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Idaho House passes bill to make design review requirements voluntary

BOISE – Idaho cities would have less power to regulate building design under a bill passed by the Idaho House.

“We need jobs and economic development in this state much more than we need the planning police mandating their vision of beauty,” Rep. Ed Morse, a Hayden Republican, said during debate on the bill Monday.

Rep. Hy Kloc, a Boise Democrat, said he’s had emails from cities and architects all over the state opposing House Bill 480. “This bill gives anyone the right to build pretty much anything they want,” he said.

But Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, warned, “These are property rights issues, people. We’d better be careful.”

The bill would make design review requirements voluntary, preventing cities from requiring changes in proposed buildings for aesthetic reasons.

It 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, though not structures. It also requires that all requirements be “clear, ascertainable and not based on subjective considerations.”

Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, said that in her district, a developer incurred big expense because regulators made him move a heating unit just because of how it looked. It “ended up costing him a fortune,” she said.

Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, said, “I don’t feel this bill goes nearly far enough.”

After much debate, HB 480 passed on a 50-17 vote and now heads to a Senate committee. To become law, it still needs Senate passage and the governor’s signature.

Morse told the House, “The only thing that this legislation does is restrict a small right, the right of aesthetic or beautification design for commercial and industrial structures.”

Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa, co-sponsor of the bill, said allowing cities to regulate design of buildings amounts to a “beauty tax.”

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said, “I think the remedy, if someone is dissatisfied with a city design review ordinance, is to run for city council. That’s why we have local government.”