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Feb. 20, 2020 | Thursday
Editorials and Opinions
Arch-i-text: Design review guidelines II
Supplied photo. (Brian Marshall/Niagara Now)

It is extremely important to understand and embrace the notion that guidelines are not created to produce uniformity, but rather to ensure across-the-board application of requirements developed to produce a balanced, harmonious overall aesthetic composition of a street, neighbourhood or district.

Even in jurisdictions which have architectural themes, unless a single builder/developer dominates the area, the general effect has been a surge in design creativity rather than the opposite. Talented architects adhering to the key design principles of even one single style can (and do) create some drastically different presentations. Consider two distinctly different but equally fine examples of the early 19th century Neo-classical style in NOTL: the McDougal House at 165 Queen St. and the Breakenridge-Hawley House at 392 Mississauga St.

In the last Arch-i-text column we touched on the guidelines from a town in New England. This week, I’d like to jump the border and visit the residential, resort and recreation community of Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, which after decades of fighting the gradual erosion of the town’s character, instituted design review guidelines in 1993.

Their battle began in the 1970s with a vision statement that focused on preserving the village character while encouraging compatible commercial growth. Inevitably the growth occurred, but without architectural controls the “character” suffered. This was particularly true since their historic district is literally shoulder-to-shoulder with the extension of the village core which developed between 1960 and 1990. Design guidelines appeared to be “best practice” for maintaining their vision of the town’s built environment.

They began by dividing the town into “areas” — e.g. Area 1: Historic Main Street, Area 2: Contemporary Qualicum Beach, and so on. This was followed by the development of design criteria and a review process based on general hierarchical principles which state: “restore heritage buildings; renovate existing buildings; and, compatible design for all new and in-fill buildings.”

The guidelines that resulted are simple, thorough, detailed, and only 34 pages long (with lots of white space, diagrams and photos). Not a tough read and very typical of most successful guidelines.

The challenges facing NOTL are not unique. They have been faced and overcome in thousands of other towns who wished to maintain the attributes of their special community. It’s time we did the same.