be established.

If you live on Adele Walk, Alcott, Andover, Ashby, Avenell, Bachman, Belknap, Bradnor, Briarwood, Brompton, Burley, Burnham, Chalmers, Cromwell, Damon, DeWitt, Drummond, Falcon, Farragut, Flanders, Foxworth, Funston, Gambier, or the west side of Ingram, be watching for a mailing over the next few months informing you of the time and date of your block meeting.

You can help spread word about a local historic district by reviewing and/or printing the attached handout and sharing the information with others.

 

Next Steps of a Local Historic District: The Historic Overlay District

I hope you are finding my articles on establishing a local historic district to be informative. In the first article I laid out the pros and cons of a local historic district.  In the second article, I have given some insight on what the guidelines could include.   So, what is the next step?

Section 1143 of the Greenhills Codified Ordinances provides for an Historic Overlay District – meaning that any local historic district guidelines that are created would be in addition to the current zoning requirements for those zoning districts.

The first step is the creation of a local district.  The beginning phases of this are currently being planned.  It will consist of a joint meeting of Council and the Greenhills Planning Commission.  The Planning Commission will serve as the official Historic Preservation Commission for the Village unless a separate commission is appointed by Village Council.  Planning Commission is required to seek input from an historic consultant in making decisions that impact any locally-designated district.  This will allow the Planning Commission to learn the importance of the architecture and design guidelines it is responsible for enforcing.

Planning Commission will need to create, review and approve an application form to be used for local designations.  Such designations can be for districts or specific properties. The criteria for designation are outlined in Section 1143.05(e), which you can view for yourself by clicking here. To be considered under that Section for designation, a property or properties must be fifty years old or older and retain integrity of design and materials.  The following criteria will also be considered:

(1)   Its character, interest or value as part of the development, heritage or cultural characteristics of the Village, the state or nation.

(2)   Its association with a significant historic event.

(3)   Its identification with a person who significantly contributed to the culture and development of the Village, state or nation.

(4)   Its exemplification of the cultural, economic, social or historic heritage of the Village, state or nation.

(5)   Its embodiment of distinguishing characteristics of a building type or architectural style.

(6)   Its identification as the work of an architect or master builder whose work has influenced the development of the Village, state or nation.

(7)   Its embodiment of elements of architectural design, detail, materials or craftsmanship which represent a significant architectural innovation.

(8)   Its relationship to other distinctive areas which are eligible for preservation according to a plan based on an historic, cultural or architectural motif.

(9)   Its unique location or singular physical characteristic representing an established and familiar visual feature of the Village.

(10)   Its potential to yield information important to prehistory or history (archaeology).

Council and Planning Commission must think about what area or areas should or could be designated and what additional regulations should be incorporated into a designated district or districts.  These are discussions that are an important part of the planning process for a local historic district.  Village Council and Planning Commission may decide to designate multiple properties to create the local historic district.  They can also select property outside of a local district boundary and apply the same architecture and design guideline restrictions to those properties.

All these decisions will be made with input from various groups and individuals.  The Village will continue to work closely with its historical consultant on identifying potential options for a local district and its guidelines, and the Village will soon hold public meetings where residents and property owners may ask questions and provide their own input on this process.  The goal is to create a district of properties that tell the story of Greenhills and will benefit from careful oversight to protect their architectural and design features: the features that make Greenhills unique!

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!

Is it Time to Designate a Local Historic District?

As many of our residents know, Greenhills is one of three federally planned and constructed greenbelt communities in the nation.  (The other two greenbelt communities are Greenbelt, Maryland and Greendale, Wisconsin.)  Undertaken by the government in the 1930’s, under the Roosevelt Administration, the purpose of the federal greenbelt project was to supply jobs and to offer an escape from the congested inner-city neighborhoods through the construction of a small town with plenty of park-like areas surrounded by a greenbelt.

In 1989, the oldest area of Greenhills – identified as a “district” – was listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service.  The designation was based on the community’s planning and development, as well as its social history.  The town planners for Greenhills (Justin Richardson Hartzog and Joseph Fradley Whitney) designed the elements that have led to the Village’s historic contributions to the evolution of the suburban community, including the evolution of the cul-de-sac, a system of pedestrian paths and parks, curving streets, superblocks, internal green space with pedestrian blocks, and a hierarchy of roads designed for outward flow, traffic safety, reduced costs by minimizing the size and length of water and sewer mains, underground wiring, and the amount of paved surfaces.

The National Register of Historic Places is a federal program and such a listing denotes that a property – or in this case, a district – is worthy of preservation for its historical value.  There are no zoning or design requirements associated with such a listing.

About a year ago, a slightly larger “district” was designated a National Historic Landmark.  This federal program focuses on properties or districts that are of exceptional value to the nation, rather than just to a State or locality. There are no zoning or design requirements associated with this designation. Streets included in the National Historic Landmark District include Alcott, Andover, Ashby, Avenell, Bachman, Belknap, Bradnor, Briarwood, Brompton, Burley, Burnham, Chalmers, Cromwell, Damon, DeWitt, Drummond, Falcon, Farragut, Flanders, Foxworth, Funston, Gambier, and the west side of Ingram.

A local historic district is the tool that can insure there is little change to the historic area that received the NHL designation. The State’s Historic Preservation Office oversees the Certified Local Government (CLG) Program that allows communities to identify local districts and regulate improvements proposed to be made within those districts. Some communities set up local districts but never obtain a National Historic Landmark (NHL) designation.  Then there are communities like Mariemont, Ohio that had a local district long before receiving their NHL designation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, our neighbor – Glendale, Ohio – had the NHL designation 20 years before establishing a local historic district.

Within each local district, design regulations are developed to ensure that any exterior improvements in the local district are consistent with existing features, which in Greenhills would include architectural features as well as topographical and other layout features unique to our Village.

There are many advantages to a local district:

  • A local district insures the continuation of the unique historic characteristics of the district.
  • A local district will protect a property owner’s investment by insuring that older structures in the district are kept to certain standards of care and restoration since any major changes must be approved by a review board.
  • A local district will maintain its original quaint atmosphere.
  • A local district offers economic benefits to property owners, in that:
    • Home values tend to be higher;
    • Home prices appreciate faster; and
    • Home values stay more stable in a down market.

While a local district has many advantages, there are disadvantages as well. For example, the enforcement of historic design regulations may place additional obligations on property owners/improvements within the district.  There can be strict review boards that will review all permit applications for work on or around a structure within the district. Also, because of historic design regulations, improvements may come at a higher cost, as specific material or construction may be required.

But despite these added responsibilities, historic neighborhoods can thrive; people are attracted to them because of the attention to detail and care put into preserving the historical designs of these neighborhoods.

Think of any historic district – are any of them depressed areas? NO! Data shows the property values in a local district can increase 5 – 35% over a decade in comparison to similar undesignated neighborhoods (Benefits of Residential Historic District Designation for Property Owners, Jonathan Mabry, 6/7/07).

What questions do you have about local districts?  Please email me at ekovach@greenhillsohio.org.  In a future article I will try to address those questions!

 

Q & A on Demolition

The Village has recently completed demolition of 4 deteriorated structures in the “C” block. We will now be seeking a qualified developer to build new homes in our Historic District.

There are a lot of questions and comments floating around about this effort. If you have been following this project and are wondering what the story is from my perspective, you will want to review the information presented below.

Q.         How did all this come about?

A.      In 2009, Greenhills identified in its Comprehensive Plan 2 redevelopment areas. The targeted areas were: DeWitt and Chalmers/Cromwell. The intent behind redevelopment of these areas was to replace aging, deteriorated rental units with new owner-occupied single-family buildings. A portion of the DeWitt area has already been redeveloped with 15 new single-family homes.  The remaining vacant properties in the “D” block will be combined with the properties in the “C” block for the next development of single-family homes.

Q.    Was Planning Commission’s review and approval required for the recent demolition?

A.     No. Demolition does not constitute a development project, nor was it/is it part of a pending development project. Planning Commission will be involved when there is a site plan for a proposed development to review. A complete list of Planning Commission’s functions can be found in the Greenhills Code of Ordinances, Section 1151.03.

Q.     Was Planning Commission’s review and approval required for the Village to share schematic designs prepared by John Senhauser Architects?

A.     No. These are schematics, only, and not representative of an actual development. Because these sites are within the Historic District, the Village felt it was appropriate to have a visual portrayal to share with others of what is intended to replace the demolished structures prior to their demolition.  The new home schematics incorporate many of the original 1938 design elements.

Q.     Was it legal for Village Council to approve the demolition contract via a resolution of Council?

A.     Yes. Pursuant to the Village Charter, Section 2.06, (B), a resolution should be used for administrative purposes like contracts, as opposed to an ordinance that is used for creating law. An exception is a development project that would require Council’s action by ordinance; however, there is no development under consideration at this time.

Q.     Could these buildings have been renovated?

A.     If you have enough money you can do anything. But with an estimated cost of $178 per square foot to renovate – it was extremely doubtful – especially given the fact that the properties were advertised for more than 2 years and the Village received no credible offers to redevelop the properties.

For the record, the Village received 1 anonymous offer of $10,000 that included NO detail on what the party intended to do with the buildings. The Village received calls of interest to renovate the buildings. In one case, the Village was doubtful of their ability to pull off such a large redevelopment, as they had abandoned other properties in Greenhills when they could not afford to maintain them. There was another verbal expression of interest from someone with an historic preservation background, who – once they saw the buildings – felt that new construction was the way to go.

Q.     Were feasibility studies conducted?

A.     Yes. You may have heard or read about a 2012 feasibility report that recommended rehab. Sadly, this report was not extensive because it did not take into account many obvious expenses, including but not limited to the following:

▫       plumbing repairs/upgrades

▫      addressing HVAC issues (e.g. removal of original boilers, installation of heat pumps, duct work, etc.)

▫       insulating walls and attic to current standards

▫       replacing entrance doors

▫       2×4 framed bearing wall replacement around windows and sills

▫       crawl space joist repairs

▫        waterproofing foundation block

▫        installation of a vapor barrier

▫        installation of an exterior drain system

▫        removal of rotted deck surfaces and framing

▫        replacement of decks

▫        structural repairs

▫       mold assessment and mitigation

▫       hazardous substance remediation (asbestos, etc.)

Most importantly, this report did not consider the cost to rehabilitate the buildings to the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings.  In fact, the writer of this report informed me that the market in Greenhills could NOT bear the additional costs associated with rehabbing to the Standards.  THIS DOES NOT MEAN WE DON’T HAVE THE MARKET TO PURCHASE NEW HOMES.   IT MEANS WE DON’T HAVE THE INVESTMENT MARKET YET FOR SIZABLE RENOVATION PROJECTS.   New home construction will be a positive sign of investment and will give an investor a certain comfort level to bear the cost of renovation.

A couple of years later the Village again contracted with another professional to take a more in-depth look at these buildings. Environmental investigations were undertaken as well.  The result was the estimated average cost of $178 per square foot for rehabilitation. That estimate did not include structural repairs to the foundations, flooring, or walls, or the replacement of any siding.

Q.     Why didn’t the Village just sell the buildings to someone? Why be so selective?

A.    It is important to the health of the Village that quality development or rehab take place anywhere in Greenhills! Inexpensive and inadequate renovation of buildings would only result in cheap, poor quality housing and low rental rates. And inexpensive and inadequate renovation would not address the needed remediation or enhance and maintain the historic qualities of the existing structures.

New construction presents a unique opportunity for Greenhills that will not detract from, but instead will perpetuate original concepts that went into the planning of Greenhills.

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A lot of factors played into the decision to demolish and rebuild this portion of Greenhills. Do I think it has destroyed our historic district? No, I do not. There were 328 structures listed as contributing structures in the NHL nomination; 4 of those (or only 1.2%) have been demolished. To claim this demolition represents elimination of our Historic District is to ignore the real things that make us historic. The garden-city principles incorporated in our original design are still very much intact and there is no intent to change those elements now or in the future.