Idaho lawmaker wants businesses, not cities, in charge of commercial design

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 19, 2014

BOISE – City design review rules would all become voluntary under legislation being pushed by a North Idaho lawmaker, and developers in Idaho couldn’t be told to make structural changes in proposed buildings for aesthetic reasons.

“We’ve got to allow participants in a market to act like a market, to reflect choice,” Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, told the House Local Government Committee on Tuesday. His comments followed more than two hours of testimony both for and against the bill, with cities, local planning officials and architects opposing the bill, and business interests including the Idaho Retailers Association backing it.

On a divided voice vote, the panel approved the bill, House Bill 480, and sent it to the full House for debate. Morse acknowledged after the meeting that the cities of Hayden and Coeur d’Alene oppose his bill, but said property owners in his district support it.

The measure is the latest version of a concept Morse has been working on for some time, initially spurred by the city of Boise’s design review requirements on a new multistory state parking garage. The structure is being built near the state Capitol in a designated historic district of mostly residential buildings.

Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, thanked Morse for bringing the bill. “I have several commercial buildings in the town that I live in,” said Sims, a car dealer. She said one is more than 40 years old but has had four additions; the other is four years old, and she’s faced “substantial” costs due to city requirements.

“I’ve had to add 643 feet of sidewalk that nobody has ever stepped a foot on; there’s no sidewalk leading to it or leading from it,” Sims said. “I have 20 trees that shade absolutely nothing. I have grassy swales that take up … 20 parking spaces.”

Pam Eaton, lobbyist for the Idaho Retailers Association, said, “I think we have to trust businesses, that they want what’s best for their community.”

Opponents of the bill said city design rules protect values that local communities decide are important. “If you take design review away from my city, it would hurt downtown business owners who desire a beautiful and safe environment for their business,” said Brian Billingsley, planning and zoning director for the city of Caldwell.

While making design review requirements voluntary, the bill still would allow cities to impose design requirements in designated historic districts, and for signage, lighting, landscaping and screening. Cities also could still require conditional-use permits for some developments, and the bill allows regulation of surface finishes. It also requires that all requirements be “clear, ascertainable and not based on subjective considerations.”

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