Design guide needed, but needs to be flexible

THOUGH IT’S MOST OFTEN quoted today as “The proof is in the pudding,” the phrase originally was “The proof of the pudding is in the tasting.”

In its original form, that cliché could be most apropos for the Downtown Design Standards and Guidelines recently approved by the Redevelopment Authority.

The document was the end product of long months of hard work and careful deliberation by the RDA’s Downtown Design Standards and Guidelines subcommittee – principally architect Mark Pfaller and his staff at Pfaller and Associates, and Dr. Jan Cecka.

It is something that many in the city have advocated for many years – a template to ensure that Plymouth’s quaint, historic downtown retains its character and charm.

But it didn’t come without opposition and misgivings from many, particularly downtown business and building owners who are directly affected by the standards and guidelines.

They fear that it will lead to micro-managing of their potential building plans and ultimately interfere with how they do business – which for many of them is a day-to-day struggle.

Their fears are understandable, but as it stands now, largely unfounded.

The document adopted by the RDA has no force of law. It has not been adopted by the city as an official part of its codes and ordinances.

That may yet happen, but if it is contemplated, it should only come after closer consultation with those most directly affected in an effort to find language and terms that can assuage fears and concerns.

The goal of the Downtown Design Standards and Guidelines should be something everyone involved can support.

The intent is to ensure that downtown continue to present a cohesive, attractive appearance that will draw visitors with its charm and beauty.

Without such guidelines, downtown could fall victim to more out-of-place brick warehouses and gaudy metal facades on historic buildings, or buildings that just don’t fit in with the picturesque beauty of downtown as a whole.

At the same time, there needs to be a flexibility in applying the standards and guidelines that recognizes that each downtown business is unique and has specific requirements to succeed and flourish.

As RDA chair Lee Gentine pointed out during the discussion of the standards and guidelines, “There is never going to be a document that is going to satisfy everyone.”

The key is to craft a document that will please the greatest number while still achieving as much of the overall goal as possible.

This is what the city attempts to do with its building and zoning codes throughout the city, for the most part successfully, and the same should be true for downtown Plymouth.

And the city has to heed Gentine’s further observation, that the Downtown Design Standards and Guidelines should not be static document, but should be subject to change and refinement as time goes on.

At issue:
Downtown Design Standards
Bottom line:
A tool to be used wisely

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