“This is a historic community. Galion has always been known at the state level for it,” Linda Chambers stated. She is the administrative assistant for the city’s Design Review Boards and she led a training session on June 2.
In attendance were members of City Council and several members of the Design Review Boards. The training was intended to make city officials and new board members aware of what Design Review is.
Chambers explained Galion has three Design Review Districts that run along both sides of Harding Way. The Uptowne District runs from Boston Street to the railroad tracks (by Washington Street). The Historic West Main District runs from Boston Street to Jefferson Street. The Harding Way West District runs from Jefferson Street to the Four Corners intersection (but does not include the intersection).
There is a separate board for each district. All of the board members, who are appointed by council, are residents or property owners of the areas they serve.
The districts and accompanying boards were established in 1994 through council ordinance 94-6102. The purpose is “to promote the economic health and vitality of the historic Uptowne by maintaining and enhancing its physical appearance. Implementation of the enclosed guidelines has reinforced the Historic districts strong visual image as an inviting place to live, work, shop and visit.”
The boards’ primary concern is the facade of the buildings (the front and its surrounding sides). Think of characteristics such as height and width, setback from the road, decorative elements, building materials and the storefront. Criteria for each district is different.
Under the Design Review ordinance, property owners in the districts are required to submit plans to the appropriate board for any exterior modifications, including restoration, rehabilitation and any general improvements.
This should not be viewed as an additional layer of red tape; as one of the provided handouts showed, when buildings that share a block have similar facades, it gives the block a consistent, organized and coordinated appearance.
“In too many communities, downtown now appears as a curious cross between neglected old buildings and a commercial strip.”
So why is Design Review important?
During the meeting, Chambers pointed out that it must be in place in order for the city to receive federal grants to maintain/restore the buildings. Only the Uptowne District is eligible to receive Community Development Block Grants for Downtown Revitalization, which can be as much as $300,000 (a 50/50 match between the state and the business or property owner). This will become especially important as buildings continue to age.
Council member Mike Richart asked if there are any grant proposals currently slated.
Chambers responded she is working now with the Ohio Development Services Agency to get familiar with the new criteria. The grants are highly competitive and the latest application she submitted took about one year to prepare. She and the boards have already begun creating the necessary documentation, including a list of contributing and non-contributing properties in each district, as some buildings have become contributing structures since the last inventory was taken.
They are also creating a guideline booklet to provide to all property owners within the districts. Chambers noted it will be important to have the owners on board, as well as community support.
Council member Tom Fellner had high praise for Design Review. He received a loan to purchase equipment when he renovated the Lincoln Way building. He owns a dental practice there.
“As a past recipient of a loan, it really helped a lot,” Fellner commented. “To be able to reutilize that structure was phenomenal.”
Mayor Tom O’Leary added that Design Review should be thought of as an asset, not a liability. He also emphasized that the city has been lax on some of the enforcement issues but will step of the code enforcement.
This issue had been brought up during a meeting with Uptowne merchants on May 22. Chambers said that feedback from the merchants will be used going forward.
Properties or businesses interested in becoming a part of one of the Design Review Districts, or for more information on available grants, call Linda Chambers at the city building, 419-468-1857.