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Historic District Landscaping Case Escalates

Historic District Landscaping Case Escalates

After receiving a citation for landscaping their front yard in a historic district of Columbus, a couple sues the city for infringing upon their landowner rights.

The row stems from work done to the couple’s front yard in May of 2018. Andrew Stevens and Melanie Copenhaver own a house located within the Bryden Road Historic District. In an effort to improve the property, they changed the front lawn into a terraced garden. The renovation also included a retaining wall.

While Stevens contests he reviewed the Columbus Register of Historic Properties Architectural Guidelines prior to beginning the work, the city wrote them a citation in July of 2018.

Stevens claims the guidelines don’t prohibit the work they completed. However, the city claims the landscaping violates the standards implemented for the historic area.

Subsequent to the citation, Stevens attended four hearings of the Columbus Historic Resources Commission. There, he appealed his case, though the commission seemed steadfast in their objections to the update.

In an email written to the Columbus Dispatch, Stevens wrote, “The HRC members kept shifting their opinions, and basically stating, without much evidence or elaboration, that our yard is ‘incompatible,’ ‘inappropriate’ or ‘out of character’ for our neighborhood.”

Historic District Standards

Conducting the litigation on behalf of the couple is the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a conservative nonprofit. Maurice Thompson, the law firm’s executive director, stated the city wants uniformity in a district that already deviated from it long ago. He said they wanted the homes to feature “sloping and green” lawns, but “most aren’t that way anymore.”

The lawsuit filed by the firm alleges the citation infringes upon the rights of the couple. Furthermore, it states the guidelines are ” impermissibly vague and arbitrary.”

The Franklin County Environmental Court dismissed the case last November stating it lacked the authority in matters concerning zoning ordinances.

The case proceeds to federal court. The couple also filed an injunction against the city to bar them from enforcing the citation.

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