The last piece of the puzzle before downtown rebuilding can begin has finally been filled. At a specially called meeting Friday afternoon, the Cullman City Council approved both the new downtown design guidelines and a facade incentive program members hope will spur re-growth in areas damaged by the April 27 tornadoes.

Following the heavy damage caused by the storms, city officials scrambled to assemble a team of local and regional urban planners to draft some design principles to guide rebuilding. The fruit of that labor was released for scrutiny a few weeks ago, and put into law on Friday. The guidelines will be managed by a new, seven-person board called the design review committee.

“It was a team effort from a lot of our local folks, and we had three community meetings for input, and we ... hired an expert who has developed guidelines for other towns to help us put it all together,” said Garlan Gudger Jr., council president. “I’m really glad to see this going forward now.”

The public hearing for the new mandatory design rules passed with no comment, and business owners in attendance said they favor the measure.

“I think it’s good that everyone will have to do it,” Busy Bee Cafe owner Kitty Spears said.

Judy Waldrep, wife of East Side Barber Shop co-owner Bo Waldrep, agreed that uniformity should help establish a standard of quality in the downtown district.

“We’re very happy about it,” she said. “It’s important, if you’re going to spend the money to rebuild.”

Cullman Mayor Max Townson said he hopes the guidelines will preserve the area’s historical aesthetic and give property owners a base to build on.

“We’re not only maintaining the heritage of downtown businesses, but also giving business owners some guidance when they decide to do something,” he said.

The new guidelines effect about two dozen downtown blocks ranging from around Main Avenue to Arnold Street to Fifth Street, dubbed the downtown core and downtown edge. The area was recently expanded by a handful of blocks in anticipation of the design rules. The guidelines are meant to supplement the city’s zoning ordinance and work as a “design overlay.”

Per the guidelines, building heights have been set at three-stories and roofs must be flat, gabled or hipped. Work to existing structures will emphasize retention and repair of historic materials. Permitted facade materials include brick, wood and Ashlar stone. New additions to existing buildings must be behind the original setback, as to not overshadow the structure. Facades on expansions should also be compatible with the existing facade, and a historical color palette must be used.

A long-in-development project to offer business owners a financial incentive for rebuilding or renovating business facades was also put into effect this week. Interested parties can apply for up to a $5,000 matching funds for facade work.

“If you’d like to fix or remodel your facade, and you go through the city, you’re able to receive up to $5,000,” he said. “The average cost is around $10,000, so we believe that would cover about half for most projects. We only did $5,000 because so many businesses are eligible [following the tornado] and that could total up to one-fourth of a million dollars.”

* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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