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Thread: Design review guidelines

  1. #1

    Design review guidelines

    I am a planning board member in a NY village close to NYC that is comprised mainly of residential structures that date from 1880-1930. We have recently passed ARB legislation after many years of debate, but our legislation was designed to be vague because of pressures from politicians who were worried about 'stifling creativity' and 'legislating taste'.

    It now seems clear after a year that we need some more concrete guidelines. I am interested to see how other communities have drawn up design guidelines as we begin to fashion our own. As we are under siege by a wave of developers and the untalented (or lazy) architects that they hire, it seems that basic architectural rules need to be laid out plainly for them to follow.

    Though our village is largely Victorian, we have no desire to force builders to design faux-Victorian structures, but want quality materials used, and accepted rules of balance and harmony to be followed. How have other communities written guidelines that promote good practice without dictating exact standards based on one or two styles?

    If anyone has guidelines they could e-mail, or sources on the web I could reference, I would be appreciative. Thanks.

    John Gromada

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Zoning Goddess's avatar
    Sep 1999
    400 miles from Orlando
    I have just the experience for you.

    I worked as a volunteer for a local district to initiate design guidelines (I am a professional planner locally). They (the Partnership governing the district) basically needed something on paper in order to apply for a grant to obtain storefront grant monies.

    With the initial review of my proposal, the steering committee (established for the guidelines) asked me to remove the more stringent words and phrases such as "required" and "mandatory". They were afraid such a document would deter a developer from coming in and initiating a project in this blighted district. They essentially wanted to encourage whatever type of development they could get, opposed to guiding proper redevelopment to grow with the character of this "fishing village".

    A year later we have revisited our guidelines, at the request of the Partnership, and inserted such words as "required" and "mandatory". They came to realize, after putting the guidelines to work, there was no teeth in the suggestions of the document. Any particular developer or architect could read the guidelines and toss them aside, as there were no requirements in them.

    It's my opinion, if a developer doesn't have to do quality aesthetic work to get the same financial return, why will he/she? If your guidelines are only suggestions, and not mandatory, the developer may not choose to take your advice.

  3. #3
    Is this the wrong forum to post this message? Is there a more appropriate place?

  4. #4
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
    Feb 1998
    Greensburg, Kansas
    Try the Historic Preservation forum

  5. #5

    May 1997
    Williston, VT
    I think that it is often a mistake to use style as the basis of design review guidelines (whether they are voluntary or mandatory). Style is not easy to define (even when you know it when you see it) and there few places where a monotony of style is truly desirable. I think it easier to explain and, except in places where a specific style is the main reason for the designation of a design review or historic district, defend if one bases design review on the basic design elements, like color, material, roof line, landscape treatment, etc. It sounds like this approach would fit with your desire to avoid the construction of new "Victorians" while maintaining some harmony between the old and new.

  6. #6
    Check with the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions-this is exactly the sort of thing that they are experts on. They can give you examples or point you to a qualified consultant. Contact Pratt Cassity, Director, at 706-542-4731

  7. #7
    Thanks for your replies. We are working on guidelines that specify minimum roof pitch, natural materials, and other basic elements. What is disturbing to our ARB and much of the community is that the quality of most new construction is of such low standard and often designed from the inside out with little or no regard to the exterior. Massing is often all wrong, detail is non-existent, and the materials used are are cheap and synthetic. We often find we must virtually redesign buildings for applicants. Are there any talented architects out there who care about the communities they work in? Why are they so few and far between?

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