Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cities scramble to protect design review

House bill would end that authority

Express Staff Writer

    Wood River Valley cities are taking steps to defeat a bill that would strip them of most of their design-review authority following surprise passage of the measure in the Idaho House of Representatives last week.
    Reps. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, and Steven Miller, R-Fairfield, were both part of the minority in the 50-17 vote. The bill is now before the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee.
    “It’s a big deal for all the cities in the valley,” said Lisa Horowitz, Ketchum’s community and economic development director.
    Hailey, Bellevue, Ketchum and Sun Valley have adopted ordinances that require at least certain types of buildings in certain areas to conform to general standards of appearance. Developers of those buildings are required to go before the cities’ planning and zoning commissions for design-review approval.
    House Bill 480 would gut many of those provisions. It states that no zoning regulation can require adherence to “specific exterior design aesthetics or beautification beyond surface finishes.” It does not apply to buildings in designated historical districts.
    The bill’s initial sponsor was Rep. Ed Morse, a Republican from Hayden, a town just north of Coeur d’Alene. Since the bill’s introduction, he has been joined by two House members from Nampa. None could be reached by press deadline Tuesday to explain their reasons for co-sponsoring the bill.
    In a recent newsletter, Miller said he opposed the bill “because it will impact the Wood River Valley’s ability to maintain its architectural and aesthetic style.”
    “While I recognize there are areas in the state where the design approval process is so onerous and expensive that it has become a property rights issue, constituents made solid arguments for historic/cultural preservation in our district,” he stated.
    Blaine County municipal planners say the state should leave decisions on design-review authority to local jurisdictions.
    “We have the right to have design review,” said Sun Valley Community Development Director Mark Hofman. “We see it as a property value issue. Design review protects the beauty of the area.”
    Hailey Community Development Director Micah Austin contended that the measure “would reduce the ability of the community to have a vote in what the built environment looks like.”
    Horowitz said that without design review, “you wouldn’t have a public dialogue on compatibility of buildings with surrounding buildings.”
    In late January, Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas sent a letter to Morse objecting to the bill.
    “In Ketchum, building aesthetics are an important component of our economy,” the letter states. “As a resort community, we pride ourselves on designing building (sic) that fit with our mountain resort character.”
    Horowitz said city officials are considering sending a representative to testify before the Local Government and Taxation Committee.
    Austin said he has been contacted on the issue by the Association of Idaho Cities, which opposes the measure, and he has been “strongly encouraged” by Mayor Fritz Haemmerle to get involved in the effort to defeat it.
    The agenda for the Sun Valley City Council meeting of Thursday, March 6, includes consideration by the council of a draft letter of opposition.
    In Hailey, design review is required for all commercial buildings and for residential buildings in Old Hailey.
    In Ketchum and Bellevue, it is required for all commercial buildings and for residential buildings of two units or more.
    In Sun Valley design review applies to all buildings.

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