Planning commission begins review of design standards

While the city of Sequim may not be able to tell developers what they can build, they might be able to tell them how it should look.

The city continues to push forward with finalization of design guidelines that would pertain to new structures under 20,000 square feet. There already are guidelines in place for structures over 20,000 square feet. The newest draft aims to combine both, making one comprehensive document. The proposed standards would pertain to any new commercial, industrial, mixed-use and multi-family structures. Single-family residences will be exempt.

“This is a much more intense set of standards,” resident and former planning commissioner Troye Jarmuth said. Jarmuth, along with Councilman Ken Hays and others, made up the committee responsible for creating the city’s first set of design standards. Jarmuth and Hays were brought back to work on the current proposed draft. The pair met with the city’s planning commission during a June 3 work session to begin reviewing the proposed standards.

While the new standards may be more intense, Jarmuth maintains that they also should remain flexible.

“They have to be applicable to a variety of structures,” Jarmuth said, adding that there would be certain projects that have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. For right now rehab or redevelopment projects would be exempt from the standards.”

“We would open up a whole can of worms if we tried to regulate existing structures that just want to do small changes,” Jarmuth said, although the standards will provide room for another, future set of standards that exclusively will pertain to projects located within the city’s town center.

The majority of building projects within Sequim’s downtown are anticipated to be redevelopment/rehab projects, but any guidelines cannot be created until the proposed sub-area plan is passed by the city council, and as yet there is no set date for approval.

“We’ve created a place holder so to speak,” planning director Dennis Lefevre said. Jarmuth added that the sub-area plan would be part of the design guidelines only in reference.

Under the existing guidelines, a project that falls within the standards’ jurisdiction — multi-family, mixed-use, commercial and industrial — is subject to a review by the planning department. The proposed guidelines, however, create a design review board to review plans independently.

“It won’t be the sole discretion of the planning director. There will be multiple eyes looking at a project,” Jarmuth said. “Now there’s a review board to make sure everything’s up to snuff, so to speak.”

Hays, who was instrumental in the review board’s creation, said that the board makes for a fair and equitable system. Hays, an architect, said he’s had a number of experiences going in front of a design review board.

“I’ve been highly victimized at times and at times glad the process was there,” Hays said.

While design review board members may look at a project at their own discretion and submit written comments to the planning department, it’s the planning director’s decision whether the planning department processes a project in-house or it’s brought before the design review board. The decision to approve a project, allowing a building permit, also is up to the planning director. The Sequim planning commission asked that language be added to the document that would allow the review board, if it has a majority vote, to veto the director’s approval.

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