South end makes strides to stay ahead of development
The City of Victor, which before Wednesday night had no design regulations to speak of, went from zero to 60 by passing a slightly altered version of the Driggs design standards and guidelines at its meeting on Jan. 24.
New development in Victor has caused a furor among residents and the city council felt it needed to move fast to address the city code’s lack of design standards. With help from Valley Advocates for Responsible Development, City Planner Josh Wilson modified the Driggs design document to better reflect Victor and with little ado the city council approved it as an interim ordinance.
The council members praised Wilson for the fast turnaround time; the community started demanding design standards after the Meadows, a 14-unit modular subdivision, was installed on Highway 31 last fall.
“In general the whole set of guidelines and standards really helps lay out and establish a certain expectation level for folks when they come into that first meeting,” Mayor Jeff Potter said.
Design review will now be required for all new construction in commercial and mixed-use zones with the exception of detached homes, backyard cottages, and attached homes; design review will also be required for cottage courts, duplexes, four-plexes, townhomes, and apartments in residential zones.
The document focuses on commercial and large-scale residential development, with recommendations on materials, building height, windows, and landscaping. One addition that Wilson and VARD were sure to include was a thorough run-down of design recommendations for the cottage court building type. Now the units arranged around a shared courtyard need to vary in size and can’t have long flat facades facing the street. Developers of cottage courts must now use at least three design features like bay windows and attached porches.
Council members and meeting attendees expressed strong support of the standards. Only former mayor Don Thompson suggested temperance; he wondered if so much detail was necessary, and said that so many changes in such a short time could be confusing, especially after residents spent so much time working through Envision Victor almost ten years ago.
Envision Victor was a project to create a shared community vision that received input from hundreds of people. Then, from 2012 to 2016, consultant Code Studio helped Victor and Driggs create and launch a new zone map and land development code for each city.
The City of Driggs adopted its design reviews and guidelines in 2006, made periodic amendments, and did an overhaul last August to coordinate the design with the new land development code. VARD Executive Director Shawn Hill pointed out that since the document’s adoption, his organization has heard few complaints about the aesthetics of Driggs development.
“The product seems tried and true,” he said.
Kristi Aslin, who is on the Victor Planning and Zoning Commission, said she has been waiting for design standards for the 25 years she’s lived here.
“I think these guidelines and standards are really important to the development of downtown Victor,” Aslin said. “I feel like we need to be strict enough that when developers come into our community they know what they’re up against and how they have to perform according to the wants and needs of the people who live here.”
A lengthy document
In contrast to the almost-80 page document, Ketchum has review guidelines that are only 12 pages long and Jackson’s document is 23 pages, former Victor City Planner Brittany Skelton pointed out via email last week. She said that in a town like Ketchum, there are plenty of historical and “mountain modern” buildings downtown that serve as templates for architects and developers. Also, prices are high and property owners are very engaged in the process, so “bad” design rarely makes it to fruition.
“Since Victor doesn’t (yet) have a critical mass of buildings downtown, which would establish a streetscape and a bar to meet, many architects/developers from elsewhere (or locals who are invested financially but not emotionally and just want to make a buck) who want to do a project might not think to or be willing to add the embellishments to buildings or features for pedestrians unless mandated by design standards,” Skelton said. “There’s a tendency to look at what’s there now and think that’s the bar to meet, rather than to aim higher.“
She added that the primary criticism from the Teton Valley community about the land use code that was adopted in 2015 was that it was introducing regulations that were too stringent, such as garage orientation and porch size.
“I don’t feel confident that the code and another 70 pages of design standards would have made it through the public hearing and adoption process if combined at the time,” Skelton said.
Driggs City Planner Ashley Koehler said that while it’s a lengthy document, much of it is made up of guidelines, which are suggestions, rather than standards, which are requirements.
“What’s unique and important about it is that it doesn’t mandate a certain type of architecture or style,” Koehler explained.
For example, in Driggs both the law enforcement center and Big Hole Bagels went through design review, with very different final products. The standards and guidelines prohibit chain design stores, so when O’Reilly Auto Parts came to town a couple years ago, the city worked with the developer to revise the building plans to better suit pedestrian-oriented Main Street.
“We’ve gotten mixed reactions from developers,” Koehler said. “Some of the standards are more onerous, but it has been important to communicate what we want incorporated into building design.”
The new document will be added to the building regulations article in Victor’s municipal code, rather than the zoning article. City Attorney Herb Heimerl said that makes it “more nimble” because the city council can make alterations to that part of the code without having to go through P&Z.
Wilson also noted that P&Z, as the body that reviews applications, has some room to interpret the intent of the standards and guidelines.
“There are some world-renowned architectural marvels that wouldn’t meet these standards, and that’s certainly respected and understood, so there’s some flexibility built in,” Wilson said.
The standards and guidelines will apply to any site plan review application, the first step for new construction, submitted after Feb. 1.
The City of Victor recently put out a call for applications for a design review steering committee and has received 13 applications from citizens interested in having input on design. The new interim ordinance will expire in a year’s time, after which the committee will submit an ordinance for adoption that has pictures and language that better fit Victor.