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For the week of August 23 through 29, 2000

Signs abuse valley aesthetics

One can almost visualize last week's Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting as an episode out of Lewis Carroll's fantasyland children's classic, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"—a nonsensical world of silliness gone crazy.

Before the night was over, the surrealists had seized control.

Commission members granted eight of 10 signage requests made by the new St. Luke's hospital—an utterly preposterous decision when fully considering where signs will go.

It’s not as if St. Luke’s is tucked away down an alley on a side street behind a welding shop and needs signs for expectant women frantically looking for an emergency room.

But that's how the P&Z commission seemed to interpret pleas of St. Luke’s officials—that, jeepers, without a battery of lit and unlit signs, people just might drive by St. Luke’s without seeing it.

Such balderdash.

As one of the largest (if not THE largest) buildings in Blaine County, the new St. Luke’s is impossible to not see as one rounds the bend of Highway 75 south of Elkhorn at McHanville.

The hospital itself looms tall and imposing on its unobscured plot.

Garish may be overstating the character of the signs that St. Luke's wangled out of commission members who, incidentally, seemed to have lost the power to understand why a structure of such size and such individuality can't possibly need such an array of signs.

But gaudy might fit the description of the approved signs, one of them a 60-square-foot cross 40 feet up the east side of the hospital, another a 90-square-foot "monument" at the northern entrance. Granted, St. Luke’s backed off its insistence that the cross be lighted and backed off back-lighting other signs in favor of indirect lighting. Still, the hospital name will be lighted with a blue "halo."

In bowing unceremoniously to St. Luke’s executives who seemed obsessed with pretentiousness for their edifice, the P&Z commission has not only endorsed obtrusive signage, but advanced the breakdown of standards in the Wood River Valley.

How long before a line of businessmen and developers forms at the P&Z commission’s door demanding huge signs to promote their businesses—maybe a large 60-square-foot halo-lighted plunger for a plumbing shop, or a similar "monument" for a high-brow gated community?

How does Blaine County officialdom explain the reasoning that a building so inescapably large, so prominently located and so individual in its services needs an array of signs to identify itself and provide directions?

It can't.

In a single evening, the commission demonstrated it's a soft touch when asked by special interests to breach its own established standards, as well as being willing to abuse aesthetic sensibilities of the entire valley.

To be blunt: St. Luke’s officials consider the Wood River Valley a branch office to bigger corporate goals. Time and again, they've elected to place home office objectives ahead of the valley's values. But worse, members of the P&Z board showed just whose interests they consider to be paramount.


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