Design Review Fairy Tale: Council Has To Get It Just Right


Payson has a Goldilocks problem. Not too hot -- not too cold -- gotta make it just right.

But no matter what the recipe -- the council's upcoming decision on design review standards represents a vital moment in the town's future.

So what to do?

Wave projects through with a friendly smile -- trusting that no one would design an ugly building? Nah. Too cold.

Well then -- give a board of public-minded citizens vast powers -- and make sure they look at the builder's paint swatches? Nah. Too hot. Hmm.

How about this.

Embrace the proposed vision of a high-quality, western mountain town and rely more on incentives and consultations than on edicts.

That seems likely to get better results than the suggestion town staff review applications and only refer projects to the design review board if the builder seemed set on ignoring the standards.

But let us recap how this particular glop of porridge got into the bowl.

The Design Review Board has worked diligently for more than a year to devise a set of standards for multi-family residential, commercial and retail. They have not suggested standards for houses (thank goodness). Industrial standards will come along next.

Generally, the board did a masterful job. They want Payson to shift from the hodge-podge approach to a place-based architecture that blends with the forested environment and honors the town's proud western heritage. They want builders to use wood and stone and forest colors, and landscapers to protect the pines and embrace native plants.

All good. Excellent in fact.

The board also disdains red tile roofs and eschews stucco. Hmm. Well. OK. Don't want to look like Phoenix. But, uh, isn't Taos a mountain town? It looks pretty good.

Of course, herein lies the rub.

We love the vision of the Design Review Board -- up to a point. After all -- neck ties can make a fashion statement -- unless you tie a noose and hang yourself.

We think it's a great idea to adopt the bulk of the Design Review Board's vision for the look of the town -- they got it just right. And we think that projects will benefit from a review by that same board, to foster a discussion about the look and feel of new projects.

But we don't think that those seven citizens -- however knowledgeable and well-intentioned -- should dictate every detail of a project. We think that on most of these points, the person paying for the building ought to have the last say.

So we would rather see the town adopt clear standards and require developers to talk to the design review board -- but employ incentives instead of dictates.

Perhaps a project that got the approval of the design review board would not have to retain storm water onsite or could get on an approval fast track or would get a discount on impact fees. More carrot -- less stick.

Two more points. First, the council should set firm deadlines so the extra review will not delay approvals. Second, the board should give the design review board the job of reviewing projects townwide -- even in the redevelopment district. Let the redevelopment district board focus on recruiting new businesses -- and let the design review board ponder roof lines and landscaping. Requiring developers on Main Street to submit designs to two different boards -- plus the planning commission and the council -- would be absurd.

So embrace the vision and empower the board -- but respect the property owner. Ah. Just right.

Much better than relying on one or two staff members to articulate the standards. We think that the open and constructive conversation with the design review board will achieve a better result than will concentrating more power in the hands of town staff.

So we hope that the council will mull it all very carefully between now and October, when the issue will likely return to the agenda. Perhaps they should sleep on it -- in a bed that's just right.

After all -- porridge is tricky: dangerous when it's too hot, disgusting when it's too cold -- and lovely when it's just right.

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