New Danville design guidelines nearly in place

Published 8:29 am Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Danville could be less than a month away from approving relaxed design guidelines that officials say would let the local Architectural Heritage Board off the leash when it comes to approving creative, positive projects for downtown.

Danville City Commission voted 4-0 Monday in favor of a zoning ordinance text amendment that would implement the new guidelines, though City Attorney Stephen Dexter was careful to point out the move wasn’t the final approval needed.

“After we receive your positive feedback, I will proceed to draft the appropriate document for your official vote at the next meeting,” Dexter said.

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The design guidelines are used by the Danville Architectural Heritage Board in determining whether or not to allow development and construction projects within the city’s historic overlay district, which covers much of the downtown area surrounding Main Street and extends southeast onto the campus of the Kentucky School for the Deaf.

Members of the public and members of the AHB alike have been critical of the existing guidelines, which they say are too restrictive and have prevented the AHB from approving good projects that would have improved the downtown area without impacting historical value.

Danville received a grant to help pay for redrafting the guidelines, a process that lasted from March to the end of June. Since then, the AHB has been further evaluating the draft guidelines and delivering them to the city and the local Planning and Zoning Commission for potential approval.

The draft guidelines remove a lot of “shall not’s” and “will not be permitted’s” in favor of looser language that AHB members say will give them the authority to approve projects even if they don’t fall strictly within the guidelines.

The phrase that has received the most attention is “not appropriate.” Multiple people interested in the end product have criticized the use of “not appropriate” as being too unfriendly or restrictive. AHB members have maintained the phrase is needed because the Kentucky Heritage Council says it is appropriate and it fits with the AHB’s main purpose — approving “certificates of appropriateness.”

A debate over “not appropriate” was absent from this month’s P&Z Commission meeting, when the P&Z Commission recommended the guidelines to the city commission for approval. But the discussion came back during Monday’s city commission meeting.

P&Z Director Steve Hunter told city commissioners the phrase “is not uncommon in design guidelines around the state.”

“It felt right in the document as I read it,” said Hunter, who noted the staff of P&Z have no objections to the content of the guidelines. “It was well-written as a modern set of design guidelines in my opinion. I didn’t think the words jumped out at me, but I understand where the confusion would be. The (AHB) I think clearly stated why it was important to kind of use that terminology.”

Commissioner Kevin Caudill said he wasn’t sure the “wiggle room” for the AHB was stated clearly enough in the guidelines.

“If I was reading this from somewhere else, and this was all I knew about it … I would read ‘not appropriate’ as no. Like when you’re a kid and your mom says ‘maybe?’ Maybe generally means no,” Caudill said. “I wonder if we could add a sentence, ‘not appropriate but could be considered’ or something — just underscore the fact that we can consider it. Maybe that’s too loose? I don’t know.”

Hunter said there are projects that people might want to do downtown truly wouldn’t be appropriate. There are also projects that “nine times out of 10” wouldn’t be appropriate, but for whatever reason, in a specific situation, it would be fine. That’s the wiggle room the AHB is looking for, he said.

“I’m not sure what other substitute words they could use,” he said.

Commissioner Denise Terry said she likes that the new guidelines make it clear everything will be considered on a case-by-case basis and there are no blanket prohibitions.

“In comparison, there is a lot more wiggle room there,” she said. “But maybe if you’re not comparing, I can see what you’re saying. As long as that ‘case-by-case’ quote is in here … I think (it’s fine).”

Commissioner J.H. Atkins said it’s very clear that the new guidelines would make the system much more user-friendly than the current guidelines.

Code Enforcement Director Bridgette Lester noted the AHB “rarely” denies projects, even under the current, restrictive guidelines.

“The board really wants to try to approve the good ideas that people have, but sometimes it just really isn’t appropriate for our historic district,” Lester said. “… These are a working document. They are like any legislative document you have. You can change them if we start really getting concerns again that this is not working.”

Hunter said flexibility is the main thing that would be gained under the new guidelines.

“I read the document like that — it’s going to give them more flexibility, but there’s going to be times certain materials are not going to work, and they’re going to use that provision exactly as it’s worded then.”

Progress continues on 311 W. Main St.

Lester also updated the city commission on work being done to the condemned historic building at 311 W. Main St.

“The roof is being replaced and there is no roof leakage into the building now, which is great,” she said. “The first floor, the back entrance has been removed and is being replaced. … We are very pleased with the progress so far.”

Caudill said a neighbor of the property also expressed to him that they were “very pleased with the progress.”

The building has been condemned since 2010. The AHB has worked for years with property owners to get the building restored, but it currently remains condemned.

The previous owner, Ann Yager Hamlin McCrosky, worked for four years on restoration plans. On June 30, McCrosky sold the building to Tim Montgomery, the current owner.