Danville’s new downtown design guidelines approved

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Danville has given final approval to new design guidelines for its historic overlay district, granting preservation officials new latitude in approving downtown renovation projects.

City commissioners voted unanimously to approve the new guidelines Monday night. The city’s Architectural Heritage Board can now begin using the guidelines’ seven chapters and numerous appendices when it determines whether to issue “certificates of appropriateness” when property owners ask to modify historic buildings.

Members of the downtown community and the AHB have expressed hopefulness that the new design guidelines will allow for more creativity that could encourage better use of downtown buildings. The guidelines also open the door to more options for public art and murals on the sides of buildings and the use of solar panels, among other things.

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Many prior public meetings concerning the guidelines focused on use of the phrase “not appropriate” to describe projects or construction practices generally frowned upon by historic preservationists, such as painting over unpainted brick walls.

Monday night’s meeting was no different — the bulk of the city commission’s conversation centered on the use of the phrase.

Some in the community have complained that the use of “not appropriate” could be interpreted as a hard “no” by developers, who would then give up on a project before approaching the AHB. Or, they have worried, the phrase could be reinterpreted as “no” by future AHB members.

Commissioner Kevin Caudill restated those concerns Monday. City Attorney Stephen Dexter said given the city commission’s prior concern over the phrase, he re-read the entire document, well over 100 pages, studying the use of “not appropriate” specifically.

Dexter said taken as a whole, the new guidelines are “much more tolerable and permissive than the prior document.” They take a more “holistic” approach to historic preservation and avoid focusing on prohibitions like the old guidelines did, he said.

“The word appropriate is a term of art in historic guidelines,” Dexter said. “Certificates of appropriateness are issued. So certain things are by nature appropriate or not appropriate, based on that legal term used. It’s not necessarily the same that … we tell a child something is ‘not appropriate.’ It’s the certificate you’re given at the end of a process that does consider what the ambiance of a particular street or section is, and what materials may or may not be considered appropriate due to where they are in the district.

“With that in mind, I don’t have any recommendations of change or revision to you. Certainly, there may be some individuals who would like it to be more permissive than it is, but I would say it is much more permissive than what was … and certainly I think someone who comes to the board for approval for a certificate of appropriateness for a building has a much better chance of having somebody consider the totality of their project.”

Caudill said he believes the guidelines are “a really well-done document.”

“It gives more leeway than any prior document we’ve had,” he said. “I still would like to add the sentence ‘not appropriate but can be considered,’ just because I think somebody just reading the guidelines and you see ‘not appropriate,’ you think ‘no.'”

Dexter said watering down “not appropriate” could make the entire guidelines document essentially meaningless.

“It becomes a question of what’s the standard? That’s the challenge …” Dexter said. “From my perspective, it’s hard to craft something more lenient without completely eroding whatever the standard was for a historic district.”

Commissioner Denise Terry noted the guidelines are consistent in noting that everything will be handled on a “case-by-case” basis, making it clear that there can be exceptions; Mayor Mike Perros noted if someone working on a downtown project is unhappy with a rejection by the AHB, they can appeal that decision to the city commission.

The process of updating the guidelines began in March, when Cultural Resource Analysts Inc. began working with local officials to draft new guidelines. CRA was paid $16,351 for about four months of work; the project was partially funded by a grant from the Kentucky Heritage Council.