The City of Delaware and its downtown stakeholders continue to speak out against Columbia Gas of Ohio’s plans to relocate commercial gas meters to the front exteriors of buildings located within Delaware’s historic downtown district.
During Monday’s meeting of Delaware City Council, a petition submitted by Main Street Delaware (MSD) was approved by council as part of the consent agenda. The petition, signed by MSD Board President Zach Price and Executive Director Susie Bibler, calls for council to pass legislation mandating that Columbia Gas relocate all gas meters to the rear facades of buildings.
In the petition, MSD cited four beliefs regarding the placement of the gas meters that would negatively impact downtown businesses, the first being that the meters don’t comply with state and national preservation standards.
“The Sandusky Street Historic District was entered into the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior on Jan. 21, 1983,” the petition stated. “The creation of the historic district protects the historical integrity of the downtown and provides economic benefits to the building owners and tenants through adherence to the Secretary of the Interior’s standards.”
Other negative impacts MSD suggested could come from the decision included potential accidents, although rare, as a result of the meter infrastructure failing, as well as the reduction of valuable patio space and the meters creating an unsightly space for refuse, snow, and ice to collect.
The petition closed by saying, “We understand the importance of the vital work Columbia Gas of Ohio will be undertaking in downtown Delaware to improve the safety and efficiency of natural gas service. We support this work but ask that City Council pass legislation to require that the work be done in a way that preserves the historic character of the space and enables commerce and community to continue as safely and successfully as possible.”
More than 40 business and property owners in the downtown district signed the petition submitted to council.
After speaking on the phone with Columbia Gas in November 2020, City Manager Tom Homan issued a letter to the company on Dec. 3, 2020, detailing the city’s opposition to the meters’ placement. Homan cited the importance of maintaining the “historic integrity” in downtown Delaware, where “architectural standards are meticulously applied.”
Homan further noted the proposed project would affect more than 80 meters in just a two-block area, creating economic hardships with the loss of outdoor seating space for many businesses still looking to regain their footing due to the pandemic. Homan asked that Columbia Gas commit to finding “viable arrangements” to install the meters behind buildings.
“We are ready to work with Columbia Gas of Ohio, Main Street Delaware, and building owners and tenants to make this happen,” Homan stated. “This kind of cooperative effort is like what Columbia Gas of Ohio accomplished in German Village and, more recently, in the city of Westerville, and it is desired here.
“We are in support of needed gas line upgrades and safety improvements but wish to see these accomplished in a responsible way — not only to the technical arrangements of main lines and meters — but also to minimize the aesthetic, practical, and economic impacts of such an undertaking.”
Community Affairs Coordinator Lee Yoakum told The Gazette that when field investigations were performed by Columbia Gas in January, a city staff member volunteered to travel to each location with inspectors to help them gain access to structures and identify alternative locations. “We hope this will have an impact,” he said.