GALION — Design review. What is it? And is it necessary?
A Wednesday meeting orchestrated by the Galion-Crestline Area Chamber of Commerce included lots of chat about design review in Galion — the good and the bad.
Galion law director Tom Palmer, an advocate for Galion’s design review polices, said design review is an economic development tool used to protect the investments of property owners.
But some business owners disagree. They say design review leads to hindrances and added expenses they can’t afford nor should have to deal with.
Galion has three design review districts:
The Uptowne Design Review District encompasses most of Galion’s downtown business district on Harding Way, bounded on the north by Church Street, on the east by the railroad tracks, on the south by Walnut Street, and on the west by Union Street.
Historic West Main contains properties between Boston Street and Jefferson Street.
Harding Way West contains properties from Jefferson Street to the intersection with Portland Way.
According to the City of Galion website:
Galion’s three design review districts were established by city council to qualify for Community Development Block Grant monies.
The primary purpose of Design Review is to create a better business environment by disallowing unreasonable development that injures property values of other owners in the district.
Residential or commercial building owners of property within the district must acquire prior approval before making improvements, repairs or other changes to the exterior of their buildings. This includes painting, paving, landscaping, signage, window and door replacement and more.
Scott Armstrong, owner of Chris’ Big Plate Diner, said the main problem is a lack of education. Property owners don’t know how design review works, how it affects their properties nor where to go to get information about design review.
It also was mentioned that if CDGB funding is available, it means nothing to business and property owners who don’t know anything about it, nor how to apply to access that funding.
Chris Stone, owner of Eighteen-O-Three Taproom on Harding Way East wonders if design review has outlived it’s usefulness.
“Will the old ways still work today?” he asked.
Palmer said communities with design review districts have thriving uptown areas, including Delaware, and Mansfield, which has worked hard in recent years to improve it’s Carrousel District.
Stone said there also are thriving communities in Ohio without design review.
He also questioned the success of design review in Galion. He said it’s been advocated for a long time in the community, but it hasn’t brought economic success to the uptown area and that vacant buildings are still too plentiful.
Heath Watkins has operated an insurance business in the uptown area for several years. He and his wife recently opened J.R. Watkins Products and a tanning salon at 113-115 Harding Way West. He said he didn’t pay attention to design review because it didn’t play a role in how he operated his insurance business.
But since he and his wife opened their new business, he’s had to get educated quickly.
He said he sees the good and bad when it comes to design review.
Concert was expressed that some members of Galion’s design review boards are out of touch with what it’s like to run a business in uptown Galion, that they don’t own nor operate buildings affected by design review, and therefore are unfamiliar with the problems inherent in trying to run a profitable business in the area.
Palmer agreed education about design review is not what it should be and that lack of knowledge plays a big role in the problems some business owners have faced.
He also said design review rules and regulations are being updated or changed. He said many items not allowed 20 years ago, have been improved and now meet the needs of design review boards.
“We must educate folks on the regulations,” he said. “That’s a big part of the current problem. And, we are living by regulations that were adopted more than 20 years. There are certain things design review didn’t allow back then, that may be OK to use now.
“We’re also trying to make design review more user friendly,” he said.
He doesn’t know when the changes will be finalized. But the best thing a property owner can do is to check into design review themselves before they start doing anything to their properties or businesses.
A good place to start is by contacting Bob Johnston, the city’s building director, at 419-468-2642 or [email protected]. The city’s website also is a source of information and includes an application for CDBG funding.
Russ Kent is editor of the Galion Inquirer, Morrow County Sentinel and Bellville Star. If you have a comment, complaint or story idea, email him at [email protected]