Last week the volunteers of Main Street Kent came to the City Council meeting and presented their recommendations for the City to adopt a set of voluntary design guidelines for buildings young and old in downtown Kent. The idea is to create a guide book for property owners, builders and developers to use when re-purposing, recycling or otherwise restoring buildings in downtown Kent with the ultimate goal of ensuring economic vitality and preserving property values through an eclectic, yet cohesive, visual identity. In other words, this is the downtown’s book of aspirations. It’s a How To manual that offers pointers, tips and guidance on how to accentuate the positive of downtown Kent’s architecture.
It’s probably worth stating upfront that this isn’t some communist plot to homogenize Kent’s downtown. On the contrary, it’s a grass roots effort facilitated by Main Street to gather the opinions of property owners, business owners and residents in a series of public meetings in order to define a local community standard for downtown Kent and put it in writing. That community input is the thread that runs through the guidelines.
The City Council was asked to accept and adopt this community standard by approving the design guidelines, which is what they did by a unanimous vote last week. The guidelines just express the community expectations, they don’t have any enforcement function right now. So it’s merely a reference guide at this point.
That being said, hopefully property owners will take advantage of the free design advice offered in the guidelines, and rather than having to pay a designer to tell them what type of exterior light fixture best suits their building’s architectural styling they can pull out the book, pick a fixture, and spend their money on the building rather than on consultants.
The volunteers recommended easing into these waters and letting the design guidelines slowly become a part of the downtown culture. They suggested that as more and more property owners use them and embrace them, the City may want to look at ways at incentivizing them. For example, if someone wants a form of a City tax break as part of their building restoration project, the City could require them to comply with the design guidelines.
Likewise, the volunteers noted that the City may want to gradually create some approval mechanisms through the City’s Architectural Review Board. The citizens on the Achitectural Review Board currently provide a courtesy review of building projects but they have no real approval powers and it was suggested that over time this Board could take on an approval function for the design guidelines.
One of the reasons the volunteers brought up the possibility of creating an approval process for the design guidelines is because taking that next step opens doors to federal and state tax breaks for property owner who wish to re-invest in their property that they are not currently eligible for now.
From a practical point of view the adoption of these design guidelines does not require any property owner to go out and change their building to be in compliance with this new standard. Rather, it’s there to give the property owner the confidence of knowing that if they want to ride the wave of downtown renovation projects that is underway right now and make an investment of their own, their investment will be protected and grow in value.
Basically, it’s a resource tool that the City is making available for people that want to take advantage of it and give their buildings new life.
Here’s the link to read the draft guidelines off of the Main Street website. Some minor edits are yet to be done but overall the document expresses the vision of the downtown community in architectural terms. By the way, the document is packed with pictures so be patient, it takes a while to upload: Downtown Kent Design Guidelines