Creating and Using Design Guidelines
Section 'a' content Section 'b' content Section 'c' content Section 'd' content Section 'e' content
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This is an image of a compatible new sign in downtown Grapevine, Texas, a local historic district. Photo: Hugo Gardea.

Working on the Past in Local Historic Districts

Although it is very important to develop and use design guidelines to help administer the local preservation ordinance, understanding their usefulness and limitations at the outset can help prevent misunderstandings down the road. Take this summary to heart!

Guidelines Can

Explain, expand, and interpret general design criteria in the local preservation ordinance.

Help reinforce the character of a historic area and protect its visual aspects.

Protect the value of public and private investment, which might otherwise be threatened by the undesirable consequences of poorly managed growth.

Indicate which approaches to design a community encourages, as well as which it discourages.

Serve as a tool for designers and their clients to use in making preliminary design decisions.

Increase public awareness of design issues and options.


Guidelines CanNOT

Serve the same legal purpose as the design review provisions of the ordinance. An ordinance is a law, but local design guidelines are typically not laws.

Limit growth, or regulate where growth takes place. Guidelines address only the visual impact of individual work projects on the character of a local historic district. Growth itself is a separate issue that must be separately addressed through zoning ordinances and preservation planning.

Control how space within a building is used. They usually deal only with the exterior, publicly visible portions of buildings, not with how interior space is laid out or used.

Guarantee that all new construction will be compatible with a historic area or the guarantee creativity that is essential to the best sorts of sensitive design.

Guarantee "high quality" construction. Since materials are generally not specified in the design guidelines, the final visual results, again, cannot be guaranteed.


What Guidelines Can and Cannot Do For Your Historic District. Excerpted and adapted from Design Review for South Carolina Historic District Commissions by Winter & Co., 1988.