Kendallville is once again treading into controversial waters — the city is talking about establishing some historic preservation guidelines in its downtown.

They’re needed, even though it’s almost guaranteed some building owners will fight them.

The conversation has reignited this week as Kendallville plans to move ahead seeking a new grant opportunity from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The PreservINg Main Street grant could provide up to $2 million to do a substantial overhaul of multiple downtown facades, giving Main Street a major facelift all at once as opposed to piecemeal upgrades currently happening mostly through the efforts of a few motivated owners.

Our staff has previously encouraged Kendallville to consider a large-scale facade project downtown, so we are pleased that the city is pursuing an opportunity.

However, as part of the grant, if selected, the city would have to work to establish historic preservation guidelines and form a historic preservation commission to oversee and, should the need arise, enforce them.

That’s been a sticking point in the past, as building owners banded together to defeat previous efforts about 10 years ago to do something similar.

In a meeting Thursday, conversation revolved around at least getting some minimum maintenance standards in place to address immediate eyesore problems like broken windows and structural damage causing a safety issue.

But city officials are cautiously framing the issue, making statements early and often that they won’t be telling people they have to install a certain type of window, or dictating what color an awning or building can be.

The “no one is going to tell me what I can or can’t do with my building” attitude is real and present in not just Kendallville but any community.

The city is hoping to approach the issue with a lot of carrots and fewer sticks. The thought is, if the city gives recommendations of historically appropriate improvements, options that can fit a variety of budgets, one-on-one assistance from an on-call architect and up to 50% or more of the money needed to complete the project, building owners would have no good excuse not to try to follow the guidelines.

Historic preservation commissions are a tricky business. There is a delicate line to walk between being cooperative or coming off as controlling.

No community ideally wants to have a situation like Angola’s recent window snafu, but at the same time communities need to be brave enough to declare that certain things are simply unacceptable, especially when the city is pouring literally millions of dollars into projects aimed at making Main Street more attractive and vibrant to businesses and visitors.

There are several places in downtown Kendallville where you can find examples where people made unattractive renovation decisions.

We encourage Kendallville to continue down the path toward establishing historic guidelines, regardless of whether it receives this new grant.

For nearly two decades the historic preservation ordinance has served Angola well, ensuring that the historic integrity of the downtown is preserved while allowing sensible growth.

The city should reach out early and often to business owners and take their thoughts, feedback and concerns to heart. Many are likely to be cooperative and helpful in finding the right balance.

Now is the right time to make it happen.

OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Grace Housholder, Dave Kurtz, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. We welcome readers’ comments.

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