Sweeping Design Changes Proposed

Confusing agenda befuddles council in reviewing 39 pages of rules for landscaping, colors, building designs

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A sometimes baffled Payson Town Council last week found itself debating a major change in the look of all future development in town, without knowing they were doing it.

The council discussion came on an agenda item that listed a lot of obscure codes and resolution numbers and concluded with a reference to making the ponderosa pine the official town tree.

Several council members discovered shortly before the meeting that the gobble-de-gook on the agenda actually referred to the council's first review of the Design Review Board's year-long struggle to come up with a 40-page set of standards that will control everything from landscaping to building colors and building facades.

The long list of new guidelines and restrictions applies mostly to commercial property, but references to industrial zoning restrictions prompted some audience members, who testified, to predict that the restrictions could prove disastrous, if they prevented firms from using cheap, metal siding in industrial zones like the one proposed for the airport area.

For much of the discussion, confusion reigned.

"I thought we were just approving the ponderosa pine and only found out a couple of days before the meeting that it's the entire design review manual," said Councilor Mike Vogel.

He then moved to separate the two issues, hoping the council could vote on the tree, but put off the design review ordinance until the council had a chance to study the voluminous recommendations.

Once the council agreed to separate the two issues, Vogel moved to set up a whole new committee to review what the Design Review Board had done.

"But that's exactly what the Design Review Board has been doing for the last two years," complained Councilor Michael Hughes.

Vogel's motion to set up another committee failed on a split vote.

The council then debated what it could debate at the Thursday meeting. At the end of the discussion, the council discovered that it could not postpone the first reading of the design review ordinance, since the hearing had been publicly advertised and Mayor Kenny Evans had already opened the public hearing.

The council did agree to take up the issue of the ponderosa pine as a resolution rather than an ordinance at a future meeting.

So the council lurched into a discussion of the design review ordinance, comforted by knowing that the matter will come up again on the second reading in September when the councilors will have had a chance to read the fruits of the year-long study by a Design Review Board that included architects, designers, developers and town staff.

"I have a concern about having very short notice to evaluate something that's 39 pages long," said Councilor Richard Croy.

"On a second reading (of the ordinance), we'll have plenty of time to make changes," said Councilor John Wilson.

Resident Jim Garner, speaking during the public comment period, cited one reference in the proposed code to industrial zoning, which he said the Design Review Board's original direction did not include. The proposed code discourages the use of metal walls and applies new standards for avoiding bright colors, breaking up long, boring roof lines, ensuring landscaping uses native plants and covering building fronts with attractive facades.

Garner said applying such standards to the bare-bones architecture of industrial zones would drive away those job-producing businesses. He said the industrial areas need their own rules -- and perhaps should not go through a design review process at all.

"You cannot bring industrial development to town if you have these kinds of very strict guidelines," said Garner, "it's just not cheap enough for them to stay in business."

Design Review Board Chairman Bernard Lieder said the group spent 13 months developing the standards, intended to apply mostly to commercial, multi-family and government projects.

The reference to the industrial zoning was intended to ensure that industrial projects went before the Design Review Board, not to impose all the detailed design standards on industrial zones.

Councilor Croy questioned the use of language in the proposed code. "Wouldn't it be better public relations to make these suggestions. These people are not stupid and they might take it more as a very Big Brother tone."

Design Review Board Vice Chair Barbara Underwood said the members of the board can make many suggestions to improve the look of a project. "I see it as a way to get away from the hodge podge of signs and designs and colors" that now visually dominate the town.

The council also questioned whether the ordinance ought to lay out tight timelines for the Design Review Board to review new projects, to avoid simply adding another time-consuming government process on top of the months it takes to get a project through the planning commission and the town council.

"We always put time limits on our customers, but not on ourselves," said Vogel of government deadlines.

Lieder noted that the ordinance requires the Design Review Board to hold a hearing within 15 days of receiving an application for a new project.

"A hearing is not the same as a decision," said Evans, suggesting that staff add language requiring the Design Review Board to render a "timely" decision once it holds a hearing.

"There are just lots of questions," concluded Vogel, as the council scheduled the second reading on the proposed design changes for its meeting in September.

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