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Mount Vernon City Council approves downtown design standards

December 22, 2018
Storefronts are seen Friday along First Street in downtown Mount Vernon.

MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon City Council this week passed new design standards for the historic downtown area aimed at preserving the area’s character.

Rebecca Lowell, senior planner with the city, said the standards will promote a welcoming, safe and walkable downtown.

The proposal was approved 7-0 at the council’s Wednesday meeting.

For existing buildings, Lowell said changes will be minimal.

Regular maintenance won’t require any additional work, but if a building owner wants to change signage, awning or paint color, she said they will have to talk with the city.

Lowell said her department will have the authority to approve smaller changes such as those and are working to make that process easier for business owners.

For instance, Lowell said the department will have a list of preapproved paint colors.

“We wanted to make it as simple and easy as possible,” she said.

More significant renovations will need to go through a five-person review board.

New construction will face additional requirements.

The standards set requirements for wide sidewalks and large windows with displays geared toward attracting attention from pedestrians and making the area fun to walk through, she said.

Christian Carlson, architect and member of the city’s Planning Commission, likened the design standards to “free design advice,” saying business owners will benefit from complying.

Having larger windows, a cohesive style and signage oriented at pedestrians will make people want to be downtown and will improve business, he said.

As one of the owners of Perry and Carlson, an art gallery downtown, Carlson said he sees the standards as protecting his investment, rather than as an undue burden.

Lowell said the rules will take effect in January when the council selects members for the review board.

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