Design Review Draws Concerns

With Wheeling’s Historic Landmarks Commission poised to recommend City Council adopt design review guidelines for the Centre Market area, Jack McArdle and Susan Haddad are among those who aren’t sure it’s a good idea to impose additional regulations on property owners there.

If City Council ultimately decides to adopt design review for Centre Market, property owners within the proposed district – including all properties with Market Street addresses between 20th and 24th streets – would have to apply for a certificate of appropriateness before undertaking any exterior renovation visible from the street. These rules are based on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s guidelines for historic structures, and govern a wide range of features from windows to moulding or paint color.

The commission held a public hearing on the plan during their meeting Thursday, but property owners in the proposed district have 30 days to provide comments to Wheeling’s Economic and Community Development Department. The commission at its June 5 meeting likely will issue its recommendation to City Council, which has the final say on whether to adopt the guidelines. According to law, council may enact such guidelines unless 50 percent of the ownership interest within the district objects.

McArdle, owner of 2139 Market St., said property owners in the neighborhood have been fixing up their buildings for years without design review, and he believes the need to get prior approval may discourage some from improving their buildings.

“You’re going to put a burden on these people that’s not needed, and they’re going to be fearful of fixing up their property,” he said.

McArdle also feels the process is unfair. He said requiring a majority of owners to object to design review rather than requiring a majority to support it virtually ensures the measure will pass.

“I just don’t find that as a good means of conducting business. It’s an easy way of conducting business, because I don’t think you’re going to get 50 percent of the people to come, one way or the other,” he said.

Haddad said she was in favor of adopting design review when the idea was first proposed months ago, but over time, she’s developed reservations. She pointed out the guidelines don’t require anyone to do anything with their property as it is, but only restricts what they may do with it in the future.

“I just wonder … what’s the point?” Haddad said.

Libby Strong, co-owner of the SMART Centre Market science store, said she supports design review as long as there’s some flexibility for property owners to show individualism.

Commission Chairman C.J. Kaiser said design review is not intended to make all properties look the same, or conform to a particular architectural style. He views it as a way to protect the investments already made by property owners from having something unsightly or wildly out of character with the rest of the neighborhood built there in the future.

“That’s the goal of these guidelines,” Kaiser said. “It’s not to make your properties historic. It’s not to make them museums.”