WHEELING - Many property owners around Centre Market believe design review guidelines could be a positive step to ensure future development doesn't clash with their neighborhood's historic atmosphere.
About 25 people met Wednesday evening in the basement of St. Alphonsus Catholic Church for an informational session about adopting design rules for buildings in that area, with few concerns and no outright objections raised. The preliminary design review district would cover properties on Market Street between 20th and 24th Street, but boundaries could change if owners in a particular area seem more receptive to the idea than others.
Centre Market and the area around it is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it's an honorary designation that doesn't protect those buildings from demolition or renovations inconsistent with the neighborhood's history. Design review guidelines, city Historic Landmarks Commission members explained, can provide such protection in the form of an enforceable city ordinance.
According to commission members, areas with design review tend to experience steady or increased property values due to a perceived increase in neighborhood stability.
Chairman C.J. Kaiser told the crowd they would have the opportunity to determine what rules they want to govern their own neighborhood.
"It's not to restrict you as to what you can do with your property, but to protect you from what others may do with their properties. ... We do not want to cram this down anyone's throat," Kaiser said.
It's possible, however, that building owners who object to the rules could be forced to abide by them. According to law, City Council may vote to adopt proposed regulations unless more than 50 percent of property owners within the district object in writing.
"No voice is a voice of approval. You have to object," said Tom Connelly, assistant director of Wheeling's Economic and Community Development Department.
Under design review, building owners in a defined district would have to obtain a certificate of appropriateness from the commission before undertaking any new construction or renovating any exterior design feature visible from the street. Owners of existing structures that don't conform with the guidelines set forth wouldn't be forced to renovate them, but the rules would govern any new construction and remain in place regardless of any change in ownership.
Many of those who attended Wednesday's meeting said they would support design review for their neighborhood.
Theresa Childers, owner of Centre Cup Coffee, said her building has 43 wood-frame windows that were very costly to renovate, but she did so because she wanted to protect its historic architecture.
There are long-term economic benefits, as well, she said.
"My gas bill is $73 in the worst part of any winter," Childers said.
Later Alligator owner Susan Haddad said she thinks the concept of design review is "very worthwhile," and Robert Strong, owner of SMART Centre Market, hopes guidelines would inspire people to take greater pride in their properties.
"I think it's a great idea. I really do. ... I think it's a vehicle that can unify all the owners. It's something that we can all stand behind," Strong said.
The next step in the process likely would be an informal written survey of owners in the district to measure interest.
If the Centre Market plan moves forward, it would be just the second design review district in Wheeling, joining a stretch of eight Victorian-era houses in the 2300 block of Chapline Street.
That designation passed over the objection of a couple property owners, one who said her homeowner's insurance carrier dropped her and another who didn't feel he should be told what he could do with his property.
However, commission member Rebecca Swords, who owns a home on the row, said her insurance premiums haven't been affected at all by the change.