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Aug. 3, 2021 | Tuesday
Editorials and Opinions
Arch-i-text: NOTL needs to institute design guidelines
Arch-i-text columnist Brian Marshall. (Supplied)

Distinct from zoning bylaws, secondary plans or etc., design guidelines speak specifically to criteria used to ensure any contemplated alteration to the landscape (either built and/or natural) of a particular jurisdiction maintains or enhances the character of the site, the streetscape and the community.

The design guidelines of Carmel, Calif., are considered by many in North America to be the “gold standard” by which all others are measured. Near the beginning of Carmel’s concept review guidelines (page 3), two important questions are addressed in the following fashion:

“What are Design Guidelines?"

"Design guidelines convey community consensus about neighbourhood design. As such, they provide a common basis for making decisions about work that may affect the appearance of individual properties or the overall character of Carmel. While guidelines provide direction, they are not intended to be inflexible nor used like ordinances. Instead, they are to be used to promote communication about how design changes can blend into and enhance community character.”

“Why have Design Guidelines?"

"These guidelines inform the designers, architects and property owners about design objectives the citizens hold for their residential areas. They indicate an approach to design that property owners may use to make decisions about their buildings and to maintain the city’s traditional character. The guidelines also provide the city, through the design review board, planning commission, staff, the forest and beach commission and the preservation committee, a basis for making informed, consistent decisions about design.”

Further down the same page the document speaks to scope:

“Please note that the City of Carmel-by-the-Sea will not issue a construction permit for exterior additions, remodelling or new buildings without design review approval from the design review board, the planning commission or staff. These guidelines also will aid property owners and their architects in developing design strategies. The guidelines focus on maintaining the traditional character of Carmel.”

Of particular note in the design guidelines of Carmel is the very effective manner in which the authors define all pertinent and important community design criteria without dictating architectural styles – except for “respect(ing) Carmel’s design traditions”. In fact, on page 35, one of the stated objectives reads: “To encourage diversity in housing design reflecting the eclectic mix of styles that is characteristic of Carmel.”

For many years now the term “best practices” has been widely used by governments and corporations, but sadly they rarely follow through to institute such practices. On the contrary, they strike committees and teams that are called upon to make decisions (often with significant ramifications) without any comprehensive reference framework.

I wouldn’t take my car to a mechanic who had no technical manuals … Would you?

And there is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to design guidelines. Carmel has done the "heavy lifting," giving us the platform on which to build a unique Niagara-on-the-Lake framework into the future.

Want to read Carmel’s guidelines? Drop me a note at homeguide.ca@gmail.com  and I’ll send them on.   

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